Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sporting celebrations of the 1980s

Celebrate good times, come on! There is nothing like a great sporting celebration to get the blood pumping, as all the pressure that has been building inside is finally allowed to disperse, that brief period of time following something special where both athletes and fans experience an overwhelming feeling of elation. This week I am taking a look back at sporting celebrations of the 1980s, five moments where the competitors marked success in an unforgettable manner. A high five if you like.

Seve Ballesteros: 1984 Open Championship

Two all-time greats of golf were locked in battle as the conclusion of the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews drew near. After 71 and 70 holes respectively, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson were inseparable at the top of the leaderboard, although the infamous Road Hole was about to put a dent in Watson's hopes of a sixth Open triumph. Ballesteros was in much better shape, standing over a 15-foot birdie putt on the last, a golden opportunity to place one hand on the Claret Jug.

The Spaniard sent the putt on its way, as the golfing world, including me as an eight-year-old watching my first major, looked on. The right to left putt looked good from the moment it left Ballesteros' putter, tracking beautifully at just the right pace, and on the correct line. For a brief moment it appeared as if the ball and gravity were going to do the unthinkable and refuse to yield to the charismatic legend of European golf. And then it dropped those final important few inches. Barring a miracle, Seve had joined the likes of Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, and Jack Nicklaus, as an Open winner at the home of golf.

The outpouring of emotion from Ballesteros manifested itself in one of the
most memorable celebrations in golfing history. Standing on the 18th green, decked in a navy Slazenger sweater, Seve thrust his right hand towards the ground, his face initially contort with ecstatic relief. Immediately a joyous expression spread across Seve's face, the words "la meti" repeatedly leaving his mouth, which had developed into such a warm and endearing smile (la meti means "I put it in", in case you're wondering). And then the fist pumps, originally at chest height, then in front of his face, finished off with a couple of arm-straightening punches towards the delighted galleries.

Such an iconic snapshot, so much so that the silhouette image of Seve's celebration is still widely used. From the image used for the Seve Foundation in support of cancer research, to the logo adorning the bags and sleeves of Europe's heroes at the Miracle of Medinah, the memories come flooding back at a mere glimpse of that outline of a figure who changed the complexion of European golf.

Ian Botham: 1981 Fourth Ashes Test

When Ian Botham took Australia's sixth second innings wicket on the final day of the fourth Test at Edgbaston, it appeared as if it may be a case of too little too late. Australia still only needed 37 more runs to win the match and take a 2-1 series lead, the feelgood victory at Headingley looking more and more like a delicious one-off freak result.

Yet post-captaincy Beefy could do no wrong. The wickets of Marsh, Bright, Lillee and Kent pushed the fragile Aussies close to the brink of another crushing defeat, as an inspired Botham, driven on by an atmosphere that still thrills, began his approach to the crease for the coup de grace.

Terry Alderman didn't stand a chance, becoming Botham's fifth wicket in 28 balls at the cost of just one run. You can only begin to imagine the adrenaline rush that Botham must have experienced at that precise moment, as he clean bowled Alderman and surged forward to grab a stump in celebration. Watching it still never fails to do funny things to the hairs on the back of my neck.

That Botham celebration encapsulated the turnaround of his summer, and the force of personality possessed by the great all-rounder, especially after he had returned to the ranks. Barrel-chested, waving a stump triumphantly, Botham looked every inch the heroic lead in a barely believable film. Cricket celebrations were often curtailed in the 1980s due to spectator participation, yet Beefy even managed to get over this small matter in that amazing summer of 1981.

Pat Cash: 1987 Men's Wimbledon final

Pat Cash had made a promise to himself that if he won Wimbledon he would immediately share the victory with his family and friends in the players' box. So after defeating Ivan Lendl in the 1987 final, he now had to stick to his personal contract. Cash soon realised that this was easier said than done.

After making a decisive move into the crowd, Cash started to doubt his plan, admitting that he was stuck amongst the confused spectators in a potentially embarrassing situation. His dad and coach continued to provide encouragement, though it would take some divine inspiration to set Cash on his way.

A man beckoned Cash towards him, imploring the champion to use his shoulders as a stepping stone to the top of the commentary box. "I looked at him, and it was a priest, he had the collar", Cash later recalled. How's that for providing a service on a Sunday?

Despite being concerned over the strength of the commentary box roof, Cash had now completed the hard yards. Shortly he had reached the summit, embracing his dad, sister, uncle, girlfriend, coach, and best mates, as the viewing public looked on in admiration at such a unique celebration.

He may have delayed the trophy ceremony, but no one on that day minded in the slightest. And although it has been mimicked in subsequent years, the first time was easily better than any of the sequels, and provided the 1980s with yet another unforgettable sporting celebration.

Tiina Lillak: 1983 Athletics World Championships

Just one throw remained in the women's javelin at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki. One person stood at the end of the runway, the only competitor left who could deny Britain's Fatima Whitbread the gold medal. Unfortunately, that woman was the current world record holder, and a hometown favourite with the vast majority of the stadium behind her.

Tiina Lillak; the mere mention of that name must send shivers down the spine of Whitbread, as she is instantly transported back to her own personal nightmare. Whitbread's first round throw of 69.14m had been the benchmark throughout the final, and now only Lillak remained. The problem was, the Finn had a winning throw in her locker, and everyone knew this.

Standing on the track, Lillak psyched herself up, gritted her teeth, before starting on her sprint to the throwing line. Whitbread prowled, trying not to watch but inevitably unable to avoid it. Lillak launched the javelin, the volume of the locals cranking up in direct relation to the length of time that the spear hung in the air. On and on it went, until it landed beyond 70 metres. And then pandemonium.

The realisation of what had just happened resonated around the Olympic Stadium, an explosion of noise erupting from the elated locals. As if propelled by this, Lillak tore off around the track, leaping on occasion, punching the air, and celebrating in a style reminiscent of Ian Rush or Alan Shearer. Finally she came to a stop, surrounded by photographers who had at last managed to catch some pictures of Finland's World Champion.

Of course for every happy story there is a sad element. Look very closely at the clip on YouTube and you can spot a figure in red put her hand to her head as she looks on from the track, seeing her hopes fly off into the distance. Whitbread immediately set off to find her mum, before breaking down in tears, a gold medal snatched away from her at the death. She would perform her own celebration four years later in Rome - her wiggle becoming a trademark - but before then Fatima Whitbread certainly had to experience the lows before enjoying that high.

Marco Tardelli: 1982 World Cup final

Every now and then you watch a sporting event that reaffirms your faith. A moment that contains all that is good in something you probably care a little too much about. Marco Tardelli's goal celebration in the 1982 World Cup final was one such demonstration of what playing sport should mean, and what following sport does mean to so many of us.

The weeks leading up to the final had not been kind to Tardelli and his team mates. One journalist even hinted that the Juventus midfielder was finished, the abuse suffered by Tardelli and the Italian squad reaching a peak during their spluttering first group stage. Somehow the Italians turned things around, beating Argentina and tournament favourites Brazil in their second round group, before beating Poland in the semi-finals to set up a meeting with West Germany.

Tardelli was a bundle of nerves the night before the final, hardly sleeping, and his state of mind did not improve on the deathly silent coach journey to the Bernabeu. All of these factors - the criticism, the nerves, the tension - combined to create an incredible example of sporting passion, as Marco Tardelli celebrated a goal which edged his team closer to World Cup glory.

"What I was feeling was like if something was exploding in me....a volcano inside me", Tardelli explained, as the world witnessed an
emotional goal celebration, which told us just what it meant to score for your country in a World Cup final. Wheeling away in delight, Tardelli seemed to enter a different world, as the weeks of hurt, frustration and anxiety flooded out, his scream - l'urlo di Tardelli - releasing all the pent up emotions in his body.

James Richardson once neatly summed up Tardelli's celebration: "If you're looking at football as a vehicle of human emotion and endeavour, it's the money shot". Quite simply, an exhilarating episode of sporting history, a clip you would use to emphasise why a lot of us spend so much time bothering about football in the first place.


  1. Also from the 1983 World Athletics Championships, in the 5,000 metres final, Eamonn Coghlan's celebration with 150 metres to go - and while still in second place!

    He had blown two Olympic finals to finish fourth twice, and his father and both his coaches had died in the year before this race, so he had a lot to prove. That look into the eyes of his rival is one of the most iconic images in Irish sporting history.

    1. Funnily enough I was going to write about Coghlan's celebration but decided to go for the Lillak one instead. I remember being amused a lot when I watched that 5000 metres final, and I'll definitely include it in a greatest celebrations blog (volume two).

  2. A few others...
    David Pleat skipping across the Maine Road pitch in his safari suit when Luton beat the drop in 1983.
    Dennis Taylor wagging his finger after the epic 1985 Embassy final.
    Henderson Gill's boogie in Great Britain's win over Australia in Sydney, 1988.

    And one I thought you'd include:
    Michael Thomas's forward roll at Anfield in 1989.

    1. I did consider some of the others you suggested, especially Pleat and Taylor. Will definitely revisit this theme in a future blog.

      I thought I'd try and avoid Michael Thomas and his forward roll. It is of course my personal favourite....