I see a small dark stranger winning a cup

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The Independent Online
OWING to a foolish pact made with an evil-looking gentleman with cloven feet and a large toasting fork, whose identity I am pledged to protect because he owns a Premiership football club, I have acquired the ability to see into the future. The usefulness of this gift is impaired because I am not allowed to use it for the purpose of gambling or to enhance what passes for my professional reputation. This is particularly difficult at a time of year when it is obligatory to make predictions.

Therefore, to preserve the element of surprise without which sport would be as mundane as the rest of life, I am forced to sprinkle a number of wildly inaccurate forecasts among those that are genuine. For this reason, I am unable to give any indication as to which of the following will really happen.

JANUARY: England win the Fifth and final Test which began yesterday in Sydney and thus tie the series against Australia. England and Wales Cricket Board hail it as a triumph for their new, two-tier County Championship. "We only announced it three weeks ago and already we've beaten Australia twice," said an amazed spokesman. The FA chairman Keith Wiseman resigns. Chelsea's Ken Bates appointed caretaker with overall control. Mike Tyson's comeback fight against the South African Francois Botha is cancelled when Botha demands a free course of anti-tetanus jabs. The International Rugby Board fine the Rugby Football Union pounds 1m for dissent, pounds 1m for failing to stop their clubs playing against Welsh rebels Cardiff and Swansea and a further pounds 1m for letting them win. RFU decide to delete the word Rugby from their title. Denver Broncos win Superbowl XXXIII in Miami, beating Minnesota Vikings XXV-VII.

FEBRUARY: Bates resigns after arriving at FA to be given caretaker's hat and told the overalls are under the stairs. Paul Gascoigne, back in England team, scores winner in a friendly against France at Wembley. Fifa demands France return World Cup. Five Nations' Championship starts with sensation as Ireland beat France in Dublin. Irish refuse dope test because it is too difficult and lose to Wales at Wembley two weeks later. England cricketers trounce Australia to win Three-Nation One-Day Series in Melbourne but arrive home via Harwich in a false compartment at the back of a lorry. "We made our homecoming arrangements after the Third Test and had to pay in advance," explained a spokesman. "Besides, we'd heard that the Minister for Sport was waiting at Heathrow." IRB fines the rebels Cardiff and Swansea pounds 1m each and order them to undertake tour of Outer Mongolia, under canvas.

MARCH: Formula One season starts with the Australian Grand Prix and organisers announce new grid arrangements. If Michael Schumacher wants to discuss the race with any other driver afterwards he has to give the following starts: David Coulthard (10 metres) Mika Hakkinen (20m), Damon Hill (100m). Cardiff and Swansea jailed for non-payment of fines. Wales arrange to play France inside Wormwood Scrubs but game cancelled when sponsors complain of restricted view from hospitality boxes. England beat Poland in Euro 2000 qualifier after Gascoigne hat-trick. Rest of squad booked into clinic.

APRIL: Kendal Cavalier wins Grand National. Scott Gibbs leads Cardiff and Swansea players in mass jailbreak. Prison governor admits: "Our warders' tackling was pathetic." IRB set up own police force and build maximum security correction compound at Twickenham. Wales beat England at Wembley to win Triple Crown. Wales arrested and sentenced to six months at Twickenham reading IRB by-laws. Nick Faldo wins US Masters. "I owe it all to wotsername," he says.

MAY: Jubilation when Manchester United beat Juventus in Barcelona to win the European Cup. Charges of failing to turn up for three Premiership matches dropped. Gascoigne hailed as the architect as Middlesbrough take the Premiership title. Liverpool manage to concentrate long enough to win the FA Cup against eight-man Arsenal. World Cricket Cup begins with Sri Lanka beating England at Lord's. "We're slow starters," says David Lloyd. Wigan win the Rugby League Challenge Cup. New Millennium Stadium opened for Welsh Cup final. WRU deny that stadium was unfinished. "Players and spectators wearing hard hats was only a precaution," they say.

JUNE: With Gascoigne injured, England lose to Sweden and Bulgaria. Eileen Drewery sets up emergency help-line. Six-week-long Cricket World Cup a great success but England lose in the final to Sri Lanka. "We're not very good finishers, either," says David Lloyd. Dubai Millennium wins the Derby for the sheikhs. John Daly wins the US Open with the shakes. Wales out on parole from IRB Correction Compound to tour Argentina. "Thanks a lot," they say as they pack the bandages and splints.

JULY: Wimbledon sensation as Tim Henman beats Pete Sampras in semi-finals to set up Centre Court final against Gred Rusedski. St John Ambulance rush in reinforcements trained in mass fainting and knicker-wetting. Henman wins amid scenes of unparalleled hysteria and is knighted at courtside by HM Queen. Rusedski is deported. French police rush to the start of Tour de France after reports that they're all pumped up again. Turns out it was the tyres and Tour is pronounced totally drug free. Sadly, riders are not as quick as usual and take two days to finish first stage. Winner disqualified for holding on to the back of a truck. Colin Montgomerie wins The Open at Carnoustie and promises that a smile will never leave his face again.

AUGUST: Ruud Gullit finally agrees that it is impossible to manage Newcastle United while living in Amsterdam. When the new season begins, Newcastle players will commute to Holland for training.

SEPTEMBER: European golfers retain the Ryder Cup in Boston after another blistering performance against the Americans who claim they were unnerved by Montgomerie's smile. England gain a tremendous 1-0 home win against Luxembourg but flop away to Poland and fail to qualify for Euro 2000. Hoddle resigns to join Eileen Drewery Crisis Management plc. Bryan Robson appointed England coach with Paul Gascoigne as entertainments officer.

OCTOBER: Ecstatic scenes in Cardiff on 9 October when Wales beat Japan in the Rugby World Cup at the Millennium Stadium while Wales beat Switzerland at nearby Ninian Park to reach the finals of Euro 2000. It is the first time Wales have qualified for a major football championship since the 1958 World Cup. The English FA asks the Welsh if there's any chance of a grant. Coulthard wins the Japanese Grand Prix and takes the World Championship. Schumacher blows a gasket.

NOVEMBER: Shock at the Rugby World Cup after the results of the semi- finals at Twickenham. England 24 Australia 17; Wales 31 All Blacks 0. Welsh coach Graham Henry told never to return to New Zealand. The final is an agony of suspense and the scores are level at 24-24 when, with seconds to go, Neil Jenkins kicks a penalty from 40 yards out on the touchline. Pandemonium ensues and cracks appear in the Millennium Stadium's sliding roof. A tearful Henry thanks the IRB for incarcerating the team for so long. "They allowed us to stumble on the secret of success in rugby - keeping the players away from the committee."

DECEMBER: The last days of the old Millennium end with a message of hope from Minister for Sport to any sportsman guilty during the year of under-achievement and obnoxious behaviour: "Don't worry, we'll give you an MBE."

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