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The 10 greatest shocks in sport's history



Oliver Irish
Sunday 7 April 2002
Observer Sport Monthly


1 Don Bradman is bowled for a duck in his final Test innings
Australia v England, The Oval, 14 Aug 1948

It was always a shock of sorts when Bradman lost his wicket, so superlative was his batting, but the final dismissal of his Test career was the shock to beat them all. When the Don walked out to bat in Australia's first innings, he needed four runs to retire with the immortal average of more than 100. Given a standing ovation all the way to the wicket by the 30,000 crowd, and cheered by the English team, Bradman was then clean bowled for a duck second ball by an Eric Hollies googly. The gasps around the Oval were audible; cricket's ultimate perfectionist had been denied perfection in the final moment of his career at the crease. On returning to the pavilion, Bradman's reported reaction was a bemused, 'Gee whizz, funny doing that.' The duck brought his average down to 99.94, although he could have yet made amends in Australia's second innings. But Ray Lindwall's pace bowling destroyed the English, who were crushed by an innings and 149 runs, and so Bradman never got his second chance.

2 James 'Buster' Douglas crushes Mike Tyson
Tokyo, 11 Feb 1990

Tyson entered 1990 with a record of 37 wins from 37 fights, with 33 of them coming by way of a knockout. No man (perhaps not even Muhammad Ali, some experts boldly said) could survive his blur of brutal uppercuts - least of all James 'Buster' Douglas, a 42-1 underdog. Tyson started slowly, but when, into the fifth and sixth rounds, Douglas was still connecting with decent shots, the half-empty Tokyo Dome had fallen eerily silent. Tyson then dropped Douglas with a right uppercut in the eighth - instantly it seemed that the champion's vulnerability had been an illusion - but Douglas survived, thanks to a long count. Two rounds later, though, Tyson was where he had never been before - on all fours, groping for his gumshield. Douglas had knocked out the 'baddest man on the planet'. 'If there was a Richter scale for sporting earthquakes,' Hugh McIlvanney wrote in The Observer, 'what happened would have to be considered two or three points clear of any other shock in twentieth-century boxing.'

3 John Daly wins the 1991 US PGA title
Crooked Stick, Indianapolis, August 1991

Daly should never have even teed off. He was originally the tournament's ninth reserve but found himself promoted, on the eve of the first round, to first reserve after several players pulled out. Daly packed his clubs and drove through the night to reach the course - eight hours from his Memphis home - in the hope that he might yet sneak into the event. When he finally arrived in Indianapolis, a message left at his hotel informed Daly that Nick Price had withdrawn to attend the birth of his son. In Price's stead, and having borrowed the Zimbabwean's caddie, Daly (who hadn't even had time for a practice round) stormed to an astonishing three-shot victory with rounds of 69, 67, 69 and 71. 'I killed it,' he said afterwards. 'All four days, I didn't think. I just hit it. I just hit it so good, I had no fear out there...'

4 Eric Cantona's kung fu kick
Selhurst Park, 25 Jan 1995

Cantona's horizontal assault on abusive Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons - which earned the Frenchman an eight-month ban from football - remains one of the most gobsmacking incidents ever witnessed inside a British football stadium. Even before events at Selhurst Park, Cantona's hair-trigger temperament was well documented, but no one saw this coming. And this from a player who, in 1993, had said: 'Abroad the crowd is too far from the players. Here [in England] the game is warmer. There is even room for love between the crowd and players.'

5 Signorinetta wins the Derby
Epsom, 1908

Signorinetta's 100-1 victory was the remarkable conclusion to an equine love story: the filly was owned and trained by Chevalier Ginistrelli, an Italian who had moved to England in the 1880s. Ginistrelli brought with him a small string of racehorses and subsequently bred Signorina, unbeaten in nine races as a two-year-old. After Signorina's racing career finished, she formed an attachment to a stallion named Chaleureux, who was led past Signorina's stable every morning on his way to the gallops. Ginistrelli became convinced that the two horses were in love - referring to the pair, he spoke of the 'boundless laws of sympathy and love - and fixed a mating. The product was Signorinetta, who became the 'darling of Chevalier's romantic heart'. As a two-year-old, Signorinetta showed no form, being unplaced in her first five races. Undaunted, the Italian prepared her for the Derby. There were 18 runners that year and only one horse started at longer odds than Signorinetta. Drawn 13, she took the lead halfway up the Epsom straight and won by two lengths, to become only the fourth filly to win the race (only two fillies have won since). Incredibly, two days later Signorinetta won the Oaks.

6 Keith Deller beats Eric Bristow in the 1983 Embassy World Darts final

'He's not just an underdog, he's an underpuppy,' said Sid Waddell, commenting on 23-year-old Keith Deller's chances of beating Eric Bristow in the 1983 Embassy World Darts final. The unseeded Deller (reputedly the inspiration for the character Keith Talent, anti-hero of Martin Amis's novel London Fields) had reached the final against all odds and continued to defy form against Bristow. With the match poised at five sets each, and Deller one leg from victory, the Crafty Cockney made one of the less crafty decisions of his career - Bristow passed up the chance to go for bullseye and take the leg at that visit to the oche, believing Deller would never make his 138 out-shot. Deller then nailed treble 20, treble 18 and double 12 to become world champion. 'I tell you,' shrieked Waddell, 'I've never seen anything like it in me life!'

7 Cassius Clay Beats Sonny Liston
Miami, 25 Feb, 1964

Liston's reputation as an invincible ogre was well-deserved, while Clay was considered a brash, if talented lunatic who had signed his own death warrant when he called the champion an 'ugly old bear'. Even before the contest had been set and Clay was being touted as a challenger, Liston had said: 'If they ever make the fight I'll be locked up for murder.' Clay's people had major doubts too. In the build-up to the fight, his doctor had studied maps, looking for the fastest possible route to the nearest hospital. But Clay, with his repeated promise to 'Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee', had been telling the truth all along. He won the world heavyweight title at the age of 22 when a bleeding Sonny Liston, his left shoulder injured, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round. Only three of 46 sports writers covering the fight had picked Clay to win. The new heavyweight champion of the world shouted down to them from the ring: 'Eat your words!'

8 Margaret Smith loses To Billie Jean Moffitt
Centre Court, Wimbledon June 1962

No one gave the unseeded, bespectacled teenager from California a prayer; no one gave Margaret Smith's second-round opponent much thought at all. Moffitt had never even won a senior match at Wimbledon (she received a bye in the first round), while Smith, the No 1 seed that year, was a formidable athlete who regularly trained and practised with men. And Moffitt would surely be overawed by having to play on Centre Court. So it seemed when Smith won the opening set easily, 6-1. But Moffitt quickly settled down and her dynamic play slowly began to unsettle Smith. Moffitt won the second set, 6-3, and held her nerve to win the match, taking the final set 7-5. 'I was in shock and I was actually crying for Margaret,' said Moffitt afterwards. 'A lot of people had bet a ton of money on her to win the tournament.'

9 Hereford Beat Newcastle in the FA Cup third round
Edgar Street, 5 Feb 1972

Cue John Motson: 'Radford... now Tudor's gone down for Newcastle...Radford again...oh, what a goal! Radford the scorer, Ronnie Radford! And the crowd are invading the pitch...' No act of giant-killing defines the appeal of the FA Cup more than non-league Hereford's 2-1 defeat of First Division Newcastle in a third-round replay. Newcastle seemed certain to make it to the fourth round thanks to a late goal by Malcolm Macdonald, until Ronnie Radford's 30-yard screamer changed the game's momentum. Ricky George then bundled in a scrappy winner in extra time, prompting an even bigger pitch invasion, mostly by parka-clad teenagers. At the time, Hereford were the first non-league club to defeat a First Division side since 1949.

10 Munster Shut out the MIGHTY All Blacks
Limerick, 31 Oct, 1978

A result which Irish playwright James Breen has described as 'the last great folk memory'. Breen was even moved to write a play, Alone It Stands, about Munster's proudest day. A record crowd of 13,000 turned up at Thomond Park to welcome Graham Mourie's fearsome All Blacks, who had reached Limerick unbeaten, with easy wins over Cambridge, Cardiff, West Wales and London Counties. But from the kick-off Munster tore into the visitors - the pattern for the game was set when New Zealand's Stu Wilson burst into the attacking line, only to be met with a crunching tackle from Munster's Seamus Dennison. Dennison was injured in the tackle but bravely continued. Munster took the lead in the ninth minute: Tony Ward lobbed a kick, Jimmy Bowen collected the bounce inside his own half, beat two men and fed Christie Cantillon for a try under the posts. A Ward drop goal saw Munster lead 9-0 at half-time. New Zealand roared back in the second half, but Munster's defence held. Ward's second drop goal, eleven minutes from time, crowned a 12-0 victory. Afterwards Mourie said of Munster: 'They played the type of game we tried to play, but played it better.' It was the only match the All Blacks failed to win in 18 on the tour.

Justifying his selection...

OSM writer Oliver Irish explains his choices:

Don Bradman once scored a half century and was met the following day by the headline 'Bradman Fails'. Every time he walked out to bat, anything less than a century was considered below par. That's how much better than everyone else The Don was - and that's why his duck tops this list.

The best shocks, the ones you never forget, combine jaw-dropping, can-you-believe-what-just-happened? surprise with a certain degree of romance, which is where Bradman's duck edges out Mike Tyson's stunning defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas. The Tyson-Douglas fight was not a special, poignant occasion, as the Don's final Test undoubtedly was - it was just another pay-day for Iron Mike. Still, no one can deny that the sight of Tyson scrabbling on the canvas for his gumshield was hugely shocking and deserved to be number two.

As for the rest, there can be no arguing with the merits of John Daly's against-all-odds triumph or Munster's glorious defeat of the All Blacks. Some might argue that darts is no sport but Keith Deller's remarkable 138 checkout deserves its place. Signorinetta is not the only 100-1 shot to win a big race - Norton's Coin's 1990 Gold Cup victory also came to mind - but her story is the most romantic.

We all know now that Cassius Clay transformed himself into the twentieth century's greatest sporting icon, and, similarly, that Billie Jean Moffitt went on to become one of the most successful tennis players ever. But we didn't know that then - and the knowledge that they were rather more talented than one-hit wonders like Buster Douglas hardly diminishes the power of their shocks.

And finally to football, where we decided to limit the number of candidates for this list to two. Cantona was not a shock result as such but can't be ignored, while Hereford's win against Newcastle beats the likes of Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup win or the USA's World Cup defeat of England in 1950, if only for one reason - Ronnie Radford's wonderful goal in the mud.

Now you have your say...

Enraged by our choices? We thought so, and we want to hear why. Write and tell us who your 10 would be, justifying your selection in no more than 50 words. A selection of your 10s will be published next month. Send your cards to: 10 Shocks, OSM, 119 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3ER or email us: osm@observer.co.uk




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