Brian Viner: Look back and remember the great and the grim

Year's grandest anniversary marks 250 years since the Society of St Andrews golfers was formed; Rochdale and Cambridge United share a more crummy slice of history
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The Independent Online

It is traditional for this column, in its first outing of a new year, to look ahead to all the birthdays and anniversaries which in turn will cause us to look back.

The answers to my Christmas quiz, therefore, will have to wait until next week. Thank you to all those who took the trouble to enter. There was a record number of entries, and an impressive number of those had every answer correct. Of the 100 per centers, who will find out who they are next week, a year's supply of Spitfire Premium Ale awaits the person who supplies the best advertising slogan for Spitfire. So get those mental propellers whirring...

In the meantime, the year's big dates start tomorrow with the 70th anniversary of Herbert Chapman's death. A few months ago, when I listed my contenders to be considered the greatest British club manager of all time - Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Bob Paisley, Alex Ferguson and Gordon Lee, as I recall - I got a stern note from an Arsenal fan, furious not that I had omitted Arsène Wenger, but that I had overlooked Chapman.

My correspondent was right to be indignant, not least because Chapman made FA Cup winners and League champions of Huddersfield Town before he even joined Arsenal. And he was a remarkable visionary, who strongly advocated things we take for granted today, such as floodlights and numbered shirts.

Also worth noting this month, on the 20th it will be 30 years since the first English League football match to be held on a Sunday. Millwall and Fulham share that particular slice of history. On 5 February, Rochdale and Cambridge United share a more crummy slice of history; 30 years since just 450 hardy souls pitched up at Spotland to watch their Fourth Division match - breaking a 44-year record for the lowest league attendance.

It was 14 February 1984, when Torvill and Dean memorably hooked up with Ravel and "Bolero", and 25 February 1964, when 22-year-old Cassius Clay sensationally knocked out Sonny Liston to become, for the first time, heavyweight champion of the world.

On 4 March, Willie Thorne finally turns 50 after looking 50 since he was 30. And 7 March sees the 40th anniversary of one of history's immortal horse races, Arkle's defeat of Mill House in the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 80th anniversary of England's first football international at Wembley - a 1-1 draw with Scotland - occurs on 12 April. And if you want to send Trevor Francis a present for his 50th birthday (don't all rush to the post office at once, Crystal Palace fans), it's on the 19th.

The 10th anniversary of Formula One's grimmest yet arguably most significant day - Ayrton Senna's fatal crash in the San Marino Grand Prix - falls on 1 May. For British athletics, May brings back much happier memories - on the 6th it will 50 years since Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3min 59.4sec. A day earlier, horse racing celebrates a great centenary - the birth of Gordon Richards on 5 May 1904.

It is the golf establishment, however, which celebrates the year's grandest sporting anniversary. On 14 May 1754, 22 men formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Judging by the average age of R&A members, one or two of the founders are still around. Meanwhile, another venerable organisation was formed on 21 May, 1904: the Federation Internationale de Football Association, warmly known to us all as Fifa.

On 2 June, Lester Piggott can think back 50 years to his first Derby win, as an 18-year-old on the back of the 33-1 shot Never Say Die. And in the unlikely event of any of us seeing Jackie Stewart on a bus on or after 11 June, he'll be travelling for free.

Rene Lacoste, the great French tennis player who had a crocodile logo sewn on to his shirt apparently to symbolise his determination to "devour" his opponents, was born on 2 July 1904. And on 5 July it will be 125 years since the birth of another significant character in tennis history, Dwight Davis, who became US Secretary of War but is better known for inspiring (mostly) non-violent confrontation between nations in the form of the Davis Cup.

On 9 July Peter Thomson can reflect on the half-century that has passed since he won the first of his five Open Championships. The following month, on 23 August, he turns 75.

On 10 September an even more famous golfer, Arnold Palmer, birthday cards a 75, to be joined by Stirling Moss a week later. On 30 September it will be 40 years since a country was represented in a football international by 11 players from one club. Any guesses? The country was Belgium, the club Anderlecht. The French will eclipse that record on the day, probably not too far off, that they field 11 Arsenal players.

The 50th anniversary of Chris Chataway's epic 5,000m victory over the Russian runner Vladimir Kuts, which won him the inaugural BBC Sports Personality of the Year competition, falls on 13 October and is also the 20th anniversary of another remarkable feat of athleticism - the first nine-dart finish in a major championship, by John Lowe in the British Open. And on 30 October it will be 30 years since the most written-about boxing match of all time, the "Rumble in the Jungle".

As for the most written-about Test cricket series of all time, that undoubtedly remains the "Bodyline" series of 1932-33. November brings the centenary of one of the main protagonists in that series, the England bowler Harold Larwood, born on 14 November 1904.

The year after Bodyline, England and Australia somehow managed to patch up the acrimony sufficiently to inaugurate women's Test cricket - the first match took place 70 years ago this year, in Brisbane on 28 December 1934.

Which reminds me: there was some disgruntlement in women's cricket circles after England's rugby union players won the World Cup, because it was said to be the first World Cup victory by an England team in a major sport since 1966. Yet our women cricketers won the World Cup in 1973 and again in 1993, and if you try telling some of them that women's cricket is not a major sport, then 2004 could be the year in which you need to choose an epitaph.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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