If you thought you’d got away with one ruddy World Cup in 2006, then brace yourself: there are two of them in 2007, so obviously a double helping of the baloney which accompanies them. Cricket’s World Cup is staged in the Caribbean through March and April; rugby’s in France in September and October. Anniversaries to celebrate, too, and with a nice aptness. I fancy you can easily make a centenary case for 1907 being the year in which genuine international sport became a reality: for the first time an overseas competitor (Aussie leftie Norman Brookes) won the men’s title at Wimbledon, and another, French golfer Arnaud Massy, was first to win the Open and — nothing new under celebrity suns — he promptly named his newborn son Hoylake after the Lancashire links over which he’d so triumphantly trod. The first custom-built motor race track was opened to allcomers at Brooklands in Surrey; London’s Olympia staged the inaugural All-Nations’ Horse of the Year Show; South Africa, the first non-Aussie visitors, played a Test at Lord’s; and at Epsom an Irish-trained horse, Orby, won the Derby for the first time. Trainer was Col. Fred McCabe, and as the nag romped in, historian Roger Mortimer noted that even as ‘raucous Hibernian revelry greeted “the first Catholic horse” to win a Derby’ the Colonel, who doubled as chief medical officer to the South Irish Horse, was telegraphing the regiment’s barracks: ‘MO authorises immediate issue of champagne to all ranks.’
Champagne anniversaries all round in 2007: peerless prizefighter Muhammad Ali is 65 on Wednesday week, 17 January. Also due his bus-pass this year is cerebral cricketer Mike Brearley; that brace of gnarled, nutbrown, knowall off-spinners, Fred Titmus and Ray Illingworth, each turn 75; and Tom Graveney, of the opulent off-drive, is 80. English football’s two most courtly knights, Sir Thomas and Sir Robert, also nod, modestly, to acknowledge birthday toasts: Tom Finney is 85 in April, Bobby Charlton 70 in October. Each would tack and tease down the touchline, or glide infield like a streamlined yacht on a breezy summer’s day; and each, when it took his fancy, could billow the rigging as if a hissing gale had hit it.
It would be good to greet Brian Lara’s West Indies for their summer tour of England as World Cup champions — a tournament host has never been victorious — but it will be a huge surprise, I suppose, if Australia don’t win that. To be sure, England won’t get close, and the matey interest back here at home will be in the progress of the tiddlers, Scotland and Ireland. For a serious global tilt, however, the Irish egg-basket overflows with expectation for the autumn rugby in France. Ireland are in a cussed qualification group of four with the hosts, a bonny Argentina and runaway favourites New Zealand; but should the boys in green manage to see off the former two in those openers, no doubt they can sail serenely on for a second bite at the All Blacks in the Paris final on 20 October.
Unlikely to win though, for favourites overwhelmingly rule these days. Nor does it matter a jot when they are so ragingly good: like Australia at cricket and New Zealand at rugby. Can Roger Federer be more perfect at Wimbledon in 2007 than he was in 2006? Ditto, Tiger Woods at Carnoustie this summer as at Hoylake last? Carnoustie’s evil winds must be up for it; if they can’t tame Tiger, nothing ever will.