Brian Viner: Can Beckham look forward to history repeating itself? Only time will tell...

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The Independent Online

According to hallowed tradition, while all other columns are reflecting on the year about to end, this one focuses on the year ahead, and looks forward to all the significant birthdays and anniversaries to be marked with joyous celebrations - or grunts of indifference - over the next 12 months.

There's not much to get excited about in January, although the (rugby union) World Cup-winning director of football at Southampton FC will celebrate his 50th birthday on the 6th. I hope Sir Clive Woodward will grab a moment to contemplate a half-century that has taken some improbable twists and turns, none so improbable as the latest of them.

There's a big anniversary for gender equality on 7 February. It will be 30 years since a woman - Joan Bazely - first refereed a football match between two male teams, a non-league encounter in Croydon. And on the same day in 1976, by blessed coincidence, Diane Thorne became the first female jockey to ride a National Hunt winner, at Stratford.

On 4 March, had he not been killed at Hockenheim in 1968, and had he survived everything else thrown at him by life and motor-racing, Jim Clark would have been 70. On 22 March, it will be 100 years since the first rugby union international between England and France. England won 35-8, in Paris. Two days later, it will be 50 years since the famous 1956 Grand National, in which the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch unaccountably went sprawling less than 100 yards from the winning post. The jockey, Dick Francis, has never concocted a more compelling story than that.

Another sporting hero who died far too young, Bobby Moore, could have collected his bus pass on 12 April, doubtless with the composure with which he collected all those other passes. And on 27 April it will be 50 years to the day since Rocky Marciano retired as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. Would that several of his successors had had the nous to do the same.

On 17 May, another great boxer - Sugar Ray Leonard - turns 50, as does John Conteh 10 days later. On the 22nd, George Best would have been 60.

Earlier in the month, the blue half of Manchester can raise a glass to an authentic hero of its own. On 5 May 1956, Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann completed the FA Cup final against Birmingham City with a broken neck.

On 30 May, Mike Tyson, one of those boxers who carried on punching for far too long, hits 40. But not as hard as he hit 30. On 13 June, it will 50 years since football's first European Cup final (won by Real Madrid), and on the 26th, 100 years since the first motor racing grand prix. At Le Mans, the inaugural French Grand Prix was won in a Renault by the Romanian Ferenc Szisz. His average speed was 63mph, more breathtaking for the assembled spectators than any achieved since.

July brings two anniversaries on consecutive days for English sports fans to get dewy-eyed about. On the 30th it will be 40 years since Moore lifted football's World Cup; will it also be 21 days since David Beckham followed suit? I suspect not, but you never know. After all, which of us entered 2005 fully expecting England to win the Ashes? On which cheery subject, 2006 will mark the 50th anniversary of an Ashes achievement more substantial than any deed of Andrew Flintoff's. On 31 July, it will be half a century since Jim Laker took all 10 Australian wickets in the second innings of the fourth Test match at Old Trafford, which, on top of the nine he had taken in the first, gave him scarcely believable match figures of 19 for 90.

In The Daily Telegraph, E W Swanton wrote: "What is left in the vocabulary to describe and applaud such a tour de force? It is quite fabulous." Less fabulous going into 2006 is the form of the football team I support. I am praying, even if you're not, that goalkeeper Nigel Martyn does not turn 40 on 11 August at the onset of an Everton season outside the Premiership.

The autumn brings the 50th birthdays of two former greats whose greatness, in a way, has burgeoned as their physical prowess has waned: Sebastian Coe (on 29 September) and Martina Navratilova (on 18 October). On 26 October it will be the centenary of Primo Carnera, the gigantic Italian, nicknamed the "Ambling Alp", who became world heavyweight boxing champion in 1933. At the age of 51 he also became world heavyweight wrestling champion, by beating someone called King Kong. Not the real one, alas.

There's a bicentenary to celebrate in November - the 200th anniversary, on the 24th, of the birth of William Webb Ellis. He became a cricket Blue at Oxford and later a distinguished member of the clergy, but it is for one of his school days that he is immortalised, and not many of us can say that. In 1823, at Rugby, he picked up a football and ran with it. Thus was rugby football conceived, although it is the round-ball game that will give us the last notable event of 2006: Sir Alex Ferguson, on 31 December, becomes officially an old codger. But don't tell him I said so. Happy New Year.

Who I liked this year...

The England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher, a taciturn but thoroughly decent man, who stepped into the shadows while praise and rapture rained down on the heads of his young protégés; on the day the Ashes were won at the Oval he was in bed by 10.30pm. Alone. Even his wife stayed out longer. Yet Fletcher it was, not Michael Vaughan or Andrew Flintoff, who masterminded victory, and the judges of the BBC coach of the year award should be ashamed of themselves for giving it to Jose Mourinho, whose achievement in making Premiership winners of Chelsea, considerable though it was, owed at least as much to Roman Abramovich's dosh and his predecessor Claudio Ranieri's signings, as to his own abilities. Fletcher, by contrast, built an Ashes- winning force almost from scratch. Give him a knighthood.

And who I didn't

The Heart of Midlothian owner Vladimir Romanov, whose wealth seemed capable of achieving the impossible in Scottish football: breaking the duopoly of Celtic and Rangers. But as so often with rich men, the desire for total control got the better of him. With Hearts riding high at the top of the SPL, his absurd high-handedness forced out an excellent manager George Burley, who was followed by a fine chief executive, Phil Anderton. Romanov promised fans a top- level managerial appointment, only to end up hiring Graham Rix, a coach of only modest stature, and moreover, a convicted sex offender. But Rix has served his time and should be pilloried no longer for having had consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl, even in the city of John Knox. It is Romanov who is the villain of the piece.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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