Losing, as every soccer fan knows, hurts. But losing streaks are far worse.
Watching our teams stumble through a run of bad games becomes almost unbearable. The pain is searing. We feel personally affronted, gaping at the last minute set-piece defensive collapse from the comfort of our living rooms. Or we join the indignant barroom mob in howling at the awful back pass gone astray. Or, as the stoppage time opportunity to equalize sees the ball sailing into the upper stand, all around the stadium we grasp at our heads in unison, fretting, as Nick Hornby once put it, miserably in the cold.
Afterwards, we have only to endure the teasing emails from friends, the bloodcurdling Facebook commentary, and the gloating press coverage. The players are too old! The manager doesn’t understand tactics! The owner is too impatient!
What starts out as a mild bout of feeling under the weather blossoms, week by week, into a raging sickness as our teams’ annual season-crushing November collapse settles in for an overlong visit. In our darkest moments, we wonder whether there is any cure at all for this gnawing pain – anything at all to hold us over until our teams can once again put together a short string of one-game-at-a-time, back-to-back wins against lower table strugglers and cup competition also-rans. Anything, at least, to keep us from cursing viciously at the TV in front of our children.
Laughter, they quite rightly say, is the best medicine. But, then again, they also say that misery loves company. Maybe we can find the best of both worlds by sharing a laugh at our misery.
For me, nothing captures the desolation, the absurdity, or the rueful hilarity of a losing streak like Michael Palin’s genius-era Ripping Yarns episode “Golden Gordon” of 1979.
Set in 1935, the story focuses on Gordon Ottershaw (Michael Palin), lifelong fan of the Yorkshire Premier League side Barnstoneworth United. Week after week, Gordon returns home from another dismal match to tear apart his living room and throw furniture out the window. “Eight bloody one!” he howls, as his wife clutches a prized clock, rescued from the mantle piece. “They’re a team of old age pensioners!” Gordon sputters. “The center forward wears glasses. During the match! Eight goals! Four of them from back passes to the goalkeeper!”
To console himself, Gordon heads off to the local pub and duly tears the dartboard from the wall and smashes a tableful of glasses.
Who among us hasn’t wanted to do the same?
And who can blame Gordon? Barnstoneworth United don’t even have enough shorts for every member of the squad, they can’t field enough players for the next match, and – worse – a local scrap merchant wants to buy the team’s pitch and convert it into a scrap heap.
In the end, Gordon convinces the scrap mogul, Mr. Foggen, himself a childhood fan of Barnstoneworth United, to allow the team to play one more match, and off Gordon sets in a frantic effort to recruit the team’s former heroes out of retirement for the sake of their beloved club. The ending, as you can imagine, is an uplifting one. Because the better times always return in soccer, don’t they? Not only do Barnstoneworth United win the match, but Gordon’s wife actually encourages him to destroy the living room out of sheer happiness – even handing him the heirloom clock to throw out the window only recently held together with tape.
Our own teams may struggle with the odd AWOL striker, the celebrity midfielder in the stands with the 18 month injury, or the ingenue defensive back who gives away penalties at random, but in the end, they all come back – they all come through. And so do we.