It’s axiomatic that sport requires an element of doubt, a measure of uncertainty, to be compelling. Nobody wants to watch a foregone conclusion.
OK, I accept that most dyed-in-the-wool team followers, whether their idols play football, cricket, ice hockey or American Football, would happily go through an entire season of fast-track bullying in order to claim the prize.
But even the most dedicated fans would surely prefer a little frisson of doubt, a small exhibition of defiance from the sacrificial victims, before their team come pouring back with a torrent of goals, runs or points.
No, we need some uncertainty, always, to keep things fresh and interesting. And as we move towards the close of 2017 there is no better time to review the Tales of the Unexpected with which sport has provided us in the course of the year.
So come with me now on a winding trail that begins, for the purposes of this very far from comprehensive overview, on February 15.
On this day it is announced that a group of 46 players, including Ghana’s former Sunderland star Asamoah Gyan, have been deemed to have “unethical hair" under United Arab Emirates Football Association guidelines. At the time, the 31-year-old Gyan is on loan at Dubai-based Arabian Gulf League side Al Ahli from Shanghai SIPG.
Gyan, who sported a mohawk and shaved sides, was thus in breach of guidelines derived from Islamic teachings which ban hairstyles where the hair at the side of the head is cut or shaved shorter than the hair on top.
Referees in the League have the discretion to judge on a match-by-match basis whether players' haircuts are acceptable.
Many foreign players moving to Gulf countries to play their football have fallen foul of this rule. The previous year, goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah was forced to have a pre-match haircut at the side of the pitch after officials objected to his flowing locks.
We move to March, but stay with football, for the globally popular post-match disclosure by the free-scoring Mohammed Anas, of South African team Free State Stars, that he was indebted to both his wife and his girlfriend for their support.
Anas who was receiving a man-of-the-match award live on TV, began by thanking God and his fans for their support. If only he could have left it there.
"Thank you for this, I appreciate my fans. My wife and girlfriend...I mean my wife, sorry to say.
"I'm so sorry...I love you so much, I love you so much from my heart!"
The clip went viral. Anas was famous. If only he could have left it there.
"My family knows that I call my daughter my girlfriend,” he later explained. "That's what I was talking about. I don't have a girlfriend.”
Let’s please move on….to April 2.
Imagine. You’re watching the final round of the ANA Inspiration tournament organised by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and you suddenly recall having a funny feeling about a putt taken by one of the players on the 17th hole during the previous day’s round.
After replaying your recording a few times you are enormously proud to be able to confirm your intuition that a ball was placed a centimetre or so adrift of its marker and swiftly email the LPGA to enable justice to be served.
The news of a four-shot penalty - two for the infringement, and two for having incorrectly signed a third-round scorecard - has a gratifyingly dramatic effect on the player in question as they learn of the sanction while leading the event by two shots with six holes to play. After shock and tears have subsided, they manage to do enough to force a play-off, but lose on the opening hole.
Ridiculous, no? Well not entirely. This actually happened, and Lexi Thompson of the United States was the one to suffer the consequences.
Thompson’s treatment aroused the ire of numerous fellow professionals, including Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler.
But the LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, while expressing sympathy for the circumstances in which Thompson found herself - "I feel horrible for Lexi" – nevertheless insisted: "This is one of those cases that the rules were applied 100 per cent correct as they're written today.”
Our next tale, in May, was unexpected to all who witnessed the fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia – but for the man at the centre of it, Slovenia’s Luka Pibernik, it was hideously so.
The 23-year-old crosses the line with arms aloft in recognition of the greatest moment of his young career. For a few heady seconds, he is in cycling heaven – before a glance over his shoulder tells him that the peleton he has headed home is putting unusual commitment into its post-finish stretch.
At which point our man from Ljubljana realises there is still one more 6.2km lap to go. And shortly after which point the peleton engulfs him before leaving him to trail dejectedly home.
Fast forward, peleton-like, to August, where the International Association of Athletics Federations’ World Championships in London provide the sporting world with a veritable Volume of the Unexpected.
Never, surely, have these Championships produced so many surprise results. Britain’s multiple world and Olympic 5000 and 10,000m champion Mo Farah is beaten in his last championship race, over the shorter distance, by Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris. France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, without a win to his name in a season undermined almost to the point of destruction by injury, cuts loose to win the 800m gold ahead of a Kenyan-stacked field. Norway’s 21-year-old Viking Karsten Warholm, a convert from the decathlon, earns gold against a field including the defending and Olympic champion, Kerron Clement of the United States.
Australia’s 30-year-old Sally Pearson, back after two injury-ravaged seasons, claims a second world gold as Kendra Harrison, the world record holder from the United States, finishes outside the medals.
US runners Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, astonishingly, secure gold and silver in a women’s 3000m steeplechase involving all the African runners who have dominated the event in recent years.
But arching over and above all this, the Overreaching of Usain Bolt. Having resisted the urge to retire after winning a third batch of Olympic golds at the 2016 Rio Games, the uniquely appealing Jamaican finally parts company with the gold standard that has been his since he electrified the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The 30-year-old takes bronze (bronze??!!) in the 100m as victory goes to the controversial and twice-banned US sprinter Justin Gatlin. And he fails even to finish his anchor leg in the sprint relay final, subsiding to the track in pain as his leg fails him.
Bolt’s anticlimax reverberates around the sporting world. But in south west Wales, and more specifically in Pembrokeshire, there is soon a sporting drama of even more pressing concern as judgement is handed down on Carew Cricket Club.
Charged with unsporting conduct, the club are allowed to remain champions of the Pembrokeshire League – but are also relegated.
Carew had declared after scoring just 18 runs for one wicket against title rivals Cresselly in their final league match.
The decision, on one level, made perfect sense. Carew led Cresselly by 21 points, and in minimising the length of the game they restricted their opponents to the 20 points on offer for a win without giving them a chance of earning any bonus points.
It was deemed to have been within the rules – but just not cricket…
Let’s take a long-hop now to October 23. A leading group of six runners are heading the Venice Marathon after 25km (16 miles). With less than a third of the race remaining, they follow the course motorcyclists into a sharp right turn that takes them onto a flyover.
They push on for several hundred metres before the motorcyclists start frantically flagging them down and ushering them back the way they have come. After a few seconds of confusion, they realise they have been taken the wrong way and charge back…
By the time they resume the correct route they have lost around two minutes. In the meantime, two others who were a minute behind them are now a minute ahead – Mohammed Mussa, and 25-year-old local runner Eyob Fanial, who soon pushes into the lead and is never headed as he crosses the line in 2hr 12min 16sec to become the first Italian to win the race in 22 years.
Gilbert Kipleting Chumba, one of the erroneously directed leaders, salvages third place in a race he will unfortunately never forget…
On October 31 South Africa’s world and Olympic 400m Wayde van Niekerk is ruled out of the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April 2018 after suffering a serious knee injury while making an impulsive appearance in a charity rugby match.
On November 12, Italy fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia after losing 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden following a goalless draw at Milan’s San Siro stadium in the second leg of their play-off. It is the first time this fate has befallen the national team in 60 years, when they failed to reach the 1958 finals – in Sweden.
And so another year of surprises draws to a close, and we await the sporting shocks of 2018. Nigerian women take bobsled gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics? Resurgent Button denies fellow Brit Hamilton a fifth world F1 title? England reach semi-finals at 2018 World Cup finals? We'll soon see...