Brian Viner: Where were you when the world stopped as Jonny dropped for goal and glory?

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The Independent Football

On Monday it will be precisely a year since a determined 24-year-old man took perfect aim at his target, and in hitting it, dismayed the whole of Australia. Coincidentally, it will also be 41 years to the day since another determined 24-year-old man took perfect aim at his target, and in hitting it, dismayed the entire world. The former was called Jonny Wilkinson; the latter, Lee Harvey Oswald.

On Monday it will be precisely a year since a determined 24-year-old man took perfect aim at his target, and in hitting it, dismayed the whole of Australia. Coincidentally, it will also be 41 years to the day since another determined 24-year-old man took perfect aim at his target, and in hitting it, dismayed the entire world. The former was called Jonny Wilkinson; the latter, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Now, you might think it indefensibly glib to draw any kind of parallel between a moment of English sporting ecstasy and the assassination of the President of the United States. And so it is. But it's my column and I'll be glib if I want to. Besides, there is another connection. The killing of John F Kennedy spawned a new genre of nostalgia - the "where were you when?" genre - and for some of us, nothing propels us back to a time and a place quite like the memory of a great sporting spectacle.

That said, there is a difference between "where were you when you heard the news?" - as in the case of 22 November 1963 - and "where were you when you watched the match?", as in the case of 22 November 2003.

The former question is likely to inspire more varied reminiscences, simply because news takes people unawares. For instance, I remember receiving the news of Princess Diana's death with some relief. Half-asleep in bed, I heard my wife crying "Oh my God!", and in my befuddled state thought at first that something had happened to one of the children. When someone told me two planes had flown into the World Trade Center, I was on my way to Stansted Airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh. An uneasy flyer at the best of times, I boarded with more trepidation than usual that afternoon.

We all have tales of where we were when we heard such news. Our most vivid sporting memories, by contrast, tend to place most of us in front of televisions or beside radios. But that doesn't make them any less evocative of the time, the setting, the circumstances. The 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy whisks me back to the plush lounge of some family friends, Uncle Ronnie and Auntie Sybil. I was eight years old.

We were there because they had a colour telly, one of those big faux-antique cabinet jobs, and we didn't. I had to endure the following World Cup in monochrome, too. We didn't get a colour telly until 1975, and then only so my dad could distinguish between jockeys' silks in the ITV Seven. He died the following February, having had only a few months to savour the sheer apricotness of Lord Howard de Walden's racing colours. It was a sudden heart attack that felled him, on a train, during the Winter Olympics. The very next day I watched John Curry skating to gold, but couldn't get too enthusiastic about it.

My father's untimely departure for the celestial armchair at least lifted the barrier on his First Division football veto. I'd been allowed to go to Haig Avenue to watch Southport FC but not to Goodison Park, which he thought too dangerous for a boy, to watch Everton FC. Now I could. I got myself a season ticket. And I was there on 28 October 1978, when Everton beat Liverpool for the first time in seven seasons. I even remember the smell: part Bovril, part body odour. It was the day Marcel Proust met Andy King.

Later sporting memories become entangled with my love life. In 1982 I took an American girlfriend to watch Lancashire play Warwickshire. Even back then I knew how to show women a good time. And indelibly imprinted on my mind is that the Warwickshire pair Alvin Kallicharran and Geoff Humpage scored double-centuries with ridiculous haste, while I tried to explain to a bemused Californian that she was seeing something out of the ordinary. "You mean this counts as unusually exciting," she said, slowly. "OK."

By 1986 I had another girlfriend, and watched the World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina in her sister's grotty bedsit near Elephant & Castle. By Italia 90 I was going out with someone else, the woman who is now my wife. At a pavement cafe in Nazare, Portugal, we watched David Platt scoring for England against Belgium. We hugged. My steak and chips had just arrived.

But enough of where I was when. Send me your memories, those that best evoke a time and place, and for the most vivid or poignant I'll dispatch a bottle of champagne.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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