Now available in spiral-bound format at no good bookstores or the rubbish ones either, the all new A-Z Guide Of Chokers brings together the glorious failures for whom the prospect of impending triumph appears to be as unsettling a prospect as going to work the morning after a heavy session down the Nag’s Head. Gather around with Elmo, for this megachoke is brought you by the letters A to Z.
A — Arsenal (Football)
Arsenal might seem like an odd choice, given the penchant for attractive football that attracts literally tens of people to the Emirates. But this is a side, for all their plaudits, without a trophy in six years. If you need some perspective, even Luton Town have been to Wembley and lifted silverware in that time. And they’re in the Blue Square Premier. Lest it be said that Tottenham have won more in that time. But that spell could have come to an end in the 2011 League Cup final. Instead, a farcical attempt at Defending 101 ended in catastrophe. Wenger didn’t see it…
B — Boswell, Scott (Cricket)
If you don’t have the luxury of possessing the god-given cricketing talent that is needed for international selection, the best opportunity of playing at Lord’s is in the final of a domestic competition. It bodes well for you if you’ve played a major role in getting your side there, just like Scott Boswell and Leicestershire in 2001. Although it can go wrong. The C&G Final at the Home of Cricket is where you’d want to do it though. An analysis of 2-23 wasn’t brilliant, but the second of those two overs were a disaster. Five wides in a row were a highlight of a 14-bowl over. Somerset beat Leicestershire by 41 runs, and Boswell never played county cricket again. Home of Cricket, graveyard of career…
C — Cardiff City (Football)
The spring brings with it a multitude of colour and a number of certainties. The start of British Summer Time and the cricket season; the reappearance of shorts; and the self-destruction of Cardiff City’s attempt to reach the Premier League. It is a process that differs only in terms of mirth; last year it was under Wembley’s giant arch in the last act of the Championship season. And this year it looks as if the choke might be at the ‘expense’ arch rivals Swansea City. Too funny.
D — Devon Loch
Hey, you’ve got two wins under your belt this year! You’ve also got an impressive third place down at Cheltenham too. I think you could win the Grand National. I am going to put my one and six on you to win horse racing’s 1956 showpiece! I’m not going to regret this one. Barely 40 yards to go and five lengths ahead? Switch off the television, this one’s done. Kerrrrrching! I’m off to buy the new Shadows LP with my winnings…
Whaddya mean he belly-flopped to the ground and let ESB through to win? Grrr! It’s the knackers’ yard for you Devon Loch.
E — England (Football)
It was a toss-up between three-time-World-Cup-final-capitulating cricketers and the footballers, but it’d be rude to let the footballers off the hook for their penalty taking ineptitude. It dates back to the Battle of Hastings, when Harold missed a Sudden Death shot with his bow and lost to the French. 1990. 1996. 1998. 2004 – it takes an effort to realise that England did beat Spain on penalties amid all that spectacular inability to find the goal from 12 yards. Pizza ads, my arse.
F — Fernando Alonso (Formula One)
No-one ever promised consistency in this list, and that’s why Fernando Alonso is here in first name, last name format. Unlike the other individuals. But there is to be no apologies here. He could have been Formula One World Champion in 2010 if the right result came his way in the last race. But someone, somewhere messed up, and Fernando was left to follow a Renault 5 for the last four-and-a-half hours of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And then he moaned. And probably still is…
G — Glamorgan (Cricket)
In 2009, promotion to the County Championship’s first division was a tall order going into the final round of fixtures. In 2010, it ought to have been a formality. Regardless of the fact that Worcestershire were gifted a win against Sussex that was to secure their own destiny, Glamorgan needn’t have worried if they saw off Derbyshire. The same Derbyshire that were pish for pretty much the majority of the season. But Glamorgan couldn’t. And thus heads of captain and coach rolled all the way down the valleys. And the president came tumbling after.
H — Hastings, Gavin (Rugby Union)
It’s 1991. It’s the Rugby World Cup. And it’s Scotland v England. With the scores locked at six apiece, Hastings is the Dan Parks of his generation and has a kick at goal that couldn’t be easier unless he was elevated to the level of the crossbar and able to stumble the ball over. One moment to vanquish the auld enemy and move forward towards World Cup glory. Alas it’s not to be. Drag it wide and watch Rob Andrew drop the goal that puts England into the final. History summed up.
I — Ireland (Rugby Union)
Some things are inevitable when it comes to thinking about the Irish. Rich Gaelic heritage, a fiery wit and the charming growl of the bodhran. That, and the mental block that comes with playing the French rugby team. Irish rugby’s first outing at the historic Croke Park venue in 2007 brought with it a choke of epic proportion, with Vincent Clerc’s winning try coming as late as it possibly could’ve; just after a kick from Ronan O’Gara had edged the hosts ahead. Fast forward to 2011, and an opportunity to seek Grand Slam success was willingly passed up versus the Gallic adversary with the try line, on occasion, just 0.00000000011m away. When Irish Eyes Are Crying…
J — Jana Novotná (Tennis)
Have you ever played tennis? Have you ever qualified for the Wimbledon singles final? Have you ever been consoled by the Duchess of Kent when crying like a bit of a baby? Then you are Jana Novotná, and I claim my £5 and declare you to be a choker. This tennis lark can’t be that difficult: Two games to one up against Steffi Graf with two match points means that you just hit the ball over the net into that empty space over there. No? Lose the match points and the next five games, then see if I care. There’s no use crying over spilt opportunities to win a Grand Slam.
K — Kidderminster Harriers (Football)
2007 FA Trophy Final? Check. Inaugural competitive game at the new Wembley Stadium? Check. Racing into a dominant two-goal lead by half-time? Check. The mission accomplished? Uh, no. It’s difficult to call this a choke without forgetting the fact that Stevenage Borough ran out 3-2 winners through their own efforts as opposed to their opponents shortcomings. But the Harriers squandered their two goal advantage. At Wembley. On Sky. In front of thousands.
L — Lewis Hamilton (Formula One)
An incredible story it could easily have been; a young Brit making his debut in F1 with the opportunity to win the Formula One Drivers’ Championship. It’d get the BBC Sports Personality of the Year vote for sure. Hamilton was adventurous with his driving style, and bought a rare slither of excitement to the turgid parade that Formula One once was. With a championship lead extending into double figures as the season progressed, it was disappointing that four points was the gap come the final race in Brazil. But a sure fire way to piss your chances up the wall would be to make two pretty woeful errors, and the Stevenage lad duly obliged. Yeah, it was a demon that was exorcised a year later. But that glosses over a super choke.
M — Murray, Andy (Tennis)
British men’s tennis is the last remaining habitat of the white-shorted choker (nil grand slamium). Sporting more corporate logos that you can normally shake the proverbial stick at, the andymurray species took over as the dominant resident in the grassy environment of SW19 after the timhenman mysteriously disappeared. Normally identifiable by the gruff exclamation of expletives and the cry “COME ON!”, the andymurray has found himself in competition for territory with Swiss, Spanish, Croatian (Editor’s Note: That’s enough) variants. In three major ‘competitions’, the andymurray has been found wanting and has returned to the UK (Scotland) with tail between legs and plenty of wailing still to be done.
N — Norwood, Scott (American Football)
Apparently, this Scott Norwood fella plays a padded version of rugby union that is inexplicably popular in the States. And he’s a bit of a choker, which is why I’m suddenly interested in his fortunes. The year is 1991 and Bart Simpson/Nirvana are the predominant social trends. Norwood’s Buffalo Bills have made it to what is called the Super Bowl XXV (Cup Final 25) and are a team that is considered to be favoured against New York Giants. One can only assume that the New Yorkers weren’t actually ‘giants’, but they did hold a 20-19 lead in the dying moments. It’s eight seconds to go, and Norwood is lined up with a lengthy field goal attempt to secure cult status, a win for his team and something to eat his breakfast out of. It would’ve been so, but for the ball’s decision to drift wide. That’s correct, he didn’t choke – the ball did. Round balls don’t let you down…
O — Oilers, Houston (American Football)
… and yet we return to the oval ball-shaped game as if a lesson hadn’t been taken on board. Buffalo Bills feature in this choke too, but on the other side of the fence this time. Houston Oilers, a rather ungratifying name that probably has some old tale behind it, ballsed up an AFC Wild Card playoff game with wonderful aplomb by the standards of many. The Oilers led 35-3 at half time, and I’m informed that it is a pretty sizeable margin. The final score was 38-41, after the Bills inflicted an incredible turnaround on their Houston-based opponents. Apparently the largest in-game comeback in NFL history (at least it was in 1993). That’s choketastic!
P — Palmer, Arnold (Golf)
The father of Robert Palmer (not really) used the fact that everyone throughout the civilised world was celebrating England’s win in the football World Cup in a bid to hide his pretty impressive choke in the 1966 US Open. Palmer had set up an opportunity to record a new course record after a couple of blistering days – par would have sufficed. But what’s a course record that can be broken when a choke that stands the test of time? The nearest challenger Billy Casper was just along for the ride when Palmer dropped the c-bomb on the 10th. Yet, it was not until the 15th with a five-shot lead that Arnold upped his choking game. More bogeys that a particularly disgusting nose followed as Casper was to be thrown into contention with a playoff that he duly won. History records that A. Palmer is one of the golfing greats. It also shows that he threw away a seven shot lead with nine to play and never won a Major again.
R — Roberto Baggio (Football)
The 1990 World Cup was a good ‘un for the Boy Baggio (not Dino – are you sure they aren’t related!?) but the 1994 World Cup was even greater. Roberto Baggio was the Italian talisman that helped drive the Azzurri to within 90 minutes of an irresistible third success at football’s top table. But it was to transpire that the 90 minutes was to become 120, and then some. And the Brazilians weren’t feeling in the mood to let what had seemed like fate to have its way. Or perhaps fate was to have its way? With penalties the only means of separating the teams, it was to be R. Baggio to step up and keep the Italian cause alive. But he fluffed it. The ball is still rising somewhere near Jupiter. And while he came back to become the only Italian to score in three World Cups in 1998, he also tried a trick and fell on his arse. What an absolute choker!
S — South Africa (Cricket)
Duckworth Lewis miscalculations and tail end run out disasters conspired to lift South Africa’s cricketers to the top of The Chokers Tree in bygone days. The sight of Allan Donald and Lance Klusener naffing up the 1999 World Cup semi-final is a funny one tempered only by the disgusting realisation that it gave Australia the opportunity to win another trophy. Couldn’t you have done it against Holland or something? Admittedly, it pales into significance when the rain starts falling and a sheet of numbers needs to be deciphered. Perhaps they forgot to carry the one?
T — Tim Henman (Tennis)
A choking predecessor of Andy Murray, Tim Henman was an annoying squatter that would take up residence in the Wimbledon Semi-Final and wouldn’t budge. Armed with a nice accent and a non-threatening pump of the iron after the 185th serve-volley combo of the set, the last four of the All England Championship was treated as Henman’s destiny. Crowds would pack onto a grassy mound to discuss how their beloved hero would blow it in the semis? He raised fears that the choke was off against Goran Ivanišević when two sets to one up. Then rain fell, and Tim remembered his place in life. It was Goran’s destiny to win, but Henman’s too…
U — United, Newcastle (Football)
Precious little needs to be said here. Newcastle United were everyone’s second team back in the mid-1990s and deployed their attractive interpretation of the beautiful game to push themselves into a hearty lead at the top of the Premier League. And then they lost it. Encapsulated in a moment of television sporting greatness, Kevin Keegan went quite mad indeed. A couple of years earlier, the Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper (Tim Flowers) rambled on about bottles but still won the title; King Kev said he would love it if they beat Manchester United to Premier League success. He probably didn’t love it when they failed.
V — Van de Velde, Jean (Golf)
It takes a lot to make golf exciting. It really does. But one Frenchman took on the challenge during the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie. And it was a pretty good effort, all told. It took a while to come, but needing only a double-bogey six to win the event and create an upset, he grasped the opportunity. Driving off the tee, Van de Velde put his shot to the right of the burn. Favouring the charismatic approach to choking, he opted against the safe shot and went for the green. After hitting pretty much everything within a 50-mile radius, the ball settled in rough.
Opting to use a golf club instead of a scythe, Van de Velde’s next shot graciously bumbled along into the Barry Burn (that’s golfing speak for water). It was a nice day, so off came the socks and shoes. And in he went. It appeared as if he would try to hit the ball out, despite the fact there were six foot walls either side. But he relented, dropped a shot, and then found a bunker. Having already elevated him into choking infamy, Van de Velde completed the hole for a triple-bogey seven. And then lost a three-way playoff for the title. VA VA KABOOM!
W — Webber, Mark (Formula One)
For the Australian to win the 2010 Formula One Drivers’ Championship, all he needed to do was 1) not crash in the Korean Grand Prix; 2) win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; and 3) hope that Fernando Alonso finished no higher than third in Abu Dhabi. Incidentally, it was the one part that was not in his control that was to come in for him. But as Meatloaf intimated, one out of three isn’t quite good enough. Webber decided that, having flounced out in Korea, that he’d earned a nice leisurely drive in Abu Dhabi. Having exchanged pleasantries with the likes of Force India, Toro Rosso and Virgin Racing – all chugging away in top gear at the rear of the field, Webber eventually slipped into second and ended the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ‘nowhere of interest’.
Y — Yankees, New York (Baseball)
A brief flirtation with men’s rounders and a little-known side from a little known city outside New Jersey. In the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Yankees were flying against the Boston Red Sox to such an extent that they were 3-0 up and ahead in the fourth of a best-of-seven showdown. Nothing could ever go wrong in such a position. But this wouldn’t be worthy of mention here if it had panned out that way. And therefore in by losing 4-3, recorded one of the greatest chokes in Major League Baseball history.
Z — Zealand, New
For all their skill and aptitude, New Zealand have an issue with the Rugby World Cup. In 1999, they made the semi-finals with relative ease and came up against a French team that wouldn’t have caused a field of sheep too much concern. And at 24-10, it seemed like the form book would ring true again. No-one had foreseen a French revival that flattened many rugby fans’ world ideas as a Gallic charge won 43-31. New Zealand were out, two and two doesn’t equal four, and I can believe it isn’t butter. And we ought to leave it there… had the All Blacks not repeated their ‘thing’ four years later against Australia. Not such an epic choke this time around as it goes, but it was a game they shouldn’t have lost. It ultimately paved the way for England to humiliate the Aussies in their own back yard. Is this good or bad?
Q, X — Uh…
Fittingly, it is my turn to choke. LE FIN!