Jonathan Woodgate

In July, 2007, former England centre-back Jonathan Woodgate was voted the worst signing of the twenty-first century by readers of Spanish sports newspaper Diario Marca, or Marca, for short. Despite nursing a torn thigh muscle, which caused him to miss Euro 2004, Woodgate passed a medical examination at Real Madrid in August, 2004, and joined Los Blancos on a four-year contract for a fee of £13.4 million. Woodgate had been described by Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson as the ‘best central defender in England’ but, in truth, his best days were already behind him.

Woodgate’s arrival in the Spanish capital was greeted with complete astonishment and, to make matters worse, injury prevented him making his debut for Real Madrid until September, 2005. When he did, in a La Liga match against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu, he scored an own goal with a diving header after 25 minutes and was sent off after 66 minutes. All told, Woodgate made just 14 appearances for Real Madrid before joining Middlesbrough, initially on loan in 2006 and permanently, for a fee of £7 million, the following year. Woodgate subsequently played for Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke and Middlesbrough, again, before retiring in 2006, but never hit the heights that seemed likely early in his career.

A graduate from the Leeds United academy, Woodgate broke into the Whites’ first team in 1997 and quickly established himself as one of the best central defenders in the Premier League. However, he failed to win any silverware with Leeds and his career at Elland Road came to an end when financial constraints forced his sale to Newwcastle United for £9 million in 2003.

Internationally, Woodgate made a total of eight, sporadic appearances for the England national team, under Kevin Keegan, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Steve McLaren and Fabio Capello, between 1999 and 2008, but a succession of injuries and an incident in Leeds town centre in January, 2000, which led to a conviction for affray, limited his opportunities.


Nigel Mansell

Of course, Nigel Mansell won the Formula One Drivers’ Championship in 1992. Indeed, that season he won a then record nine races, including the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, to become the most successful British driver in Formula One history. Thirty years later, Mansell remains second-best, statistically, behind only Lewis Hamilton. However, in his earlier years, Mansell earned a reputation as a talented, hard charging, but luckless, driver, prone to taking one risk too many.

During his fourth and final year with Team Lotus, in 1984, Mansell led the Monaco Grand Prix, held in heavy rain, only to spin off during the fifteenth lap, damaging his car and causing his retirement from the race. At that point, team boss Peter Warr said, ‘He’ll never win a Grand Prix as long as I have a hole in my arse’. Unsurprisingly, Mansell left Lotus for Williams in 1985 and defied expectation by winning the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in October that year.

In 1986, Mansell emerged as a bona fide contender for the Drivers’ Championship, winning five times and needing to finish no worse than third in the final race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, to clinch the title. However, with 19 of the 82 laps remaining, Mansell suffered a spectacular blowout when on course for third place, forcing his retirement and handing the title, narrowly, to Alain Prost.

In 1987, Mansell won six times, but ultimately lost out to team-mate Nelson Piquet in the Drivers’ Championship after a series of mishaps. A lost wheel nut in the latter stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix forced his retirement and, later in the season, a serious accident in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka exacerbated an old back injury, ruling Mansell out of that race and the final Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide.

John Regis

Born in London Borough of Lewisham in 1966, John Regis was a specialist 200-metre sprinter who won individual gold medals at that distance at the 1989 World Indoor Championships in Budapest, Hungary and the 1990 European Championships in Split, Croatia. He also won a team gold medal in the 4 x 400 metres relay at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.

On the global stage, Regis recorded his arguably his best individual performance at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. In his qualifying heat, Regis finished second to Frenchman Jean-Charles Trouabal in a time of 20.67 seconds, in his quarter-final he finished second to American Carl Lewis in a time of 20.39 seconds and in his semi-final he finished third to another American, Michael Marsh, and the eventual gold medallist, Namibian Frankie Fredericks, in a time of 20.16 seconds.

In the final, on August 20, 1993, Regis beat Trouabal, Marsh and Lewis and set a new British record, 19.94 seconds, as he finished in silver medal position behind Fredericks. Nearly a year later, on July 31, 1994, he lowered his own British record, setting a mark of 19.87 seconds in the rarified air of Sestriere, Italy, which still stands.

However, for years after he was forced to retire from athletics, due to a hamstring injury, in July, 2000, Regis was reportedly haunted by his execution of the Stuttgart race. Reflecting on his performance, he said,’Second is first loser. You always want to win and you train to win’, adding, ‘The public appreciate what they perceive as great performances. But what, in their eyes, may be a great performance you know to be only a reasonable one.’

Paula Radcliffe

Arguably the greatest long-distance runner, male or female, in British history, Paul Radcliffe ran her last competitive race in the London Marathon in 2015. Although 41 years old and competing as a ‘fun’ runner, her finishing time of 2:31.46 was comfortably inside the qualifying standard for Rio 2016, had a fifth Olympics been on her agenda. Nevertheless, Radcliffe called time on a long, illustrious career, during which her distinctive, head bobbing running style had become a familiar sight on the track, and on the road, around the world.

Radcliffe won the London Marathon three times, in 2002, 2003 and 2005 – on the second occasion setting a world record for the women’s marathon that would stand until 2019 – the New York Marathon three times, in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and the Chicago Marathon once, in 2002. She also won the gold medal in the women’s marathon at the 2015 World Championships in Helsinki, leading from start to finish to beat defending champion Catherine Ndereba in a championship record time of 2:20.57.

However, for all her success elsewhere, the Olympic Games did not prove a happy hunting ground for Radcliffe. On her first appearance, in Atlanta in 1996, she finished fifth in the 5,000 metres and on her second, in Sydney in 2000, finished fourth in the 10,000 metres, fading out of contention for a medal on the final lap.

Radcliffe contested her first Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004, where she started overwhelming favourite. However, plagued by a knee abscess and the side effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs she took to treat it, she dropped out, tearfully, after 22 miles. Remarkably, five days later, Radcliffe also ran in the 10,000 metres but, once again, dropped out with eight laps remaining. She tried again in Beijing in 2008 but, handicapped by a leg injury, trailed in twenty-third and was forced to withdraw from her home Olympics, in London in 2012, with degenerative foot injury.