Mike Rowbottom: Chambers heads memories of things best forgotten in 2003

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The Independent Football

The imminent arrival of a new year always gives us cause to reflect upon the preceding 12 months. I will remember 2003 as being more than 2002 and yet less, somehow, than 2004.

But it will resonate for reasons other than that, and much of the reverberation will have to do with sport, because there's something about sport that's intrinsically memorable.

I love poetry, and cannot remember it. Years ago, a friend with an admirable capacity for committing verse to memory assisted me in a project I deemed of pressing importance after downing four or five pints of beer. So it was that I learnt Sunlight in the Garden by Louis MacNeice.

It is a mysteriously satisfying piece of work. "The sunlight in the garden hardens and grows cold, We cannot something the minute within its net of gold; When all is something we cannot beg (hope?) for pardon...'' Er... that's all folks. I knew the lot - now I'm left with a faulty sampler.

Of course, we cannot call to mind, say, a whole football game, a tennis match or the course of a race. But there is something about sport that seems to lodge in my memory bank like a computer virus.

Poetry, names, where I put the sellotape (if it was me, which I don't definitely accept, although I do agree that it was likely as I was the last one to have the bag it was in. Supposed to be in). Where was I... yes... these things I forget. Part of the problem may be intrinsically mine, of course. Once, I bought a second-hand copy of Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point and discovered, after about 90 pages, that there was a section of around 20 pages missing. Not ripped out. Not transposed. Simply not there.

You can imagine my feelings. But can you empathise when years later I began reading the same book again and discovered exactly the same thing? This sounds unlikely, I know. But I promise you it is true.

The details of sport, for some perverse reason, I don't forget. The winners of the FA Cup from the Second World War to the mid-1990s are lodged in my mind as irrevocably as the conviction that I am a good driver and, should it ever come to it, could probably handle myself in a fight against a mad knifeman because I would simply dodge the blade.

1957, Aston Villa. 1958, Bolton Wanderers. 1959, Nottingham Forest. 1960, Wolverhampton Wanderers. 1961 and 1962, Tottenham Hotspur. 1963, Manchester United...

Believe me, I could go on, but that would be as pointless as committing it all to memory in the first place.

Not that the majority of sport which fills my head has been as consciously sought as those Wembley details.

The year just ending, for instance, has offered a succession of images I shall retain in years to come when the location of the sellotape once more becomes maddeningly opaque. And the one I can't get out of my head right now is that of Dwain Chambers sitting in the foyer of his hotel in Paris Bercy the day after failing to get a medal in the World Championships 100m final.

The young Londoner's demeanour could hardly have been in greater contrast to his dazzling white tracksuit. The gathered press offered all the usual helpful suggestions as to his future progress.

Someone suggested that the experience of losing the World Championships could be a positive motivation for the following year's Olympics. It was an invitation to accept a comforting platitude. But Chambers couldn't seem even to embrace this empty consolation. He leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees, and shook his head. It's unnerving when you see people in this state, particularly when you are more used to witnessing them talking the talk and walking the walk. His lack of... anything... made the occasion deeply uncomfortable.

Chambers' current state of mind in the wake of his positive test for the so-called "designer steroid" hardly bears thinking about.

But even back in August, his desolation pointed up the fact that athletics is the most unremitting of sports. Failure is always painfully obvious.

By the same token, success is always transparent, and nobody's year has shone more clearly than Paula Radcliffe's.

Her towering achievement in taking almost two minutes off her own world marathon record in London eight months ago was remarkable not just for the prodigious effort involved, but the fact that it didn't surprise anybody.

Following years of heart-rending frustration, Radcliffe has become one of the truly great runners in that success is simply what is expected of her.

After her agonising failure to earn a medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a colleague vowed: "That's it. I'm not writing about Paula Radcliffe any more.''

His views seem to have softened since that day.