Imagine a ‘Get Out Of Time Free’ card – how different life would be, especially sports history

What have Rory McIlroy, Kilkenny v Cork, Ali v Foreman, Wimbledon and, well, Andy Carroll in common?

Rory McIlroy of Europe hugs his captain Jose Maria Olazabal on the putting green after arriving late to the golf course during the singles matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30th, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Europe hugs his captain Jose Maria Olazabal on the putting green after arriving late to the golf course during the singles matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30th, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images


It comes around twice a year. Twice a year the masses are handed what, when you think about it, amounts to a sort of quasi-superpower. We take the one unyielding constant of life – time – and change it to suit ourselves.

All of us, on the same night, decide to live an hour in the future or to hop back an hour into the past, depending on the time of year. Spring forward, fall back, just because we say so. The philosophical implications could melt a man’s cortex if he were to shine a light there for too long.

Of course, it only works because it’s a leap taken collectively. But imagine that hour was yours to do with as you pleased. A sort of “Get Out Of Time Free” card to be played whenever you so choose. How different life would be. How different history would be. Sports history above all.

Let’s take a flight of fancy, so. Given an hour to play around with, what changes would be wrought? Obviously, we’d use it to peer an hour into the future at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, whereupon we’d stick several mortgages on a Liverpool comeback against AC Milan.

But let’s take betting purposes as a given and instead look at how sports events might have worked out differently had this twice-a-year superpower been a more regular thing. Suspend disbelief for a moment and just go with it.

Rory McIlroy
at the Ryder Cup
Europe v USA, 2012

On the Sunday morning at Medinah, Europe were in trouble. They were heading into the singles trailing the USA 10-6 and José Maria Olazabal needed a fast start, so he sent Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and McIlroy out first, second and third. Only one problem – half-an-hour before his tee-time, McIlroy was nowhere to be found.

Despite having spent a full week in Chicago, he had somehow managed to get his time-zones mixed up and thought he had an hour more than he actually had to get to the course. In the end, a willing state trooper broke the land-speed record to get him there with 10 minutes to spare.

Seemingly on a mission to prove everything we think we know about preparation is so much hooey, McIlroy played the first 16 holes in five under par and beat Keegan Bradley 3&2. Europe took the top five matches and carried on to win 14½ to 13½.

But imagine Bradley had been able to use his hour that day. McIlroy ends up working off the wrong time zone AND chasing an hour that isn’t there. He misses his tee-time, the Yanks take the point and with it, they’d win back the Ryder Cup. McIlroy is forever remembered as the Man Who Lost The Ryder Cup.

Thunder and Lightning final
Kilkenny v Cork, 1939
On the day the second World War broke out, Kilkenny and Cork were involved in an epic confrontation of their own. Kilkenny had gone four years without an All Ireland, Cork had gone eight. They met in Croke Park on what had dawned a reasonably pleasant day. By throw-in time at 3.15pm, in fact, Dublin was bathed in early September sunshine.

Come the second half, however, the skies darkened, then rumbled and eventually unleashed such a torrential downpour that the players later spoke of the dye from their jerseys running into their togs. Thunder and lightning cracked the sky and underneath it, the All-Ireland hurling final struggled on to a dramatic end.

Although Kilkenny had been in the ascendancy early on, Cork had found their way back as the weather worsened. With two minutes to go and the rain pounding down, they scored a goal that squirted in directly from a 70 to level the game at 3-3 to 2-6.

Kilkenny got a 70 of their own for the game’s last act but, as Micheál Ó hEithir later wrote in his autobiography, visibility was so poor that Paddy Phelan actually took it from his own 70 rather than the Cork one. Thus did the ball drop short and wide of the posts, allowing Kilkenny forward Jimmy Kelly to latch on to the loose ball and nick the winning point.

But what if the game starts an hour earlier? The weather stays fine. The Kilkenny 70 gets taken from the right spot, while it has the distance, it keeps its line and goes wide. Instead of Kilkenny winning by what Cork’s free-taker that day Jack Lynch famously described as “the usual point”, the game goes to a replay.

Most notable of all, the game is just remembered at the plain old 1939 All Ireland final. The phrase “Thunder and Lightning Final” never enters the lexicon.

Rumble in
the Jungle
Ali v Foreman, 1974

It’s hard to fathom the possibility of another layer of mythology being grafted on one of the most storied sports events of all time. Yet along with rope-a-dope, the 4am start, James Brown, Norman Mailer, Ali Bomaye!, Don King, the despot Mobutu and David Frost’s interview, the whole enterprise came damn close to being washed away by a pre-dawn monsoon.

Shortly after Ali’s eighth-round knock- out of Foreman, the Stade du 20 Mai in Kinshasa was drenched by a murderous storm. Though a temporary roof had been constructed over the ring, such was the ferocity of the downpour that it is entirely possible the fight would have been interrupted.

So imagine one of the most famous fights – one of the most famous pieces of sport – taking place an hour later. Imagine it being stopped as the deluge makes the ring unsafe. A fight that had already been delayed by a month because of an injury picked up by Foreman while sparring gets put back again. At the very least, the general air of disorganisation and farce ruins forever the nascent career of organiser and promoter Don King.

And maybe it gives Foreman time and space to rethink his tactics. Certainly the surprise factor of Ali going to the ropes in the second round is gone. Maybe Ali finds a way in the end, but maybe not. If Foreman wins, does the Thrilla In Manilla happen a year later? Almost certainly not.

Tim Henman v Goran Ivanisevic
Wimbledon semi-final, 2001

The grinding regularity with which poor old Tim Henman found new and interesting ways not to win Wimbledon should mean that each year pretty much blends into the next in the memory. But there was that one year at the start of the last decade when the planets looked to be aligning for him.

Pete Sampras, so often his semi-final nemesis, had gone out in the fourth round to 19-year-old Roger Federer. Ivanisevic was an unseeded wild card whose best days were behind him. Pat Rafter was already in the final and Henman had beaten him the only time they’d met on grass.

Ivanisevic took the first set, Henman won the second and by then the home favourite was well on top. He mopped up the third set 6-0 in just 15 minutes and was leading 2-1 in the fourth when rain stopped play shortly after 6.15pm on that drizzly Friday evening.

Given an hour of his life to play around with, Henman would surely have used it that day. Had play started that one hour earlier, he’d surely have squared away the final set and eased through to the final. Obviously, there’s no telling how he’d have done against Rafter in the final but the fact that Ivanisevic went on to dig out his only Wimbledon title on the Monday suggests Henman’s best ever chance was lost in the evening drizzle.

Andy Carroll’s move to Liverpool
January 31 2011

It’s probably fair to say that just about everyone involved would happily take an hour’s delay on this one of it was offered. On the last day of the January transfer window, Liverpool finally let Fernando Torres go to Chelsea for £50 million of Roman Abramovich’s money. In what will surely stand for decades to come as the panic-buy to end all panic-buys, they immediately went about ferrying £35 million of that to Newcastle for 22-year-old Andy Carroll.

Despite everyone knowing they were overpaying by a good £20 million, they rushed full-steam ahead to get him to Liverpool (against his wishes), get his medical done and his personal terms set out, all of which they only completed a few minutes ahead of the 11pm deadline.

Lose an hour out of that day and the only person who’d have been annoyed would have been Mike Ashley, the Newcastle owner. Carroll would have stayed at his boyhood club, Liverpool would have been rid of Torres, whose form had been going downhill for much of the season anyway.

As we have seen since, they’d have done just fine relying on the other striker they bought that evening.

Amid all the Carroll and Torres headlines, it’s often forgotten that they took £22.7 million of the Torres money and gave it to Ajax that same day for Luis Suarez.

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