The year in sport: Enter Gazza & Shearer, exit O'Leary & Sven

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The Independent Online

As in past years, I have been asked by the International Sooth-sayers and Clairvoyants' Association not to ruin their livelihoods by forecasting exactly what is going to occur in sport during 2002.

Several bookmaking firms have couched similar requests in less polite but far more persuasive terms. I feel bound to agree with their four representatives who visited my home the other midnight that by using the full force of my famous prescience I would make sport as predictable and boring as the rest of life.

It would spoil the fun of millions, not to mention theirs. Accordingly, I have mixed a great deal of imagination with the reality, and the consequence is that only some of the following will turn out to be true. I would be risking my life by indicating which is which.

January: Interactive football on digital TV kicks off the new year with a rush. Already, the BBC have announced that their coverage of the FA Cup third round creates "a powerful new formula" for viewers. By pressing buttons on their zappers, viewers can watch the live action at the same time as reviewing edited highlights of the drama and updated match statistics. They can also choose to listen to John Motson et al or a radio commentary instead. Gremlins get into the system and Leeds fans watch in horror as their team lose to Cardiff City with a commentary and match facts in Welsh. David O'Leary resigns and announces that he is to take over Man-chester United at the end of the season. Leeds advertise for a new manager – "preferably one who can't write". Wembley decision expected next week.

February: Six Nations gets off to a shock start when Scotland beat England at Murrayfield on the first Saturday. "We're sick and tired of waiting until the end of the season before failing to win the Grand Slam," explains Clive Woodward. Winter Olympics take place in Salt Lake City, with Britain's only gold medal coming in the railway frozen points event. Terry Yorath's Sheffield Wednesday win the Worthington Cup in his native Cardiff, beating Spurs 2-1. Wembley decision expected next week.

March: Success with interactive TV so great that Premiership and television companies, those twin bastions of commercial incentive, bring in new ideas. In addition to stereo match sounds, viewers' sets will pour out cold air, and hot- Bovril vouchers are printed in the Radio Times. Football reaches fever pitch with the Champions' League and World Cup build-up. Manchester United beat Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, Liverpool win away in Barcelona and Arsenal draw against Juventus in Turin. England struggle against Italy in a friendly at Elland Road but Alan Shearer still refuses to come out of international retirement. Wembley decision expected next week.

April: Supreme Glory wins the Grand National in a triumph for trainer Pat Murphy and jockey Leighton Aspell. As Newcastle United increase their lead at the top of the Premiership, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson again pleads with Shearer to change his mind. Wembley decision expected next week.

May: Shearer scores Newcastle's winning goal in the FA Cup final. Queen refuses to hand over trophy unless he agrees to join England in Japan. He gives in. Paul Gascoigne gets a shock call-up to the England squad; Eriksson is finally persuaded by the argument that he is the only one capable of insulting their opponents to breaking point. World Cup starts. English fans arrive in Japan determined to wipe out their violent past and declaring they are on a bridge-building mission. "Well, the last one you built was pretty good," they are told. Wembley decision expected next week.

June: The World Cup starts like a dream. 2 June at Saitama, England 3 (Shearer 3 pens) Sweden 0 (three Swedish players sent off for trying to strangle Gascoigne). 7 June at Sapporo, Argentina 0 England 7 (IMF report Argentina national debt paid off by mystery donor). 12 June at Osaka, Nigeria 0 England 1 (Kanu og). 16 June at Oita, England 2 Denmark 0 (Schmeichel 2 og). 22 June, quarter-finals, Osaka, England 2 Japan 0 (Kawaguchi 2 og). 26 June, semi-finals, Saitama, England 2 (Ferrer 2 og) Spain 1 (McManaman og). 30 June, World Cup final at Yokohama. England 2 France 2 (aet) France win 5-4 on penalties after Shearer misses from spot. Sven Goran Eriksson sacked. Act One wins dramatic Derby. Trained by Jonathan Pease, the French horse foils Irish wizard Aidan O'Brien. Wembley decision made last week. Don't tell me you missed it?

July: England win First Test against India at Lord's after Sachin Tendulkar retires with arthritis in his left hip. Michael Schumacher in sensational double at Silverstone: he wins the British Grand Prix and is first to get out of the car park in time to win the German Grand Prix two weeks later. Her Majesty opens the 25th Commonwealth Games in Manchester to the sound of suitcases being snapped shut. Thanks to masterpiece of timing, the Games coincide with the UK's most popular holiday fortnight.

August: Never mind, Britain has every reason to be proud of her Commonwealth, especially the athletes produced by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and points north, east, west and south. The Government reacts to our poor showing by announcing several sporting initiatives that have already been announced three times in the past four years. Treasury awarded gold medal for synchronised Lottery money-hoarding. Interactive TV announces new breakthrough: viewers can have a player substituted if 80 per cent of them press his number followed by the green button.

September: US Ryder Cup team leave America bound for the Ryder Cup at the Belfry, which was postponed last year after the World Trade Centre atrocities. "We have no fears about coming over now," says captain Curtis Strange as he leads his team up the gangplank of the aircraft carrier USS Missouri. GB sends four Polaris submarines for extra cover. Europe win Ryder Cup after Sergio Garcia outpoints Tiger Woods. "It was all this hanging about," complains Strange. England win Fourth Test at The Oval to clinch series against India.

October: Manchester United begin defence of Champions' League won in Sir Alex Ferguson's last match. Manager O'Leary complains of interference from United marketing department. The shop has mistakenly ordered one million replica shirts, size XXL. "You must sign a big, fat player," he is told. Digital TV factories struggle to meet demand as fans clamour for more zapper power. Half of the England cricket squad refuse to travel to Australia for the Ashes. "The plane might get there," they say.

November: Rugby Football Union plough on with heavy autumn international programme despite poor showing in Six Nations last season. "We were knackered by Christmas," complains Woodward as he prepares to face Australia and South Africa within a week. Interactive TV reaches new heights as viewers asked to help out referees. After every bad tackle they are asked to press red or yellow. Refs say it is a load off their minds and fans haven't felt so involved since ancient Roman times.

December: Varsity rugby match watched by 987 spectators while 68,345 are still eating and drinking in Twickenham car park. England cricketers object to one-day series in the middle of Ashes Tests. Aussies point out that the one-dayers are lasting longer than the Tests. Tony Blair makes pledge for better sporting future. Commonwealth Games cancelled from now on so we can concentrate on the Olympics and particularly the Winter Games, where we have never examined our potential. Blair announces funding for a UK skiing academy. Minister for Sport looks at a site in the Isle of Wight but says it could be accommodated in a new Wembley complex. A decision is expected next week.

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