From the Jaws of Victory: Seven famous sporting collapses

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Football News

There now can be absolutely no doubt – the title is well and truly Leicester City’s to lose. The Foxes currently own a seven point lead over second-placed Spurs with five games left to play – a lead that is looking increasingly insurmountable.

Fans of Tottenham Hotspur and rivals Arsenal will be hoping for a serious case of the yips to take place at the King Power Stadium for either side to claim, what is now looking like an unlikely title.

With that in mind, we examine some of sports history’s highest profile incidents of choking when one hand was seemingly on the trophy to give comfort to all those hoping that Claudio Ranieri’s men slip up.


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Bill Tilden, 1927 Wimbledon Semi-Final

A forgotten name for many but undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever pick up a racket. Tilden won ten grand slam singles and eight grand slam doubles titles as well as being the star of the dominant US Davis Cup team that lifted the prestigious trophy seven years in a row in the 1920s.

However, he was humbled in the 1927 semi-final against Frenchman Henri Cochet, unthinkably letting a place in the final slip despite being 6-2, 6-4 and incredibly 5-1 up and serving for the match in the third set. Cochet went on to win 18 of the next 25 matches and booked his place in the final, a match in which he also claimed victory from two sets down.

Jimmy White, 1992 World Snooker Championship Final

‘Surely he’s going to win it now’, uttered commentator Clive Everton as White won a frame to go 12-6 up on Stephen Hendry, seemingly on his way to his first, long-awaited world title.

The Golden Boy pulled it back to 14-10 from 14-8 and the pressure on White undoubtedly told as he fluffed his lines on a black ball frame and the young Scot never looked back, claiming the next eight frames, making it a sensational ten frames in a row to claim the second of his seven world titles. White, on the other hand, is still waiting.

Houston Oilers, 1993 AFC Wild Card Round, NFL Playoffs

A game simply known by our American friends as ‘The Comeback’ and rightly so.

It seemed there was only going to be one winner when the Houston Oilers went 35-3 ahead early in the second half against the defending conference champion Buffalo Bills.

Something changed from that moment on, maybe it was the words of Houston’s radio commentator that cursed his team – “The lights are on here at Rich Stadium, they've been on since this morning, you could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now”, maybe it was the inspired play of backup quarterback Frank Reich, maybe it was the abject defending from the Oilers but the Bills went on to put up an incredible 35 unanswered points and ended up winning the game in overtime 41-38.

South Africa, 1999 Cricket World Cup Semi-Final

It was all in the balance when South Africa needed nine to win from the final over of their semi-final against Australia with one wicket remaining. The two men batting for the Proteas could not have been more different. One was Lance Klusener. The burly power hitter who had probably been the player of the tournament up to that point and was sitting on 23 from 12 balls. At the other end was Allan Donald, one of the best fast bowlers to ever play for his country, but who sadly, couldn’t bat to save his life.

Luckily for the Rainbow Nation, the talismanic Klusener was on strike and stroked the first two balls of the over for four, tying the match and making sure South Africa only needed one run from the last four deliveries to make a first World Cup final.

They only lasted two thanks to a hilarious run-out in which Klusener sprinted down the pitch whilst Donald stood his ground, realised what was going on, dropped his bat and trotted down the pitch to be run out by some distance. Match tied, Australia advanced due to a higher finishing position in the previous stage.

Jean van de Velde, 1999 Open Championship

Golfing history is full of unbelievable instances of choking; Ryder Cups in 1999 and 2012 to name a couple. But no name is more synonymous with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as poor Jean van de Velde.

Heading into the final hole at Carnoustie, he was so far ahead at the top of the leaderboard that the engravers had already carved his name onto the famous Claret Jug. A disastrous final hole which included him hacking twice into the thick Carnoustie rough and infamously ending up in the water at Barry Burn (at which time he actually considered trying to hit his ball whilst submerged) resulted in a triple-bogey which obliterated his three-stroke lead.

A three-man playoff between the Frenchman, Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie ensued with the unfancied Scot taking home his first (and only) major championship, scratching van de Velde’s name off the trophy.

To make this collapse even more cataclysmic, Lawrie was ten shots off the lead at the start of play – making his victory the biggest comeback in major golf history.

New York Yankees, 2004 American League Championship Series

All was going to plan through three games of what is effectively Major League Baseball’s with the Yankees continuing their post-season dominance over their rivals from Boston. Three wins meant that the Yanks were just one away from yet another World Series appearance and continuing to ensure the curse of the bambino wouldn’t be broken on their watch.

The Red Sox battled their way back to tie the series up at 3-3 with some spectacular hitting from David Ortiz, forcing a deciding game to be played at the famous Yankee Stadium with the home side’s fervent support backing them on.

They repaid this support by completely capitulating at their own ball park, surrendering multiple fielding errors in giving up ten runs to the resurgent Red Sox who would go on to break the curse and bring home the World Series a week later.

Manchester United, 2011-2012 Premier League

The example from which hopeful Spurs and Arsenal supporters should draw most support, as both would need a strikingly similar set of results to go their way in the coming weeks.

With a chance to widen their lead at the top of the table to 11 points with only five games remaining, Manchester United visited a relegation threatened Wigan Athletic side that had only won three of their last 17 games and had never avoided defeat against United.

In this case however, the champions-elect never showed up and were unable to break Wigan down on their way to a 1-0 loss. They further dropped points in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Everton having been two goals up with just seven minutes to play before being beaten by cross-town rivals City in a match which handed control of the title race over to the “noisy-neighbours” who never gave up their lead thanks to Sergio Aguero’s final day heroics.

Could this unfortunate case of bad-luck-lightning strike twice and create a spark of hope in the hearts of the North London clubs? One thing is certain, if Leicester don’t win the title from here then their name will deservingly be added to this list.

Do Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal still stand a chance in the Premier League title race? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!

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Thierry Henry
Leicester City
Tottenham Hotspur
Premier League

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