“Are you backing England at the World Cup?”
A simple question on the BBC Sport Wales Twitter feed today. It’s the day England play Colombia in the World Cup and Robbie Savage, erstwhile Wales footballing terrier turned BBC pundit, said he wanted them to win. It’d be fair to say that many in Wales didn’t share his view.
I’m a big sports fan, particularly football, and support two teams with a not-so-glittering history of underperformance – Southampton and England. Neither have hit the heights in my lifetime (barring Euro ’96 I suppose). But I’m emotionally invested in their success all the same and however many times they fail, I’ll still watch their next effort with a tiny glimmer of hope. Both their emblems are mentally engraved on me and that will never change.
Along with loyalty, rivalry is key to sport. Southampton has a local rival in Portsmouth, for example. There is little love lost between the two (and sadly some blood split) over the years as a result of this tumultuous ‘relationship’. England have several international rivalries somewhat bizarrely based, seemingly, on old war allegiances (France, Germany, Argentina etc.), only one of which most were alive to witness and none, one could reasonably suggest, actually related to sport.
These acrimonious oppositions mean that games between these clubs or countries have an extra edge to them, be that on the pitch or off it. Tackles are a little tougher and tears or cheers more abundant (depending on the outcome).
When Germany went out of the World Cup in the group stage (the earliest for them in many years), their fans were upset, angry, embarrassed or a combination. That I understand. I know the feeling only too well. What I don’t understand is the reaction of some in England. There were many who mocked and laughed, celebrated the German loss and were delighted by it.
Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but I don’t take joy in another’s suffering. I might not CARE that Germany were knocked out for example, but the only time I actively want a team to lose is when they’re actually playing against the team I support.
There are plenty of reasons to want a team other than your own to win. They may be great to watch, or trying to overcome overwhelming odds (everyone loves an underdog).
But really, REALLY wanting a team to lose simply because of some vague jingoistic or tribal values, seems a little sad. I can’t be the only who finds the levels of vitriol and abuse hurled at other teams and their supporters a little petty and unsportsmanlike.
As an Englishman living in Wales, I’ve witnessed (and partaken in) plenty of friendly repartee around rugby, which for the most part is enjoyed in the right spirit, and this kind of rivalry can enhance the experience.
When you sing about another team’s loss as loudly as you do for your own team though (or louder), are your priorities in order? If you’re caught up in sport-related schadenfreude, and revelling in others’ misfortune, are you being a good sport?
The 2018 World Cup has been a real joy on the field and, while I won’t cry for Argentina’s demise, I won’t be gloating either, especially, as a fan of England, I’m hardly in a position to do so.
There’s so much to enjoy, I’m surprised people have time to be bitter.