Brian Viner: The greatest celebrations never play to the gallery

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The Independent Online

From where I was sitting, at my kitchen table, there were three wonderful things about the Cheltenham Gold Cup last Thursday afternoon.

From where I was sitting, at my kitchen table, there were three wonderful things about the Cheltenham Gold Cup last Thursday afternoon.

One concerned the fact that I had started a credit account with William Hill shortly before Tuesday's Champion Hurdle, seduced by the offer of a free £25 bet. I'm not much of a gambler, you understand (by "you", I'm principally addressing my mother-in-law, an avid reader of this column), but a free bet seemed too good to resist. Predictably, the £25 ended up back in William Hill's pocket.

Anyway, shortly before the Gold Cup I had a sudden urge to stick a few quid on Keen Leader, not least because I had been introduced to him by his trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, a couple of weeks earlier, and he looked to me like a horse who was going places. It seemed almost seditious to oppose Best Mate but the odds looked attractive, at least for an each-way punt.

With just a couple of minutes to go before the race I phoned William Hill, but the chap there told me that the account number I had given was one digit out, and while we resolved this difficulty the race started, so I told him to forget it and settled back to watch, now hoping that Keen Leader, starting at 10-1, would finish at around 20 past four. Happily for me, if not for Jonjo, he was resoundingly beaten. It's almost as satisfying when the horse you almost backed disappears without trace as it is maddening when the damn thing wins at a canter.

The second wonderful thing was the race itself.

Thanks to my digit problem I now, like the rest of the universe, wanted Best Mate to win. And what a win it was. I can't remember ever being so excited by a race in which I have had no pecuniary interest, with the possible exception of the 100m final at the Barcelona Olympics, when I leapt out of my armchair so vigorously as Linford Christie broke the tape that I incurred a slight groin strain.

The third wonderful thing about the Gold Cup was the most wonderful thing of all, a spectacle that those of us who weren't there will never forget. As Channel 4's cameras followed Best Mate's triumphal procession to the winner's enclosure, the trainer, Henrietta Knight, was reunited with her husband, Terry Biddlecombe, whom I presume she hadn't seen since before the race. The two old troupers rushed at each other and embraced, and if you weren't watching through glistening eyes then you weren't watching.

It was a magically poignant sporting moment; as guileless and spontaneous as so many goal celebrations in football are witless and orchestrated. And it got me wondering: what have been sport's most stirring celebrations, those moments of euphoria untainted by any desire to play to the crowd? Football, in fairness, has supplied plenty of them, from Nobby Stiles jigging round the Wembley pitch after the 1966 World Cup final to David Pleat skipping inelegantly across the Maine Road turf after Luton Town escaped relegation.

But if one football snapshot is sharper than the rest it is that of the Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe rushing to hug his heroic goalkeeper, Jim Montgomery, after he had kept mighty Leeds United at bay in the 1973 FA Cup final. Stokoe's recent death must have sent millions of memories spooling back to that day. It was a day when one of football's little good guys triumphed at the expense of one of the big bad guys, Don Revie (whom Stokoe apparently loathed because Revie had once tried to bribe him to throw a match).

In other sports, the Wimbledon singles champion Pat Cash clambering over the heads of the Centre Court crowd to embrace his proud dad was an unforgettable tearjerker, and the sight of Bjorn Borg winning Wimbledon always used to thrill me; it was reassuring to see the ice man finally melting.

For a similar reason, I cherished the shots of a triumphant Steve Redgrave slumped in his boat, exhausted. He was never the most eloquent fellow, but no sportsman ever had more expressive body language. And for sheer exuberant joy, Seve Ballesteros winning the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews is an image that will never fade. Ditto Sam Torrance sinking the winning putt in the following year's Ryder Cup.

Then there are all those celebratory moments which represent victory in life as well as sport: Bob Champion overcoming cancer to ride a Grand National winner, Alex Higgins overcoming a regiment of demons to win the World Snooker Championship, the Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic giving his benighted homeland something to cheer about at Wimbledon.

Let me know, in up to 100 words, what your own favourite sporting celebration has been, and why it moved or inspired or simply delighted you.

I'll revisit the subject in a future column and print a selection of your replies, with a bottle of champers for the reader who does the best job of evoking the moment.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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