TEN YEARS OF SPORT : The best and worst of times

Independent writers pinpoint the contrasts that helped shape a sporting decade
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FOOTBALL

Glenn Moore

BEST: Euro 96 evokes a cluster of warm memories. England thrashing the Dutch, Stuart Pearce's penalty, the atmosphere at Wembley. Sweetest of all is Gazza's goal against the Scots. It is always harder to enjoy a match when you are working, press box etiquette and deadline pressures conspire against it, but that goal broke all constraints, especially as the Scottish press had gleefully beaten the English media a few days earlier.

WORST: April 1989: Everything pales in the shadow of Hillsborough. I was covering Leicester v Chelsea and shared the train with many heading for Sheffield. When the news filtered through the match seemed so irrelevant. Like many fans I'd felt crushed on terraces, I'd also stood in the Leppings Lane end. The memory still evokes horror, sympathy and a sense of "but for the grace of God".

CRICKET

Derek Pringle

BEST: Apart from helping to beat the West Indies at Headingley in 1991, and playing with and against the likes of Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Graham Gooch, David Gower and Ian Botham; the best thing was when Eric Clapton played exclusively in a backwoods pub for the Essex and Worcestershire players. Rain had washed out the day's play at New Road, and Eric, who was a guest of Botham's, felt he'd put something back after cleaning us all out at five card brag.

WORST: Cringing day after said soiree, when Keith Fletcher called E.C. "Ernie Clapham" to his face - Fletch was never very good with names. Being fined pounds 150 per finger, by a Test and County Cricket Board discipline committee, for flicking a V-sign, during a one-day match at Taunton.

RUGBY UNION

Chris Hewett

BEST: Rugby is a team game, right? Wrong. When Jonah Lomu, a cross between Michael Johnson and K2, scored four tries to dump England out of last year's World Cup on a cataclysmic afternoon in Cape Town, he rendered 29 other players irrelevant. His first try in the opening minute was unbelievable then and seems scarcely more credible now.

WORST: For cynicism, cowardice and crass stupidity, England's violent 1994 tour match with Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth swept the board. Elandre van den Berth's vicious stamp on Jon Callard's face was unforgivable, but the England management abandoned the moral high ground and sold rugby short by brushing Tim Rodber's subsequent sending-off under the carpet. An all-round disgrace.

ATHLETICS

Mike Rowbottom

BEST: Watching Roger Black win the 400 metres title at the 1996 AAA Championships and Olympic trials in a British record of 44.39sec at the age of 30. He had been down so far with injury and illness in previous years it seemed he would never reach his full potential. An Olympic silver, behind the incomparable Michael Johnson, soon followed.

WORST: Being woken in the early hours of the morning in Atlanta last July to be told that a bomb had gone off in the Centennial Park, the main social meeting place for visitors, and that people were dead and injured. Then seeing the National Guard assemble outside the media centre and then disperse for a street-by-street search. Despite the attack, which remains unsolved, the Olympics continued.

TENNIS

John Roberts

BEST: There has never been an occasion at Wimbledon to compare with the carnival atmosphere on Sunday 30 June, 1991 - game, set and match to the public. After the wettest opening week ever, it was decided to play on the middle Sunday for the only time in the history of the championships. Thousands who never imagined being Centre Court spectators were able to buy tickets for pounds 10 on a first come, first served basis.

WORST: John McEnroe drew the line at slapping an umpire, which is more than can be said for Jeff Tarango's wife, Benedicte. Bruno Rebeuh was on the receiving end from Benedicte at Wimbledon in 1995 after Tarango walked out on a third-round match following a dispute with the French official. The disqualified American player was fined pounds 15,000 and banned from this year's championships.

GOLF

Andy Farrell

BEST: Crans-sur-Sierre, 1993. Seve Ballesteros had to go over a six-foot wall right in front of him, under the branches of two trees, over the roof of the press tent, four fairway trees and a bunker. Who else would think of it? The impossible made possible, he merely chipped in for a birdie. He didn't win that day, but explained: "I was looking to win. There was a small gap, I couldn't resist. I knew it was difficult but I trust myself." He smiled: "If I play back to the fairway it is not news. This is news."

WORST: 1991 Ryder Cup, the War on the Shore, the tension unbearable as the match hinged on the final green of the final match. Bernhard Langer had to hole his six-footer for Europe to retain the Cup. He missed. Others may have been destroyed but Langer went home to win the German Masters the following week.

MOTOR RACING

Derick Allsop

BEST: Great champions, great races, but it was one spectacle that lasted but a few seconds which captured the mood and tension of Formula One at its most compelling, providing the abiding glorious image of the decade: Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, wheel to wheel in stirring, breathtaking combat along the straight at the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix, the British driver's nerve and determination ultimately prevailing.

WORST: Senna would be lost to the sport in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Roland Ratzenberger was killed in practice on the Saturday, Senna died in hospital after his Williams plunged into the wall at Tamburello on the seventh lap of the race the following day. The first fatalities for eight years left Formula One traumatised.

BOXING

Ken Jones

BEST: So much dignity has gone out of sport that you cannot help being drawn to the thrilling World Boxing Council light-welterweight champion, the American Oscar De La Hoya. Listening to him speak after defeating the great Julio Cesar Chavez earlier this year was a joy. No bluster. Just the hope that he can go and prove to be an outstanding champion.

WORST: When Gerald McClellan collapsed in his corner, and went into a coma after losing a brutal contest against Nigel Benn last year even people who had followed boxing all their lives wondered whether it was worth the candle. Even with the best possible medical safeguards in place, McClellan came close to death, and will never recover from the brain damage that has left him blind.

RACING

Richard Edmondson

BEST: On 2 November 1993, Vintage Crop beat dehydration, the longest journey you can make on the planet and the pride of Australia to become the first horse from the northern hemisphere to win the Melbourne Cup. Only a handful of European press men were at Flemington to witness the Irish gelding's victory and their celebrations were motivated by both jingoism and financial considerations. I had pounds 20 on at 16-1.

WORST: The hyping to the Gods of a promising racehorse is almost an annual occurrence on the turf, but seldom has the thesaurus been ransacked as much as it was for Celtic Swing last year. The colt's notion of omnipotence was blown away on 6 May when he was defeated by Pennekamp in the 2,000 Guineas, at the same time sustaining an injury which meant he was never the same again.

RUGBY LEAGUE

Dave Hadfield

BEST: Great Britain's victory over Australia in the third Test at the Sydney Football Stadium in 1988 was their first for a decade and totally unexpected.

It promised a new era during which the code's two leading countries would compete as equals, producing some memorable series, although Great Britain has still to win one.

WORST: The decision last month of British clubs, nudged in that direction by the Rugby League's board of directors, to withdraw the offer of a Super League place to South Wales. Predictably, South Wales have crawled away and died and the game as a whole in Wales could go the same way. Narrow, short-term self-interest appeared to have brought an end to the era of fitful expansion that began with Fulham in 1980.

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