Sugar Ray Robinson, pound for pound, the best fighter of the Century, was back to his old ways, losing the world middleweight title and winning it back again. Sugar Ray retired in 1955, but his financial straits caused him to return to the ring and he regained his title by knocking out Bobo Olsen in two rounds that year. In January 1957, he defended the title against Gene Fullmer and lost it on an unanimous points decision. But four months later a brilliant left hook in the fifth round mean Sugar Ray was the world middleweight champion for the fourth time.
Although at 36 he was past his prime he was still capable of exhibiting the skills that made him such an exquisite boxer and the biggest draw outside of the heavyweight division. He was the welterweight champion from 1946 to 51, when he moved up to middleweight to take that title away from Jake La Motta. If it had not been for the 100 plus degrees of temperature he would also have captured the light-heavyweight title from Joey Maxim in June 1952.
The five-nations championship was on the road to nowhere. The emphasis was on defence and a flaw in the laws enabled the threequarters to line up so close to each other that no sooner had the attacking team gained possession than the opposition would be in position to tackle the fly-half. As a result, the game had become bogged down in a midfield morass. There was one sparkling gem in the mire, though. Peter Jackson. A nimble winger from Coventry, took England to their first Grand Slam in 29 years by scoring three of his country’s seven tries.
A large slice of Jackson’s success was due to England’s fine lock combination of John Currie and David Marques, who’s excellent line-out jumping provided Jackson with plenty of possession.
England’s victory roll consisted of a bruising 3 - 0 win against Wales, a 6 - 0 victory against Ireland, a 9 - 5 win against France and a 16 - 3 romp against Scotland.
Tom Finney of Preston North End and England was chosen as the Footballer of the Year for the second time. Bill Shankly once said of the winger and occasional centre-forward “Finney would have been great in any team, in any match in any age - even wearing an overcoat”.
FOOTBALL - Stanley Matthews played his last game for England, winning his 54th cap aged 42.
The pools produced their first £200,000 winner.
BOXING - Pete Rademacher’s first professional fight in August was for the world heavyweight championship. The bout with Floyd Patterson in Seattle was thought to be a mismatch, but the Olympic heavyweight champion put Patterson down in the second before being himself knocked out in the sixth.
The Busby Babes, the great Manchester United side created by Matt Busby, perished in the snow at Munich airport on February 6. The team was returning from Yugoslavia where they had negotiated their way past Red Star Belgrade to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup. Their plane had stopped in Munich to refuel before returning to Manchester. The weather was appalling, and twice the craft had been unable to gain sufficient height to take off. The British pilots, unwilling to take the prudent step and stop over for the night to have the engines checked, tried a third time. The plane hit a house at the end of the runway and 23 died.
The heart was ripped out of Manchester and of England’s greatest club team that afternoon. Roger Byrne, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Coleman, Mark Jones, Billy Whelan and Geof Bent were players who all lost their lives in the crash. Duncan Edwards, perhaps the most talented Englishman to pull on a pair of football boots, died a fortnight later. The club’s trainer, coach and secretary also perished. Eight journalists including the former Manchester City and England goalkeeper Frank Swift also died. After a terrific battle, where his chances were only rated at 50:50 Matt Busby recovered. Two players who survived, Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry were injured so badly they never played again.
The sixth world cup in Sweden saw the explosion on to the world stage of the greatest talent that has ever graced a football field, a 17 year-old Brazilian called Pele.
For the first time four British teams qualified: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Before the Munich air crash, great things had been expected of England, but the loss of Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, then the omission of Stanley Mathews and Nat Lofthouse, an injury to Tom Finney in the first match and the refusal to pick Bobby Charlton saw England eliminated without winning a game, in the play-offs for the quarter-finals. Scotland also did not win a game and finished bottom of their group, but they did get their first world cup point, a 1 - 1 draw with Yugoslavia.
Northern Ireland and Wales did much better, both going through to the quarter-finals, with Wales, with the indomitable John Charles out with an injury, only losing 1 - 0 to a goal by Pele. Pele scored three more goals in Brazil’s 5 - 2 defeat of France to take them to the final against Sweden.
Sweden without a doubt the slowest team in the tournament, had been a European power for a decade. To reach the final they had to overcome Hungary, the Soviet Union and West Germany. Sweden’s manager predicted that “Brazil would panic all over the show if they conceded an early goal”. The Swedes scored in just four minutes, the first time Brazil had been behind in the tournament. There was no panic, within six minutes Brazil had equalised and went on to a comfortable win 5 - 2 of which Pele scored two.
ATHLETICS - Herb Elliot broke the world mile record when he won what was described as “The Mile of the Millenium” in Dublin on August 6. He clocked 3min54.5sec and four other runners broke the four minute barrier.
FOOTBALL - Denis Law became Scotland’s youngest international when, aged 18 years 256 days he played against Wales on October 18.
MOTOR RACING - Juan Fangio retired after the French Grand Prix, when he finished
fourth in a Masarati.
Ingemar Johansson staggered his critics, American boxing circles and, most importantly Floyd Patterson by destroying the world heavyweight champion in New York on June 26 in front of a paltry 18,000 fans.
Nobody went because the Swede was not given a cat-in-hell’s chance. He had disgraced himself in the 1952 Olympics when he had been disqualified in the heavyweight final for not trying. To add to this bizarre reputation, his pre-fight training was eccentric to say the least. He had his girlfriend with him at the camp where he hardly did any work and went dancing in the nearby hotel every night. By contrast, Patterson lived the traditional life of working out every day in the gym. Johannson would be easy meat!
The first two rounds went as predicted . The third was somewhat different as Johansson caught the champion with a left hook and followed through with a right on to Patterson’s mouth.
If Elvis Presley was the ‘King’ strutting his stuff on stage, Maria Bueno was the ‘Queen’ of the Centre Court.
The 19 year old Brazilian swept all before her at Wimbledon with grace, charm and unmatched talent. She stumbled only twice on the way to the title but quickly regained her poise. Bueno had reached the quarter-finals the year before in her first appearance but lost to the unseeded Anne Haydon. She returned as the sixth seed in 1959 and there was no stopping her once she got going.
After a falter against Mimi Arnold she won her remaining matches in straight sets including a 6 - 4, 6 - 3 victory against Darlene Hard in the final.
Bueno’s strength was her powerful service, which she used to win three Wimbledon titles and four US Championships, the first of which was in 1959. She had grown up opposite the Sao Paulo Tennis Club and her one month training schedule before her first world tour in 1958 was so intense that she lost 17 lbs in weight.
Gary Player started the final day eight shots off the pace in the Open at Muirfield. He cut the lead by four strokes after the third round and then launched a typically tenacious charge over the final 18 holes. However, he came unstuck at the last where he took a six and had to sweat for nearly two hours waiting for the leaders to come home. It was well worth the wait. Player’s final round of 68 gave him the first of his nine Majors.
CRICKET - Dwight D Eisenhower became the first American president to see Test cricket, when he watched Pakistan draw with Australia on December 8.
FOOTBALL - The first £300,000 pools winner coincided with with the Football League establishing in the High Court in July their copyright over the League fixtures and thus receiving ½% of the gross takings from the Pools Promoters.
Seven years after Ferenc Puskas and the Hungarians shattered the cosy confidence of British football, Puskas returned and demonstrated in mesmerizing style that, even at the age of 33, genius is still genius. In tandem with Alfred di Stephano, also 33, the pair scored seven goals as Real Madrid retained the European Cup and dazzled Eintracht Frankfurt in the final at Hampden, Scotland.
On May 18, 127,000 spectators, and millions more watching on TV, saw for themselves why Real Madrid had won five consecutive European finals and were the undoubted masters of Europe. Eintracht who had beaten Glasgow Rangers in the semi-final 12 - 4 on aggregate, started the game well, taking the lead in the 19th minute. But they were completely swept away as Puskas and di Stephano ran riot. Within 11 minutes
di Staphano had put the Spanish champions 2 - 1 up, Puskas added two more either side of half-time, then a fifth. If that were not enough there were four more goals in the space of four minutes. Puskas got his fourth in the 70th minute, Stein pulled one back for Eintracht , but straight from the restart di Stephano completed his hat-trick. Two minutes later Stein scored the German’s third: 7 - 3.
A huge army had mustered on both side of the Atlantic. It had no uniforms, but Arnie’s Army were the most loyal foot soldiers in the world.
Their field marshall was Arnold Palmer, the most popular golfer in history. The tough, blond American, who grimaced and joked his way around a course had a magnetic appeal which catapulted the sport into a multi-million pound business.
Palmer was at his peak in 1960. He birdied the last two holes in the Masters at Augusta to beat Ken Venturi by one shot and won four other tournaments in the build up to the US Open in Detroit. But he had a bad start at Cherry Hills Country Club. He drove into a creek at the first, and a young boy picked his ball out he was penalised a stroke. Things went from bad to worse and by the start of the final round ,Palmer was seven shots of the pace set by Mike Souchak. What then unfolded on Saturday June 18 was one of the great rounds of golf. There were 14 men in front of Palmer when he began with blaze of three birdies on the first four holes.
The opposition faltered while Palmer flourished and when he reached the turn in 30, Arnie’s Army were on the march. There was no stopping Palmer, who stormed home with a 65 to beat the young amateur Jack Nicklaus by two shots. Arnie ruled the world.
Abebe Bikila was a private in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army before the Olympic Games in Rome. When the 27 year old Ethiopian returned home a month later with a marathon gold medal around his neck he was promoted to Sergeant. Bikila had been an unknown among the 69 starters on September 10. The favourite in Rome was the European champion Sergey Popov who had run the worlds best time 2hr 15min 17sec. Few people gave the African in the no 11 vest much chance. But the bare-foot Bikila’s fast pace destroyed the field and he came home in 2hr 15min 16.2sec.. The Soviet was fifth.
Patterson went down for a nine count. When he got up he was so bewildered he went to a neutral corner believing he had scored the knockdown.
Patterson’s mistake, and the experts, was to have ignored the Swede’s record. He had won 20 out of 20 with only seven lasting the distance. Johansson had incredible one-punch power, and had demolished some good opponents.
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