2011: In Memory

We remember those sporting heroes who passed away in 2011.

Goodison Park honour the late Gary Speed.

It is never an easy task to write obituraries. Some of those who passed away had long established themselves in the sporting firmament. To them, we're grateful for all the memories. Some were cruelly cut down in their prime. Words cannot capture the void they have left behind. 

But young or old, legends or budding stars - they all deserve to be honoured. Here we attempt to do just that.

Nat Lofthouse (27 August 1925 - 15 January 2011)


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In an era where one-club players were fairly commonplace, Lofthouse cemented his status as a Bolton by scoring 255 goals in 452 league appearances. The dimunitive centre-forward made his league debut against Chelsea on August 31, 1946, five years after his first appearance for the club in a 5-1 win over Bury, and scored two goals that day in a 3-3 draw.

Lofthouse also captained Bolton to the 1958 FA Cup, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, including a controversial second where he barged opposition goalkeeper Harry Gregg into the net to score, at a time when shoulder charging was a legitimate tactic.

However, one thing more impressive than his scoring record at club level was his tally for England, where he scored 30 goals in just 33 appearances. And it was on a famous night in Austria when Lofthouse earned the title "Lion of Vienna" after scoring an amazing second goal in a game England went on to win 3-2. 

Despite being elbowed in the face, tackled from behind, and brought down by the keeper, Lofthouse somehow managed to put the ball in the back of the net, earning himself the admiration of fans the world over.

Sir Henry Cooper (3 May 1934 - 1 May 2011)


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When your left hook is labeled "Enry's ‘Ammer", it leaves little doubt about one's boxing prowess, and that is certainly the case with Cooper, who remains the only boxer to be awarded a knighthood.

Cooper held the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles at many points throughout his career, but it is perhaps his first bout against Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, that he is best remembered for.

Despite being a reported 27 pounds lighter than Clay, Cooper started the stronger of the duo, and even felled his opponent with a trademark left hook. However, a hard right by the American opened a severe cut below Cooper's eye, forcing the referee to stop the bout and award it to Clay even though he had been behind on the scorecards.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Cooper was paid by Ali himself when he described that Cooper "had hit him so hard that his ancestors in Africa felt it."

Following his retirement 1971, Cooper went on to forge a career in radio and television, and remained a popular figure amongst the British public right up to his death on May 1.

Seve Ballesteros ( 9 April 1957 - 7 May 2011)


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Rafael Nadal cried. Jose Maria Olazabal was stricken with grief. The Spanish prime minister expressed his condolences. Flags flew at half mast and silences were observed across the sporting world. 

Severiano Ballesteros was special.

The five majors and five Ryder Cup triumphs are only part of the story. Blessed with an effervescent persona and a penchant for the daring and the seemingly impossible, Seve impacted the game in a way few ever have. There were the quips and the controversies, the celebrations and the smiles. 

And the strokes, the incredible strokes - from woods and from carparks, from behind swimming pools and through crumbling walls. In every way, the man from Spain was larger-than-life.

Paul Casey said: "He really blazed the trail for Europeans. Not only in the Ryder Cup, but also in how he played at Augusta and his victories over here. We owe a huge amount to him."

The Elvis Presley of golf. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus rolled into one. There were many descriptions of Seve after he died. The man who brought a smile to people's faces wherever he went would perhaps be most fitting.

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi (5 January 1941 -  22 September 2011)


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Born into royalty, MAK Pataudi enjoyed all the privileges of an upper-class unbringing in a country gradually recovering from colonial plunder. In a perverse way then, it was the accident that deprived him of vision in one eye that sealed his place as one of the best cricketers India had ever produced.

Undettered by a disability that would have destroyed a lesser man, Tiger went on to represent India in 46 Test matches, becoming its youngest ever captain at 21 years of age (a record that still stands) and leading the side to their first ever overseas Test and series win - against New Zealand in 1968.

"Pataudi was a transition man in Indian cricket. The old world cricketers were taught to keep the ball on the ground. Pataudi changed all that. He started hitting the ball in the air to play aggressive cricket. He showed to the other batsmen that if they wanted to get more runs, they had to start lifting the ball," said former teammate Chandu Borde after Tiger's death.

India has produced far more superior cricketers, but few have matched the gravitas Pataudi brought to the role as captain and the belief he instilled in his side. India became world champions in 2011, but the seeds of that success were sown by an incredibly brave one-eyed Nawab more than 40 years ago.

Dan Wheldon (22 June 1978 - 16 October 2011)


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Tragedy hit the 2011 IndyCar World Championship in October when British driver Dan Wheldon was involved in a 15-car accident during the 11th lap at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Despite being airlifted to the nearest hospital, Wheldon passed away from his injuries that very day.

Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500 twice, and was also the IRL IndyCar Series Champion in 2005.
Following his passing, Italian manufacturer Dallara Automobili confirmed their 2012 series car would be named the "Dallara DW12" in honour of Wheldon, who had done testing work for them, while the V8 Supercars Series announced the winner of the annual Gold Coast 600 would be awarded the "Dan Wheldon International Driver Trophy."

However, the most fitting tribute came from Formula One driver Jenson Button, who spoke glowingly of his childhood friend, calling him "the guy you'd get out of bed to race."

"Most of the times you couldn't beat him, when you did it really did mean a lot," Button said.

"He was a fun guy, he loved his racing, he worked hard but he also played hard, that's the way you got to go through life if you have that possibility.

"The competition there is fierce and to come in and win the Indy500 like he did, and the championship, and also win the Indy500 this year, first race in 2011, it's phenomenal - you don't see that very often."

Marco Simoncelli (20 January 1987 - 23 October 2011)


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Simoncelli had been tipped for big things in MotoGP until his untimely and tragic passing at Sepang in October, when he fell off his bike and was hit by both Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi.

The frizzy-haired Italian started racing minibikes at the age of seven and by the time he was fifteen, he had already won both the Italian and European 125cc Championship. He stepped up to the 250cc class in 2006, and two years later he was crowned 250cc World Champion, ironically at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Having caught the attention of the motorsport world, many believed it was only a matter of time before Simoncelli moved up to premier class racing, and that duly happened in 2010 when he agreed to ride for San Carlo Gresini Honda.

After finishing 10th in his debut season, Simoncelli was showing signs of improvement this year, finishing third at the Czech Republic Grand Prix, and then second at Phillip Island, a week before his demise.

His passing was felt across Italy, where many football matches observed a minute of silence in his memory, while close friend Rossi described Simoncelli as a "younger brother" he would "miss a lot".

Joe Frazier (12 January 1944 - 7 November 2011)


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By the time he passed away, Smokin' Joe's place amongst the boxing legends was secure. His name will inextricably be linked with those three bouts with Muhammad Ali - The Fight of the Century, The Rumble in the Jungle and The Thrilla in Manila, but Frazier was far more than just Ali's nemesis.

Along with Ali and George Foreman, he took heavyweight boxing to his zenith in the late 60s and 70s. And although it is not very well known, Frazier was one of the black pioneers at the height of the Civil Rights movement in America. 

And his impact on society lives on in other ways - particularly in the form of the Rocky movie series in which some of Sylvester Stallone's training methods were a copy of what Frazier used to do in real-life during his boxing heydays.

 After his passing, Ali said of his great, and sometimes hated rival:"The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration."

Smokin' Joe - one of the best there ever was.

Basil d'Oliveira (4 October 1931 - 19 November 2011)


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He just wanted to play cricket. But Basil d'Oliveira was destined to personify the cruel injustice of the apartheid era in South Africa. Denied entry into the country as part of the touring English cricket team, Dolly became the sporting poster child of those trying to educate the public of the loathsome policies being followed by the South African government in the 60s and 70s. 

It was a pity - for the right-hander was a formidable batsman who averaged more than 40 in 44 tests for England. But in other ways, the minorities were truly blessed to have someone as dignified as d'Oliveira in their corner.  

As he piled on the runs domestically and internationally in his adopted country (South Africa was his country of birth), d'Oliveira chipped away at the notion of white supremacy, while his exclusion from the 1968 tour set in motion the events that would eventually lead to South Africa being banned from all international sport for more than two decades.

"He became a flagship for all those who despised the whole concept of apartheid. Basil D'Oliveira's influence helped to usher in a world where apartheid was consigned to the dustbin," wrote Pat Murphy, who wrote his biography.

He may not have wanted it, but Dolly will forever be one of the most transformative figures - not just in cricket, or sport - but in the lives of millions of South Africans.

Gary Speed (8 September 1969 - 27 November 2011)


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The football world was stunned on November 27 when Wales manager Gary Speed was found dead at his home, but while investigations into his death are still ongoing, there is no doubt as to the legacy he has left behind.

Speed started his career at Leeds, and was part of the side that won the old English Second Division in 1990, before going on to claim the First Division just two seasons later.

He then joined Everton in 1996 where he spent two seasons, before moving to Newcastle, where he played 284 games. Speed went on to have further spells at Bolton and Sheffield United, before retiring in 2010 with over 800 games to his credit.

He briefly held the record for most Premier League appearances (535) before that mark was surpassed by David James, and also earned 85 caps for Wales.

Early on in the 2010/11 season, Speed's coaching career began when he was appointed Sheffield United manager, but by December that year, the Welsh Football Association offered him the chance to replace John Toshack as national team coach, which he duly accepted.

In his brief spell in charge of Wales, Speed won four of his seven matches, including impressive wins over Montenegro and Switzerland, before his passing left an entire nation in mourning.

Socrates (19 February 1954 - 4 December 2011)


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Most famous for being a part of the greatest side never to have won a World Cup, Brazilian legend Socrates left the world on December 4.

The classy playmaker started his career at Botafogo, but it was only after he joined Corinthians that he made a name for himself, scoring 172 goals in 297 games in a seven-year spell.

He then tried his luck in Italy with Fiorentina, before winding his career down back in Brazil with stints at Santos and Botafogo.

Socrates played for Brazil at both the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, and was also a runner-up with the Selecao at the 1983 Copa America. Off the pitch, the Brazilian was renowned for his intelligence, even earning a degree in medicine while playing professional football.

After his death, which came about due to severe infection following a bout of food poisoning, Italian legend Paolo Rossi described his passing as "a piece of our history that's broken off and gone away".

Zico, who played alongside Socrates for many years, also spoke highly of his former team-mate.

"He was an amazing guy. As a player what is there to say, he was one of the best who ever played," Zico told globoesporte.com.

"A high quality he possessed was loyalty. I have the privilege of being his friend. Our children are friends. He's going very early. He had unusual intelligence. You always expected something good from him."

While Socrates may have gone, the magic he brought to the football pitch lives on in the form of the numerous world-class midfielders who were inspired by him.



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