Peter Corrigan: Arsenal Reserves up for the cup, Ginger a National hero again

Every year at this time, the soothsayers among us present our predictions for the forthcoming 12 months, and do so with trepidation, because we have been known to get it wrong.

But, as I have been at pains to explain in previous years, some of us have to be very careful not to betray the fact that we know more than we should do. We are in possession of a gift to foresee events with such clarity it is dangerous not only to sport, which relies on the unknown and unexpected for its fascination, but also to ourselves. For this reason, we hide forecasts we know to be accurate among a heap of those we know to be wrong, some hopelessly so, and we offer no clue which is which. In this way, we preserve sport's essential mystery.

People have been inclined to scoff at this claim and dismiss it as a subterfuge to disguise the fact that we haven't the faintest idea what is going to happen. To answer this slur, I am going to demonstrate the strength of my powers by going back over this year's predictions. If you have a copy of the Independent on Sunday for 29 December 2002, you will be able to follow more easily. If you haven't, you'll have to take my word for it.

The very first prediction for Jan-uary, for instance, was "England will beat Australia for a sensational win in the Fifth Test in Sydney". Considering that England had lost the first four Tests, this was seemingly a foolhardy forecast. Not if you know.

In the next sentence I wrote that Third Division Shrewsbury Town would beat Premiership Everton in the third round of the FA Cup.

For February, I wrote that Australia would smash Great Britain in the Davis Cup, hardly an earth-shattering surprise, but then I added "but the real disaster comes at Upton Park, where Australia's footballers cause a major upset by beating England in an international friendly". How prescient was that?

After such a brilliant start it was just as well that I'd thrown in a few wrong 'uns to divert suspicion. Michael Schumacher to win the world championship was predictable by anyone, but no one else forecast that England would have to travel to Turkey needing one point to qualify for the Euro 2004 finals. I also said they would get through, but I took the precaution of saying the score would be 3-3 instead of the goalless draw it turned out to be.

The grand finale, however, was the Rugby World Cup, when I foretold England's passage to the final via victories over South Africa, Wales and France. I did not mention the scare Wales were to give them because I wanted it to be a surprise, but I did write: "England will play Australia in the final, and after a titanic tussle will emerge 24-20 victors (Wilkinson, pens 7, drop goal 1)." The actual score was 20-17, but I could not be too precise, and I'm sure you will have noticed that I gave prior notice of that drop goal.

Had I told you all this was fact in advance it would have ruined the year. There would have been no point in big parades and ballyhoo if the rest of you knew all along it was going to happen. I also refrained from betting on the outcome. Indeed, I even backed Australia in order to put the bookies off the scent - what do you think my life would be worth if that lot knew of my clairvoyant gift?

I am afraid that the same restraints must apply to the following predictions for next year. It is up to you to work out which ones are genuine and, if you must have a bet, the odds I quote are supplied by Paddy Power, the bookmakers who paid punters in advance on runaway leaders Arsenal to be Premiership champs, only for Manchester United to pip them at the post. I do like a sporting bookie.

January
Wolves become the year's first FA Cup giant-killers when they beat Kidderminster in the third round, while Yeovil take Liverpool back to Anfield. Odds against Gérard Houllier leaving stay at 6-5. Rio Ferdinand launches appeal against his eight-month ban. Manchester United hire 15 QCs but don't announce the final 11 until the night before. Ban stands; QCs transfer-listed.

February
New England Patriots win the Super Bowl. Welsh rugby fans say they are fed up with new England patriots. England, 4-6 to win the Grand Slam, open their Six Nations campaign with narrow win in Italy. "It's very hard to play and carry the World Cup around at the same time," explains Clive Woodward. England footballers in no-score draw with Portugal in a friendly in the Algarve. Despite ban on alcohol sales to English fans, there are 50 arrests. "For a dry run it was impressive," say hooligans.

March
Arsenal Reserves win Carling Cup final in Cardiff. In the first of 18 Test matches England face this year they are beaten by West Indies in Jamaica. "The lads need more time to recover from Muttiah Muralitharan," says Michael Vaughan.

April
Red Rum's trainer, Ginger McCain, is re-united with glory when his Amberleigh House takes the Grand National. Tiger Woods, 80-1 to win all four majors, wins the US Masters.

May
New Zealand arrive to start cricket tour; England still in West Indies. Chelsea win the FA Cup in Cardiff. Roman Abramovich makes a bid for the Millennium Stadium. Wasps beat Leinster to win the Heineken Cup at Twickenham.

June
Snow Ridge, ridden by Frankie Dettori, wins the Derby for Godolphin. Euro 2004 kicks off in Portugal. England (Wayne Rooney) beat France 1-0 in first group match. Fans too flabbergasted to riot. Tiger Woods wins US Open at Shinnecock Hills. Wimbledon's new roof finished just in time. Tim Henman goes out in third round, claiming it's too dark.

July
England beaten 2-0 by France (Henry, Zidane) in Euro 2004 final. Jonny Wilkinson says that switching codes at short notice was not a good idea. Sven Goran Eriksson resigns and says he will join Chelsea if Rooney can come with him. Tiger Woods beats Colin Montgomerie in a play-off to win The Open at Troon.

August
The Olympic Games open in Athens on 13 August. Premier League starts here on 14 August. "They've got some bloody nerve pre-empting us," say clubs. Great Britain win four gold medals. "Not enough," says the Government. "Anyone want to buy some playing fields?" Tiger Woods wins US PGA and registers first grand slam in calendar year.

September
Houllier leaves Liverpool after losing first three matches. Martin O'Neill takes over. Houllier applies for England job and joins Claudio Ranieri on shortlist. Europe retain the Ryder Cup in Detroit after US flop in final-day singles. Woods distraught.

October
Shock result - Chelsea 6 (Rooney 3, Michael Owen 2, Ruud van Nistelrooy 1) Manchester United 1 (Rio Ferdinand og) at Old Trafford. London's 2012 Olympic bid hit when Abramovich buys East End for Chelsea nursery.

November
England players refuse to play for anyone worth less than they are. David Beckham appointed as player-manager.

December
Athens double gold medallist Paula Radcliffe (5-2) wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year award despite late surge of votes for Rooney (16-1). Chelsea 10 points clear at the top of the Premiership on New Year's Eve, but look out for fast-improving Liverpool.

Comments