• December 21 down the years

A whole new ball game

The sporting events of December 21 down the years
Carlos Boozer has a lot to thank James Naismith for © Getty Images

The first game ever played in the only major sport to be invented by a single individual. At Springfield YMCA in Massachusetts, Canadian doctor James Naismith arranged the inaugural game of basketball to keep his students occupied between the football and baseball seasons. The historic match was played with a soccer ball and a pair of peach baskets.

Florence Griffiths-Joyner was born. Her world records at 100 and 200 metres may well last for ever, but you'd have to be on something yourself to think she achieved them without drugs. Before 1988, she was better known for the length of her fingernails than the width of her achievements. Her 21.34 for 200 metres, run at the Seoul Olympics, is a monster, her 10.49 for the 100 a real hoot. She died when she was 38.

Chris Evert was born. She needs a page to herself, so this is going to be the most inadequate of thumbnails. If more of the tennis grand slam tournaments were held on clay, she'd hold all the records (she won the French Open a record seven times). As it is, she didn't do too badly on grass and cement, winning Wimbledon three times, the US open six times, and a couple of Australians. She also lost a record 16 grand slam singles finals. She and her then fiancé Jimmy Connors won their first Wimbledon singles titles in the same year (1974), and on her 24th birthday she announced her engagement to British tennis player John Lloyd.

Khaosai Galaxy fought his last fight. In his native Thailand, he won a unanimous points decision over Armando Castro of Mexico to retain the WBA super-flyweight he'd won in 1984. It was Galaxy's 20th world title fight; he didn't lose any of them. His real name was Sura Saenkham. His twin brother Nirote, fighting as Khaokor Galaxy, won the WBA bantamweight title in 1988.

Walter Hagen was born. He won 11 golf majors, more than anyone except Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, and he won them with a flamboyance in perfect keeping with the Roaring Twenties. The US Masters didn't start until he was in his forties, but he won the US Open twice and the Open four times, and showed he was equally as good at matchplay by winning the US PGA five times, including four in a row. He won his first Major in 1914 and his last in 1929, when he retained the Open with the same score as the previous year.

Having edged past Ireland on December 7, the All Blacks took on Wales in Cardiff. Their full-back Don Clarke, who'd kicked the penalty that won the match in Dublin, was the first player to score 200 points in internationals. At 16 stone, he was an absolute behemoth by the standards of the day, and his bulk helped him kick goals from impressive distances. Here in Cardiff, he hit the post twice with penalties from 58 and 54 yards. In between, he knocked one over from 20. In the second half, Bruce Watt dropped a goal, and the All Blacks were happy to win 6-0 without scoring a try. Near the end, Colin Meads performed one of his party tricks by barging the Wales captain Clive Rowlands, who was about half his height, and enjoyed being booed until the end.

Wales did rather better against the All Blacks. Three-nil down at half-time, they scored two tries early in the second half to lead 10-3, only for Mike Gilbert to drop a goal and Nelson 'Kelly' Ball to score his second try of the game. With only six minutes left and Wales hooker Don Tarr off the field with a broken neck, New Zealand led 12-10. Then the famous Welsh centre Wilf Wooller burst through and kicked ahead. The ball bounced over the All Black line and Geoffrey Rees Jones scored his second try of the day to win the match 13-12.

Karrie Webb was born in Australia. When she shot 66 in the first round and 66 in the last round to win the British Open in 2002, she became the only golfer to win every one of the five women's Majors. She'd already won the British Open twice, before it became a Major.

The Davis Cup final in Melbourne was a one-man show, give or take. In the first match, two of the top serve-volleyers of the day hammered away at each other on the grass, with Pat Cash beating Stefan Edberg in three hard sets, the first two 13-11. Australia had no-one to back him up in the singles (Paul McNamee was a doubles specialist), so Cash needed to win all three of his matches. He helped John Fitzgerald take the doubles, but then found himself two sets down against Mikael Pernfors. Defeat here would cost Australia the Cup, but Cash turned the match round, and Edberg's win over McNamee was irrelevant.

A happier Davis Cup memory for Sweden, they won it for the first time and again it was mainly about one player. In Bratislava, Czechoslovakia didn't expect anything from Jiří Hřebec against Björn Borg, and sure enough he won only four games. Borg was still only 19 but already formidable. His team-mate Ove Bengtsson was less so. He did well to take a set off Jan Kodeš, the former Wimbledon champion. The second day was the key. Throughout his career, Borg had no reputation as a doubles player, but here he played his part and the tall Bengtsson did well at the net, enough to beat Kodeš and big-serving Vladimír Zedník in straight sets. There was still had a chance if Kodeš could beat Borg, but the wonderboy won in three easy sets and Czechoslovakia had to wait five years to win the Cup for the only time as a unified country.

Martin Bayfield was born. A 6' 10 lock forward whose height made him a real handful in the lineout, he helped England win three Five Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, and reach the semi-final of the 1995 World Cup. He appeared in all three Tests on the Lions unlucky tour of New Zealand in 1993 and later played Robbie Coltrane's body double in Harry Potter films.

Vince Lombardi's last NFL game as coach ended in defeat, which was rare for him - and, to an extent, for the Washington Redskins in his only season with them. They went down 20-10 at the Dallas Cowboys but finished with a 7-5 win-loss record, this after 14 losing seasons in a row. Job done, Lombardi went back into retirement. Within a year, he was dead from cancer. Famous as coach of the Green Bay Packers, he led them to five NFL championships in nine years. After they won the first two Superbowls, in 1967 and 1968, by scores of 35-10 and 33-14, he retired for the first time.

In later years, Roberto Duran was best known for taking world title fights the distance, often against top guns like Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. But in his youth he was quite a banger. Here he retained his WBA lightweight title by knocking out Masataka Takayama in the first round. Duran wasn't known as 'Little Stone Hands' for nothing. His last fight before the Takayama bout, and the one after it, also ended in first-round KOs.