The season for handing out the prescience

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The Independent Online
The Power to see into the future is a priceless gift for a sports columnist but it places a massive responsibility on those few of us who possess it. To use our awesome clarity of prescience less than sparingly would risk revealing this rare ability and thus completely spoil the fun.

Remove the element of surprise and its ability to shock occasionally and sport would become just as predictable and boring as the rest of life. Imagine how much delighted amazement you would have been denied if you had known, like me, that England were going to hold New Zealand to a draw at Twickenham. Mind you, it wasn't easy to accept even for the all-knowing.

The discipline involved in keeping tight-lipped about the future is never greater than when betting is involved. There are very strict rules against cashing in on our knowledge but self-preservation provides a more compelling reason for not disclosing the secrets of the future. If the bookmakers knew such knowledge existed, they'd have you bumped off.

What follows, therefore, is an attempt to maintain the pretence of abject ignorance that has kept us alive this far. It is impossible to resist the temptation to slip in the odd true prophecy among the deliberately misleading ones but readers will be hard put to tell which is which:

January: Brian Lara gets a pair as West Indies crash to defeat in the first Test of England's Caribbean Tour. England fans watching on television celebrate amid mass weeping among their small children who think Lara is one of the Teletubbies. Fathers explain that they are mixing him up with Shane Warne. Jurgen Klinsmann scores his first goal for Spurs since arriving on his highly paid rescue mission. "That goal alone was a vindication of our investment in him," says Alan Sugar. "It was much better than any of the seven the other side scored."

February: Twickenham waterlogged for England v Wales international. Match switched to Wembley where Wales win a famous victory, 28-20. "Unfair," claims England coach Clive Woodward, "Wales had home advantage." Winter Olympics open at Nagano, Japan, with a sensation in the two-man bobsleigh event when the British team effortlessly slither to the gold medal. Rival teams demand that the runners of the British bobsleigh be examined for illegal sliding substance. "Never seen such a smooth ride. We don't know where that extra slipperiness came from," said the Swiss. The victorious British pair are identified as David Mellor and Peter Mandelson.

March: Sheikh Mohammed suddenly carries out the threat to withdraw all his horses from British racing because of paltry prize money. Move takes place at dead of night when the thoroughbreds are collected from their various stables and shipped to France in special padded container lorries. Unfortunate mix-up at Calais chunnel terminal causes destination error. Sheikh horrified to receive e-mail message from Paris: "Send more horses. The last lot were delicious."

April: Manchester United strengthen grip on the Premiership title, beating off Liverpool's brave challenge. United also win through to FA Cup and European Cup finals to set up historic treble. Klinsmann finishes as Premiership's top scorer. "What a deal," beams Sugar. Spurs are relegated. Rough Quest, trained by Terry Casey and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, wins the Grand National for the second time in three years.

May: Tumult at Wimbledon as Tim Henman meets Greg Rusedski in the men's final. Henman wins a classic 4-6 6-4 5-7 7-5 24-22 and the delirious crowd refuses to leave centre court until well after midnight. Meanwhile, top tennis stars around the world complain that they weren't informed about the change of dates. "They usually hold it at the end of June," protests Pete Sampras. Liverpool win the FA Cup, beating United 1-0. Andy Cole, transferred from Old Trafford for refusing to go out with a Spice Girl, scores Liverpool's winner. United's consolation is to win the European Cup which the press call "a great boost for England's chances in the World Cup". In the final, Ryan Giggs scores all three goals and Peter Schmeichel saves four penalties.

June: England make triumphal entry into the World Cup. England hooligans make triumphal entry into Paris. The Government's Football Task Force chairman, David Mellor, warns the French riot police not to over-react. "They are not all thugs," he says. "Don't worry, mon ami," say the French, "we're not going to hit them all." Despite these distractions, England reach the quarter-finals where, sadly, they are ousted by Germany after a penalty shoot-out. I cannot reveal the name of the English player fated to miss the vital spot-kick because he might not turn up. The Derby is won by an Irish horse for the first time in 14 years. Second Empire, trained by Aidan O'Brien in Tipperary, romps home with Mick Kinane in the saddle.

July: Brazil win the World Cup with a stirring victory over Germany in the final. Mike Tyson ends his year-long ban for biting lumps out of Evander Holyfield and is immediately re-licensed to box again. The promoter Don King says: "We're looking for opponents who are not too tough."

August: Tiger Woods wins the US PGA Championship, thereby completing the Grand Slam having previously won the US Masters, the Open and the US Open. "I guess this could become a habit," he says. Colin Montgomerie finishes second just as he did in the other three. "I guess this is a bloody habit," he says.

September: The rugby season starts with a brand-new format. Having lost the Five Nations' Championship to Wales, England announce a programme of 10 international fixtures before Christmas as part of their urgent preparations for the 1999 World Cup in Wales. At least, it was going to be in Wales. After beating England, Scotland and France beneath the Twin Towers, Wales have halted the redevelopment of Cardiff Arms Park and plan to stage all future games, including the World Cup, at Wembley Stadium. The local council promise that construction work on 20 new pubs will soon be completed. Commonwealth Games is opened by Her Majesty the Queen in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but she is overwhelmed by a strange feeling that no one is paying any attention.

October: The British Sports Academy continues to take shape at Sheffield but there is no news about the size of the tuition fees involved. If you go on to win a gold medal, play for England, or win a world title at boxing, a sizeable extra payment will be expected. But if, for example, you end up playing for Manchester City a full refund will be made.

November: After consultation with the Government it has been decided to add training in offshore floating to the academy's curriculum.

December: Henman wins the BBC TV's Sports Personality of the Year award with Rusedski as runner-up. Now that Wimbledon is exclusively British and is now the only event the BBC are prepared to televise in full, we can be confident that only nice tennis players will win this coveted trophy in future. But the BBC are anxious to point out that other sportsmen will still take part in studio games and in Des Lynam's karaoke session which is introduced for the first time this year. "Our commitment to sport remains as solid as ever," says a spokesman.

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