The Top Eleven stories we'll remember from the past 12 months...
Twelve months ago nobody had heard of the metatarsal bone, Wayne Rooney or players taking 25% pay deferrals. Only a madman would have predicted an injury crock (Ronaldo) would win the World Cup while the biggest headlines would be made by someone who wasn't even there (Roy Keane). Joe Bernstein wallows in nostalgia for 2002...
Every year throws up its surprises but nothing prepared us for 2002.
Mrs Cathy Ferguson was the unlikely figure that set the tone - persuading her husband Sir Alex to do the first u-turn of his life and decide to remain as Manchester United manager.
We had a spat between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy that divided a nation, Ronaldo winning the World Cup almost single-handed despite having what looked like a piece of turf stuck on his forehead. Broken metatarsal bones became front-page news when best friends David Beckham and Gary Neville spookily suffered the same injury before the World Cup, the former making it the latter staying at home.
More seriously, ITV Digital collapsed, depriving Nationwide League clubs of vital revenue. Thankfully a threatened players' strike was averted and to prove this fantastic game has a bright future whatever, up popped 16-year-old Wayne Rooney to score against Arsenal.
TheFA.com 2002 Top Story XI
1. FERGIE'S U-TURN (February)
"We all know about wives always making the decisions!" - David Beckham.
Sir Alex Ferguson had decided to leave Manchester United at the end of the 2001/02 season leaving a massive feeding frenzy about who would take over the biggest sporting club in the world. O'Neill, O'Leary, Hitzfeld; the names in the frame seemed to change daily until it was finally revealed that Fergie's successor would be...Fergie. Apparently, the 60-year-old had decided he didn't feel like retiring after all and when his wife Cathy and sons suggested he stay on in the hot seat, he was only too happy to agree.
He still ended the season trophyless in terms of football although his horse Rock of Gibraltar went on a winning streak that saw his value rise to £35million.
2. TV COLLAPSE SPARKS FINANCIAL CRISIS (April)
"Just think, we've given the asylum back to the lunatics." Football League chairman Keith Harris on his resignation along with chief executive David Burns.
It was a grim day for football when ITV Digital pulled out of their £315m sponsorship deal with the Nationwide League and the ramifications are still being felt. With clubs left with a huge black hole in their finances, several have gone into Administration while clubs like Watford and Derby agreed pay deferrals with their players, 25% in the case of some big earners like Fabrizio Ravanelli.
The knock-on effects have been marked with the transfer market outside the Premiership virtually dead and many players out-of-contract unable to find new clubs.
3. METATARSAL-MANIA (April)
"The first metatarsal is most difficult to heal because players do most of their kicking with that one" - medical Professor Tom Reilly
The nation held its breath when David Beckham's participation in the World Cup was threatened by an Argentine Pedro Duscher who broke a bone in the England captain's foot during a Champions League game on April 16. But broken foot didn't adequately describe the injury; apparently Becks had broken one of the metatarsal bones in his foot.
As doctors, physios and surgeons inexhaustibly described how rare this metatarsal injury was, an incredible thing happened. Becks' best mate and England right-back Gary Neville suffered exactly the same metatarsal injury against Bayer Leverkusen within eight days. Ultimately Beckham did play in the World Cup but looked hampered by his injury. Neville sadly didn't make it and England's unwanted metatarsal hat-trick occurred just days before the finals when Danny Murphy withdrew from the squad after breaking the fifth metatarsal bone.
4. GUNNERS CLINCH DOUBLE AT OLD TRAFFORD (May)
"Arsenal were the better team" - Sir Alex Ferguson
Having finished league runners-up to Manchester United for three consecutive seasons, there was nothing sweeter for The Gunners than to complete their second Double in four seasons at the home of deposed champions. Arsenal had won the FA Cup against Chelsea just four days earlier and a second-half strike by Sylvain Wiltord, set up by Freddie Ljungberg, gave them the championship on enemy soil.
With world-class French stars like Pires, Vieira and Henry added to great English professionals like Campbell, Seaman and Keown, this was hailed as one of the most exciting club teams of all time. And they set a new record - scoring in every league game.
5. KEANE v McCARTHY DIVIDES A NATION (May)
"Some people have higher standards than others" - Roy Keane
The biggest soap opera storyline of the year, easily outstripping anything the EastEnders and Coronation Street scriptwriters could come up with. With just days to go before the Republic of Ireland star their World Cup campaign, a rift between manager and captain explodes and Roy Keane, a folk hero to many Irish fans, leaving the team's training camp in a flurry of four-letter words about McCarthy, the practise facilities and general lack of ambition in Irish sport. Despite efforts from team-mates, the Irish FA and even leading politicians to get a truce between the two men, Keano is left walking the dog in Manchester while the Republic qualify from a tough group including Germany and Cameroon.
They are eventually knocked out by Spain on penalites but, even so, McCarthy leaves his manager's post two games into the Euro 2004 qualifying campaign and the whole nation waits to see if Keane returns in Irish green in 2003 under a new boss.
6. BECKS BEATS ARGENTINA TO HELP JUBILEE GO WITH A SWING (June)
"To score the goal was pretty surreal - I felt as if I came of age as captain" - David Beckham
The wildest street parties in the summer of The Queen's Golden Jubilee came after England beat Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup. Maradona's hand of God in 1986 and the cruel penalty shoot-out in St Etienne in 1998 were forgotten as Sven's men beat the World Cup favourites, effectively knocking them out of the tournament.
Fittingly, David Beckham - widely pilloried after being sent off against Argentina four years previously - found redemption when he scored from the spot after Michael Owen had been fouled. England defended resiliently after half-time against an attack that contained Crespo, Batistuta, Ortega and Claudio Lopez.
It was an historic victory and the way the country celebrated was unprecedented, Trafalgar Square resembled Rio and Rome as car horns blared and people partied.
7. RONALDINHO - GENIUS OR FLUKEY? (June)
"I really was very sad when I saw images of Seaman crying on the television" - Ronaldinho
A World Cup quarter-final, and both Brazil and England are convinced they could go all the way. With the scores level at 1-1 five minutes into the second half, Brazil are awarded a free-kick 35 yards out close to the right-hand touchline. As he curls it towards goal, David Seaman - expecting a cross - takes a few steps off his line and then furiously backpedals. Too late - the flight of the ball has beaten him and ends up in the top left-hand corner. Brazil won the game 2-1 and went onto win the World Cup itself but debate has raged ever since whether the Brazilian intended his goal or if it had been a mis-hit cross.
Seaman was in tears after the game; Ronaldinho has always maintained he meant to score but even some of his team-mates are a bit dubious.
8. RONALDO WINS WORLD CUP (June)
"The greatest fairytale ever told" - Alan Hansen
For four years, the most famous player in the world Ronaldo had hardly kicked a ball. Clearly unfit for the 1998 World Cup Final, the Brazilian superstar had subsequently lurched from one disaster to another; a knee cruciate ligament injury even threatening to end his career. But all the true legends have great timing and Ronaldo pronounced himself fully fit for the first time in years to lead a Brazilian team that had just scraped into the World Cup.
A daft haircut and 14/1 odds on him winning the Golden Boot meant Ronaldo was not expected to shine in Korea and Japan; but shine he did, scoring in every game bar the England match and crowning his comeback with both goals in the final against Germany. He was the tournament's top scorer with eight goals and now stands third in the all-time World Cup scorers list behind Gerd Muller and Just Fontaine. And remember he is still only 26.
9. £30MILLION RIO BREAKS TRANSFER RECORD (July)
"If you invest £18m and get £30m you've done a good job" - Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale
When Rio Ferdinand returned from the World Cup hailed as one of the best defenders in the tournament, speculation immediately centred on whether Leeds United would have to sell him to help reduce their debts.
So began a tortuous round of rumour, counter-rumour with new Leeds manager Terry Venables asking his captain to stay but Rio deciding while on holiday he wanted to go to Old Trafford. The deal made Rio the most expensive defender in the world and the record signing by a British club, eclipsing the £28.5million paid by Man Utd for Juan Veron in 2001.
It gave Leeds a £12million profit on the player they had signed for a then-record £18million in 2000.
10. WILKO STUNS GAME WITH SUNDERLAND SWITCH (October)
"I look back at The FA as having been a great opportunity to take a step back from the narrow focus that club management can have and look at the new and modern developments that were occurring in the game." - Howard Wilkinson
Such is the powers of the media and fast access to information these days, there are few things in football that draw a collective gasp. But that's what happened when Premiership strugglers Sunderland announced their new manager would be FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson.
Although he remains the last Englishman to win the Premiership, with Leeds in 1992, it was assumed 'Sgt Wilko' would stay at Soho Square to carry on overseeing many of the structural changes he had introduced. Instead, he was whisked up to the Stadium of Light ahead of Mick McCarthy, David O'Leary, George Graham or many of the other fancied runners.
The reaction in Sunderland was initially underwhelming but the recent victory against Liverpool and spirited draw at West Brom has led many to believe that he could turn it around for the Wearsiders.
11. ROONEY IS A SUPERSTAR AT SWEET 16 (October)
"He is the biggest English talent I have seen since I came to this country" - Arsene Wenger
Devotees of the FA Youth Cup knew a special talent was brewing when young Everton striker Wayne Rooney scored eight times on the way to the 2002 final where they were beaten by Aston Villa.
The rest of the country found about the new Best/Dalglish/Gazza/Shearer/Owen/Maradona - according to who you listen to - when his 25-yard strike ended Arsenal's 30-match unbeaten run in the Premiership. The kid's 17th birthday a few days later was headline news, since when he has scored winning goals against Leeds and Blackburn, picked up the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award and been mentioned by Sven Goran Eriksson in England despatches.
Also honourable mentions to...Gus Hiddink and the host nation who made this summer's World Cup go Korea-zy...Zinedine Zidane with an outstanding Champions League winner for Real Madrid in their Centenary season...West Brom who came from nowhere to pip west Midlands rivals Wolves to a Premiership place...Mark Hughes and Wales whose revival was capped by an outstanding victory against Italy that sees them at the top of their Euro 2004 qualifying group.
Compiled by Joe Bernstein