Back to his best crushing Andy Murray's dreams at Wimbledon, Federer is again world number one. But best sporting Roger? That's a biggie, especially when he's facing Hunt, Milla, Bannister and Clemens...
After a stunning performance in the Wimbledon men’s singles final and crushing the hopes of a nation (copyright, the British mainstream press), there’s justifiable debate as to whether Roger Federer is the greatest ever tennis player. What’s not being talked about is whether he is sport’s greatest ever Roger. Not talked about until now, that is.
Running a mile in under four minutes was thought impossible, but by the spring of 1954 the race to break that mark was becoming intense. American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy were both getting down to 4:02, as was Roger Bannister. An accomplished middle-distance runner, Bannister’s efforts on the mile mark were focused by disappointment at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki where he finished fourth in the 1500m. An attempt at the record in June 1953 saw Bannister run 4:02, a feat matched by Landy and Santee later in the year. Landy made two further attempts early in ’54, but again fell two seconds short. With Landy planning another attempt, Bannister had to try again quickly. On May 6, 1954, 3000 spectators watched on in Oxford as Bannister made his attempt. High winds had threatened a postponement, but the wind dropped and it was on. Led out by Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, Bannister crossed the line a 3:59.4, a new world record. 46 days later, Landy dropped the mark further, 3:57.9, and the two would go head-to-head over the distance at the Commonwealth Games later in the year. Bannister edged out the Australian to take gold, both men dipping below the four-minute mark. Bannister followed that up with gold in the 1500m at the European Championships and immediately retired, his name already etched into legend.
With all the shouting about goal-line technology, think back to one of the most famous was it/wasn’t it moments in the history of football. Wembley, 30 July 1966. With the game ending at 2-2, England and West Germany go to extra-time. Eleven minutes in, Alan Ball goes down the right hand side, gets to the byline and cuts it back for Geoff Hurst who swivels and thumps a shot off the underside of the bar. Linesman Tofik Bakhramov was convinced, so was Hurst, reasoning that if it hadn’t crossed the line, Roger Hunt would have followed in and made sure. If he had made sure then, we could have been saved years of whining about it, but no. Hunt was prolific. In 480 league games for Liverpool and Bolton, he scored 269 goals and added another 18 in his 34 international for England. On August 22 1964, his 11th-minute for Liverpool against Arsenal in a 3-2 win became the first goal to be shown on fledgling BBC show Match of the Day and his tally of 286 goals in all competitions for Liverpool was a record that stood for 23 years before Ian Rush surpassed it.
Roger the Dodger – it’s an inevitable nickname for Rogers the world over, but particularly apt for a rugby league scrum-half of diminutive stature. Millward started out with his native Castleford at the age of 17 and made his international debut a year later, but with greats such as Alan Hardisty and Keith Helpwroth blocking the way, he moved to Hull Kingston Rovers for a sum of £6000. In his first season with Rovers, they won the Yorkshire Cup and retained it the following year. In the 1967/8 season, he scored 38 tries and was made captain the following year when he was still just 21. The 1970s was a great period for the Robins with Millward at the heart of it all, but major honours eluded them until 1980 when they played city rivals Hull FC in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Rovers won 10-5 with Millward playing half the game with a broken jaw. A year later, he made his comeback from another jaw injury in an A-team game against Batley. Another whack broke it again and he retired. Millward was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame after his retirement and was awarded an MBE in 1983. He retired with a total of 224 tries, 1980 points and 47 Great Britain caps.
Roger Milla initially retired from international football in 1987. He’d been part of Cameroon’s team in the 1982 World Cup and the Olympics two years later. At the age of 35, it seemed the sensible thing to do. Ahead of the 1990 World Cup, Milla was telephoned by Cameroon President Paul Biya who pleaded with the 38-year old to come out of retirement and aren’t all football fans glad that he said yes. Cameroon were the feel-good story of that tournament, more than Gazza’s tears, Platt’s volley or the Irish progress to the quarter-finals. Up against champions Argentina in the opening game, nine-man Cameroon pulled off an incredible upset by winning 1-0. Milla made his first impact in their second game, scoring both of the Indomitable Lions’ goals in a 2-1 win over a very talented Romanian side. A 4-0 loss to the Soviet Union meant nothing in terms of qualification and they played Colombia in the second round. 0-0 after 90 minutes, Milla scored twice in extra-time, most memorably robbing eccentric goalkeeper Rene Higuita about 40 yards from goal and racing through to score. England would prove a step too far in the quarters, but Milla’s goal and trademark celebration left a lasting impact. African football had arrived.
Baseball is all about statistics and Clemens’s numbers are undoubtedly impressive. 4672 batters were struck out during The Rocket’s 23-year career while giving away just over three runs per game in that time. He won the Cy Young Award for best pitcher in the American League seven times, made eleven appearances in the All-Star game and won two World Series titles while with the New York Yankees. Controversy dogged him, especially rumours of steroid use, but told Congress he never did, was tried for perjury on the back of those denials and was eventually acquitted, after a mistrial, on all counts. He also starred for Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s softball team alongside fellow all-stars such as Daryl Strawberry and Ken Griffey jnr.
Yes it is him after all. No other Roger can match his achievements. Seventeen Grand Slam titles to date and one of the few to have won them all at some point in their career. Indeed, it was his 2009 triumph on the clay at Roland Garros that tipped him over the edge into true greatness. He won an Olympic gold medal in the doubles four years ago, but who would bet against him winning one in the singles this time round, a tournament to be played on the same courts he’s just won his seventh Wimbledon title on? The stats can be reeled off easily enough – the titles, the prize money, the weeks ranked number one – but at the age of 30, he’s still able of teaching whippersnappers, and future all-time greats, like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray a thing or two. In an era of tennis at it’s greatest with those four and others duking it out for the big prizes, it’s still Federer that everyone fears. He is the greatest tennis player of all time, but more importantly, also the greatest Roger.
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