Times When Crowds Were The Difference

Times When Sports Crowds Were The Difference

Passionate home crowds have inspired their sporting heroes to achieve greatness on many occasions over the years. The best supporters create a stirring atmosphere, evoke memories of former glories and lift the morale of their idols. Their boisterous chants can also pressure the referee into making favourable decisions, while leaving the opposition intimidated and anxious. Athletes forced to ply their trade in empty arenas during the global pandemic have been unable to count upon that support, and home advantage has vanished in several sports. These are the greatest historical examples of a partisan crowd creating a spine-tingling atmosphere and roaring the players to victory.

Cricket World Cup Final, 2019

The atmosphere was electric inside Lord’s when England took on New Zealand in the World Cup final. The hosts were the top ranked team in the world and they were installed as the clear favourites to lift the trophy in the sports odds. All they had to do was sweep aside the Kiwis, who they had beaten comfortably earlier in the tournament. However, the Black Caps had other ideas. They set England a run chase of 241 and then displayed skilful bowling, sharp fielding and tactical nous to reduce Eoin Morgan’s men to 86-4.

The carnival atmosphere quickly turned sour, and England were left in need of a miracle. It arrived in the form of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. They put up 110 to drag England back into the game, but hope turned to despair when Buttler was caught at deep point for 59. England needed 46 from just 31 balls, and it was time for the Barmy Army to roar Stokes on as he sought to achieve sporting greatness. The supporters went ballistic as the all-rounder seized control of the match, eviscerating New Zealand with a phenomenal demonstration of aggression with the bat.

He rode his luck on several occasions, but ended up levelling the scores in dramatic fashion, forcing a super over. Once more the crowd stepped up to the plate and encouraged their heroes to dig deep. It finished level once again and England were handed the trophy by virtue of having scored more boundaries, sparking emotional scenes inside the famous old ground and across the country.

Liverpool vs. Barcelona, 2019

The Anfield crowd has regularly served as the 12th man as Liverpool have defied the odds to secure famous victories over the years. Their finest moment came in the Champions League semi-final of 2019, when they inspired their team to one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history. Liverpool trailed 3-0 on aggregate after a Lionel Messi masterclass in the first leg, and Barcelona had one foot in the final. They looked confident as they landed in England for the clash, but that mood quickly evaporated when they stepped out onto the hallowed turf at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp had urged the crowd to create a special atmosphere, and they played their part in a thrilling 4-0 victory. Liverpool’s players pressed the opposition as if their lives depended on it, and Divock Origi gave them a lifeline with a seventh minute strike. A second-half brace from Georginio Wijnaldum made it 3-3 on aggregate and then a moment of inspiration from local lad Trent Alexander-Arnold handed the Reds a victory that seemed impossible. When asked if they could have done it without the crowd, Klopp said: “No chance. We know this club is a mix of atmosphere, emotion and desire, and football qualities. This club has a big heart and obviously tonight it was pounding like crazy and we could feel it all over the world.”

Wimbledon Final, 2013

Andy Murray broke down in tears after he suffered a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 defeat at the hands of Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final. He had spent years carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders, and he was devastated to fall just short of delivering Britain’s first Wimbledon title in 76 years. That display of emotion earned him a place in the hearts of millions, and the crowd was determined to motivate him to secure victory the following year.

This time around, the Scot was a heavy underdog as he prepared to take on the ruthless world number one, Novak Djokovic. Yet the supporters created a raucous atmosphere in SW19 that day, and Murray surged to a tense first-set victory. The fans discarded their Pimm’s and strawberries and set about encouraging Murray to capitalise on his advantage. The entire match was tense, and nails were bitten to the quick. Every time Murray won a crucial point, the crowd erupted in relief and jubilation. The scenes when he closed out a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 triumph were exhilarating.

Super Saturday at the London Olympics, 2012

Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all struck gold within 44 minutes of one another during a thrilling day at the London Olympics. A patriotic crowd inside the London Stadium was already buoyant after watching video footage of the men’s four Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs Hodge securing gold at Eton Dorney, followed swiftly by the women’s double sculls pair of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking. Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell then routed the United States to win more gold in the Velodrome, so the atmosphere was buzzing when Ennis lined up for the 800m.

The fans went wild when she crossed the line first to wrap up gold in the heptathlon. The euphoria heightened after Rutherford was confirmed as the long jump champion following his fourth jump of 8.31m. Then the legendary Farah clinched the first of his four Olympic gold medals with a superb triumph in the 10,000m, completing the greatest day in British sporting history. It was an unforgettable event for those fans lucky enough to secure a ticket, and they made the most of the occasion by shouting until they were hoarse.

World Athletics Championship, 2009

Usain Bolt was at the peak of his powers when he headed to Berlin to bid for 100m glory at the World Championships in 2009. He was up against a formidable opponent in Tyson Gay, as the American sprinter had clocked the season’s best time of 9.77 seconds in the 100m. Yet the crowd was firmly behind Bolt, who has always had an unrivalled ability to whip up excitement among spectators.

They chanted his name as they prepared to watch Das Duell, and the event lived up to its billing. The two men immediately broke away from the pack, but Bolt had taken a slight lead of 0.01 seconds by the 20-metre mark and he then continued to pull away until he crossed the line in a world record time of 9.58 seconds. Gay finished in 9.71 seconds, the third fastest 100m time in history, but he was nowhere near Bolt. The crowd then reached a fever pitch when Bolt appeared again four days later, and they spurred him on to break another world record as he finished the 200m in just 19.19 seconds.

Ryder Cup, 2006

The Ryder Cup was held in Ireland for the first time in 2006 and an emotional home crowd carried Darren Clarke to sporting immortality. His wife sadly passed away just before the tournament began, but she said to him, “If Woosie calls you, you have to play.” European captain Ian Woosnam did indeed call, and he vowed to repay the faith by helping the team secure victory over the Americans. Some commentators argued that Clarke would not be able to hold it together during the showdown, but he laid any doubts to rest by teaming up with Lee Westwood to clinch a famous four-ball triumph morning over Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco on the opening morning.

That duo beat Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk the following day, and Clarke then secured a 3&2 victory over Zach Johnson on the Sunday to finish the match with a 3-0-0 record. Europe ended up winning by a landslide. The crowd roared on Irish heroes Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley throughout, but the greatest cheers were saved for Clarke. “It has been fantastic,” he said. “The way the crowd cheered me on the 1st tee on Friday morning is something I'll never forget.”

The Ashes, 2005

Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Kevin Pietersen became national heroes when they led England to a gripping victory in the 2005 Ashes. The Aussies had won the previous eight series, a run stretching back 18 years, but fans dared to dream of success when they saw the quality at Vaughan’s disposal that year. Yet they were up against a formidable side led by Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, so they needed the Barmy Army to make the difference.

The series began in disastrous fashion, as Australia romped to a 239-run victory at Lord’s, leaving England as the underdogs in the sports spread betting. Yet they turned it around with a captivating 2-run victory in the second Test at Edgbaston, and the crowd was on fire that day. Arrogant comments from Ponting and co had fired them up, and Edgbaston became a cauldron of animosity. Geraint Jones won it at the death with an athletic catch, and England suddenly had all the momentum.

Ashes fever had swept the nation by that point, and the fans remained in full voice during the subsequent draw at Old Trafford, England’s 3-wicket triumph at Trent Bridge and the nerve-shredding draw at The Oval in the fifth Test. Tens of thousands lined the streets to celebrate the achievement, and Trafalgar Square erupted into a stirring rendition of Jerusalem.

France vs. New Zealand, 1999

French rugby fans crossed the English Channel and packed Twickenham to the rafters when their team locked horns with the mighty All Blacks in the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup. Les Bleus were huge underdogs, and few neutrals were surprised when they ended up trailing 24-10 after 44 minutes. After all, they had suffered a 44-point mauling at the hands of New Zealand just four months previously. The irrepressible Jonah Lomu had crossed for two magnificent tries, and the Les Bleus were staring down the barrel of defeat.

However, the French fans inside the stadium refused to give up hope, and they goaded their team to improve as the game wore on. A moment of opportunism from scrum-half Fabien Galthié sent Christophe Dominici racing towards the line and hoping that Galthié’s would fortuitously bounced into his baying arms. Luck was on his side, and Dominici’s try brought France back into the game. It gave them confidence, a sea of blue in the stands serenaded them on and they ended up scoring 33 points unanswered to close out the unlikeliest of victories.

Royal Ascot, 1996

The punters were dancing for joy when Frankie Detorri won all seven races on the card at Royal Ascot back in 1996. It was an unprecedented feat for any jockey, and it remains the greatest achievement in the history of horse racing. It started off with a routine win, as 2/1 shot Wall Street blitzed his rivals in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Detorri’s magic touch was then clearly evident as he managed to guide the 12/1 outsider Diffident to an unexpected victory in the second race of the day. Many punters decided to lump on his next mount, Mark of Esteem, and they were rewarded.

Detorri, who is now a Sporting Index ambassador, landed another winner on 7/1 shot Decorated Hero in the fourth race. By that point, the crowd realised they were on the brink of watching something special, and the bookies responded by cutting the prices on his subsequent rides. People across the country started backing Detorri to the hilt, and the BBC interrupted its regular broadcast schedule to show the action, but the greatest buzz was generated inside the racecourse itself. Detorri ended up riding Fatefully, Lochangel and Fujiyama Crest to victory to cap a famous day, defying early bird odds of 235,834/1 in the process, and the racegoers were ecstatic as he performed his famous flying dismount for the final time.

The Ashes, 1981

Ian Botham stole the show at the 1981 Ashes, but the fans also played a large role in guiding England to success. They remained stoic during the 4-wicket defeat in the opening Test at Trent Bridge, and spurred the team on as they battled for a draw at Lord’s in the second match. The action then shifted to Headingley. Botham had been replaced as captain, the Australian team was full of confidence and opener John Dyson calmly hit 102 for the visitors. A 112 partnership between Jim Hughes and Graham Yallop left England on the brink of defeat, and a nation turned its lonely eyes to Beefy. He removed both men, and then ripped through the lower half of Australia’s battling line-up before the Aussies declared at 401-9.

Yet England were all out for 174, and they were forced to follow on. No team had ever won an Ashes Test from that position, and England’s chances looked grim when they slumped to 135-7. Yet a magnificent display of defiance from Botham saw him end his innings at 149 not out, having hit 27 fours and a six, while Graham Dilley added another 56 to leave England 356 all out. The bowlers had a mountain to climb, but a raucous crowd emboldened Bob Willis, who took an astonishing 8-43 to leave Australia shot out for a mere 111. Jubilant fans rushed the pitch, leading to iconic images of Botham basking in their adulation.

The supporters maintained the intensity at Edgbaston for the fourth Test, and their efforts were rewarded with another scintillating display from the great man. He took five wickets for just one run, and then hit a century off just 86 balls to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and allow England to retain the Ashes.

Rumble in the Jungle, 1974

Muhammad Ali received a hero’s welcome when he arrived in the Republic of Zaire for the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. The people of Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo – viewed him as a symbol of their struggles, and afforded him the levels of love and respect he desperately craved in the US. His opponent, the undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman, did not connect with the people in the same way, making Ali the clear crowd favourite.

However, he was the 4/1 underdog in the betting, as Foreman was seven years younger, physically stronger and seemingly invincible. By this point in his career, many considered Ali to be washed up, but this was the night that helped him earn the nickname “The Greatest”. A chant for Ali has swept the nation of Zaire: “Ali boma ye”. It basically incited Ali to “kill” Foreman, and the fans chanted it to help fire him up on the night of the fight. The world then watched on as Ali performed the iconic rope-a-dope, leaving his vaunted opponent bamboozled. He finished Foreman off with a five-punch combo in the eighth round, and the crowd went wild.

World Cup Final, 1966

More than 96,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium to watch England take on West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. A further 32.3 million people watched the action on their black and white TVs, making it the most watched television event in British history, but the supporters inside the stadium were the envy of their countrymen. They rose to the occasion by creating a rousing atmosphere for Alf Ramsay, Bobby Moore and co, and that famous stiff upper lip was unyielding when Helmut Haller put the Germans 1-0 up after just 12 minutes. Geoff Hurst quickly equalised, and Martin Peters thought he had won the game courtesy of his 78th minute strike.

The nation held its breath, but there was heartbreak when Wolfgang Weber crashed in with a minute left on the clock, sending the game to extra-time. The crowd really came into its own then, emboldening the weary players to find the requisite energy for one last push towards glory. Hurst grabbed a contentious second when his shot was judged to have gone over the line after hitting the underside of the bar. West Germany poured forward in a desperate attempt to equalise. Moore won the ball and pinged it up to the unmarked Hurst. “And here comes Hurst!” cried commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. “He’s got… some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over!” Spectators began streaming onto the field as Hurst completed his hat-trick with a blistering shot. “It is now! It’s four!”

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