David vs Goliath- The Best Underdog Stories

A feature on our sports writers' favourite underdog tales.

Jack Dugan
29th October 2018
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Nothing is more exciting than the tale of a victorious underdog, and to celebrate Gibraltar’s first competitive victories, our writers look at some of the most unexpected sporting triumphs from across the years.

Gibraltar’s first competitive wins- Jack Dugan

The tiny nation of Gibraltar defied all the odds to win their first competitive fixtures recently. Gibraltar, ranked 198th in the FIFA world rankings, is a nation more famous for monkeys than football. Winless in 22 matches, they emphatically broke their rut with victories over Armenia and Liechtenstein.

Before joining UEFA, Gibraltar used to play in the island games against the likes of the Shetland Islands, until they decided they were more of a match for the heavyweights of international football. The 22 games prior to Gibraltar’s hot streak were hardly easy going, often getting thumped by score lines more common in intramural fixtures than the international stage.

However, Gibraltar’s luck changed, sealing victory in a manner befitting their miraculous tale, a backs-to-wall performance against an Armenia side who boasted Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan. 22% possession and just two shots on target were enough for Gibraltar to grind out a result in the David vs Goliath fixture. Admittedly, Liechtenstein and Armenia are hardly elite sides, but considering Gibraltar is a nation smaller than the city of Newcastle, it’s a rather impressive feat.

Should they continue their hot streak, Gibraltar could find themselves promoted to Nations League group C, possibly playing Scotland in two years, an outcome that would leave Gibraltarians with head rush. Though we are hardly holding our breath for further success, we hope to see the underdogs do the spectacular yet again.


American rowers 1936 gold medal- Toby Bryant

Labelled as “the outstanding victory of the Olympic Games” that year by CBS commentator Bill Henry, upsets don’t come much bigger than the American rowers of Berlin 1936.

In a suburb of Berlin one day during the 1936 games, nine American rowers took the water. The sport had been dominated by the German hosts with golds in five of the six preceding finals.

The likes of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring watched on as the American 8+, made up by members of the University of Washington, lined up on the start line. The crew had raised $5000 to get across to compete, had only trained together for 5 months and made, what was for many, their first trip abroad.

In the final the German crew started the strongest and were still leading in the final 800 metres. However, in the Americans’ eyes, it was far from over. A push into the final 300 saw the Huskies pull level and stay level to cross the line at exactly the same time. Moments later, the announcement was made, the USA team has won by 0.6 of a second.

There was no recorded press reaction from Hitler. But it’s fair to say, the American underdogs may have upset the dictator just a little bit…


The miracle on ice- Sesha Subramanian

The subject of a 2004 movie called Miracle, the “Miracle on Ice” refers to the incredible victory of the US Men’s ice hockey team, made up of college players, against the Soviet Union’s professionals in the semi-finals of a gold-medal winning campaign at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

The teams were so far apart in quality, in fact, that the Soviets beat the US in a pre-Olympic exhibition at the Madison Square Garden just days before the Olympics by a score of 10-3. Having overcome internal conflict and being put through testing training over a few months by coach Herb Brooks, the US team surprised everybody in the Games by tying with Sweden and beating Czechoslovakia (a silver medal favourite) before reeling off three wins to qualify. The Soviets meanwhile romped through their group.

In the semi-final, the Soviets took the lead three times – but were pegged back each time by a resilient and sturdy US side until, finally, team captain Mike Eruzione put them in the lead with ten minutes to play. A frantic nine minutes and fifty seconds later came the famous call from ABC broadcaster Al Michaels, “You've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! ... Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

The US would later beat Finland in the final to win gold, but it was the win over the Soviets that they would be remembered for. The victory was voted the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated – whose cover of the March 3, 1980 issue had no headlines accompanying the photograph of American players celebrating because, as photographer Heinz Klutemeier put it, “everyone in America knew what happened”.


Ivanisevic’s Wimbledon win- Jack Smillie

The British public are famed for their infatuation with the underdog, and in no other place is this phenomenon better exemplified than at the All England Club, Wimbledon.

The pinnacle of the British sporting summer is not unaccustomed to stories of fairytale and magic. The Championships of 2001 was much akin to the year previous: thousands of punters clad in pin-striped suits were seen enjoying the melt-in-the-mouth strawberries and cream. But there was one notable, unlikely exception: the winner of the men’s singles.

Goran Ivanisevic was previously ranked as world number 2 back in 1994 (behind Pete Sampras) but slowly trickled down the rankings since. After a stressful fight with depression, suicidal thoughts and denying treatment for an ever-worsening shoulder injury, Ivanisevic was left ranked in 125th place at the time of Wimbledon 2001.

Fortuitously, the event organisers granted Ivanisevic a wildcard entry to Wimbledon; he was one of the most likeable tennis players of his era and had previously featured in, and lost, three Wimbledon finals.

The bookmakers rated Ivanisevic’s chances of success at 150/1, which landed one lucky punter a £27,000 payout upon Pat Rafter returning Ivanisevic’s ultimate, left-handed looming serve into the net. To this day, Ivanisevic’s unlikely yet gloriously popular win for the minnows remains the only wildcard entry to ever lift the prestigious Wimbledon trophy.


Leicester win the Premier League- Stanley Gilyead

In July 2015 Leicester City were in crisis. After a brilliant last gasp run of form saw them marginally escape relegation, manager Nigel Pearson was sacked, following his son’s involvement in a racist sex scandal. The appointment of Claudio Ranieri as his replacement was met with bemusement and described by Gary Lineker as “uninspired”.

They were widely tipped for relegation and bookies offered 5000/1 odds on them winning the title. 12 months later they were champions. Despite a strong start, inspired by Vardy becoming the first player to score in 11 consecutive Premier League matches, few believed Leicester could win the league; Lineker even promised to present Match Of The Day in his pants if they did.

But, helped by the form of 2018 World Cup winner Kante and Player Of The Year Mahrez, Leicester remained strong. They leapfrogged Arsenal into first place in January and stayed there for the rest of the season.

After only 2 seasons in the top flight and with a squad 7 times cheaper than Manchester City’s, Leicester were crowned Champions, with Ranieri winning manager of the year. They lost only 3 games and finished 10 points clear, completing the greatest ever Premier League shock.




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