A sporting victory is a joyful experience, no doubt. There is, however, a moment of sheer ecstasy that only comes with a victory when it seemed for all the world as if you were condemned to defeat. ‘Comeback’ has another sporting meaning too, in the form of a return to action. Here we examine some of the best – and some of the worst…
Fulham 4-1 Juventus (5-4 on aggregate)
David Trezeguet’s goal after two minutes of the second leg in London put Fulham behind 4-1 on aggregate. Minnows against the two-time European Cup champions, the Whites had a Piedmontese mountain to climb. But a team effort of courage and resolve, orchestrated by Roy Hodgson and invigorated by a crowded Cottage, turned a Sisyphean struggle into a memorable night on the banks of the Thames. A quick response from Bobby Zamora, as he shrugged off Fabio Cannavaro, and two goals from Zoltan Gera set the stage for a hero: Clint Dempsey audaciously chipped Fulham into the quarterfinals of the 2010 Europa League, and the history books.
Manchester United 2 – 1 Bayern Munich
Manchester United’s quest to become the first ever English side to win a treble seemed thwarted as the Champions League final of the 1998/1999 season reached injury time. A line-up shorn of influential midfield duo Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were a goal down to a 6th minute Mario Basler strike, and lucky for the score not to be 2-0 when Carsten Janker struck the crossbar with an acrobatic effort. But Teddy Sheringham turned in a David Beckham corner in the 91st minute, before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stuck out a leg in the 93rd to divert Sheringham’s header into the net and clinch victory. Extra marks awarded due to the almost-as-brilliant comeback in the semi-final second leg against Juventus.
It’s not often a mum wins a major. Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open after coming out of a 27-month retirement in which she became a mother. From nappy-changing to trophy-lifting, it took her only 14 matches in three tournaments to win another Grand Slam, as the Belgian former world number one won at Flushing Meadows back in 2005. Unseeded in her return, she beat home-favourite Serena Williams in the semis and Caroline Wozniacki in the final to complete the fairytale of New York.
Oracle Team USA 9 – 8 Emirates Team New Zealand
Defending their America’s Cup title from 2010, Oracle Team USA found themselves 8-1 down before launching the most spectacular comeback of 2013. Led by 35 year-old skipper Jimmy Spithill and featuring GB hero Ben Ainslie as part of the crew, the Oracle team gradually clawed their way back into contention, improving its boatspeed to the point where it could hydrofoil upwind at 30-32 knots, a performance never before seen in the competition. They set up a winner-takes-all final race, where they beat New Zealand by 44 seconds to take their eighth successive win, a remarkable feat.
When he retired in 2006, Michael Schumacher proudly sat at the top of the list of Formula 1 wins with 91. By the time his 2010 comeback had ended three seasons later, he had failed to add a single extra win to his tally, with only one podium finish to show for his efforts. A combination of an average car and some questionable driving decisions led ‘Schumi’ to 9th, 8th and 13th placed season finishes, and signalled a sad end to such an illustrious career.
For a man who dominated the tennis world between 1976 and 1982 with five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles, Bjorn Borg’s retirement at the age of 26 perplexed many. In his prime, he wore his big hair and confidence on the court as well as his marketable celebrity off it. The ‘Ice Man’ then left the sport in 1983 and suffered a meltdown after failed relationships and rumours of an overdose. His 1991 comeback failed miserably: Borg’s stubborn use of a wooden racquet could not compete against the modern graphite frames. He did not win a single match on his return to the Tour.
Jonnie Barnett & John Mastrini
Images courtesy of Oracle PR and Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo