• December 31 down the years

So near yet so far for Lloyd

The sporting events of December 31 down the years
John Lloyd came so close to Grand Slam glory © Getty Images

The last British-born tennis player to reach a men's grand slam singles final before Andy Murray (September 8, 2008). In a battle of the glam blonds, Vitas Gerulaitis beat Britain's John Lloyd in five sets to win the Australian Open. By beating the average Aussie Bob Giltinan, Lloyd had become the first British player to reach the final since Fred Perry in 1935. In the fourth set against Lloyd, Gerulaitis was so crippled by cramp he nearly conceded the match, but recovered to take the fifth 6-2. It was the only grand slam singles title he ever won.

Kenny Roberts senior was born. He succeeded Britain's Barry Sheene (born September 11, 1950) as the world's top 500cc motorcyclist, world champion three years in a row 1978 to 1980. He was the first American to win the title. His son Kenny junior won it in 2000.

At Lake Dumbleyung in Western Australia, Britain's Donald Campbell reached a speed of 276.33mph to become the only man to set records on land and water in the same year.

Gunder Hägg was born. He was at his peak during the Second World War, so he never ran in the Olympics, but his rivalry with fellow Swede Arne Andersson led to three world records each in the mile. It was Hägg's 4 minutes 01.4 seconds, set in 1945, that Roger Bannister famously beat on May 6, 1954. Hägg might have won the 1500 at the 1948 Olympics (gold and silver went to two other Swedes) if he hadn't been banned for professionalism two years earlier. He set world records at various distances from 1500 to 5000 metres.

In a rugby union match against France in Paris, Ireland captain George Stephenson won his 36th cap, breaking the world record he shared with Dicky Owen of Wales. He celebrated by scoring the second try in a 6-0 win. Stephenson's eventual total of 42 caps remained the record for 26 years.

Phil Blakeway was born. Having spent the 1970s sabotaging their own national team with a string of dreadful choices, the England rugby selectors started the next decade by getting it right. Having seen how one man could destroy an entire divisional team, they picked the Gloucester prop for the opening match of the 1980 Five Nations. Immensely strong, a rock in the scrum, he should have been capped a lot earlier, but better late than never. He played in all four matches as England won their first Grand Slam since 1957. Later that year, his Lions tour was cut short early when it was discovered that he'd played against Wales and Scotland with a broken rib! He won 19 England caps in all, the last when he was 34.

The Green Bay Packers destroyed the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL title. After a scoreless first quarter, the Packers scored 24 points in the second. Their great quarterback Bart Starr threw three touchdown passes and Paul Hornung scored 19 points, including a touchdown and three field goals.

On the same day in 1967, the Packers won another Championship Game, this time one of the classics. Typical sub-zero temperatures at their Lambeau Field stadium gave the game its nickname of The Ice Bowl. This time Starr threw for two touchdowns, but the Dallas Cowboys, from the warm south, led 17-14 with only 16 seconds left. Starr coolly took a time-out, then scored the winning touchdown himself. Green Bay were the first team to win the title three years in a row.

The biggest defeat ever suffered by England (who included Welshmen in the team!) at rugby league. Dave Brown scored 27 points from three tries and nine goals as Australia won 63-13 (worth 78-16 today) in Paris. Despite a day of ice and snow, a crowd of 5,000 watched the first major league match staged in France. Just the day before, Australia had beaten Wales 51-19 (62-22) at Wembley.

In the Davis Cup final, America had Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert back from December 30, 1952 while Australia had to replace their conquerors with a pair of 19-year-olds. But these were two tremendous teenagers. After Lew Hoad beat Seixas in straight sets, Trabert did the same to Ken Rosewall, then the two Americans won the doubles easily, and on the third day Trabert came back from two sets down to level his match with Hoad. Crisis point. But Hoad won the fifth set 7-5, and Rosewall beat Seixas in four to keep the Cup in Australia.

On the same day in 1958, the USA finally won Down Under - but they needed help from a different continent. Australia's Ashley Cooper was the reigning Wimbledon and US champion and duly beat Barry MacKay. But Mal Anderson lost to Alex Olmedo, who was born in Peru and wasn't an American citizen. After helping Ham Richardson to win an epic doubles, he beat Cooper in the decisive match. The following year, he became Wimbledon singles champion.

Puerto Rico's legendary baseball batter Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while taking supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series in 1960 and again in 1971, when he was voted MVP.