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Why Brits Don't Like Winners in Football

By John NicholsonThere’s a strange cultural phenomenon in Britain. No not the wonky yellow teeth and the fondness for warm beer and homosexuality, I’m talking about our attitude to winners.To put it simply, we don’t really like them. I exclude myself from this because I am not normal, indeed I am barely even human, but it is a common trait in British society. This goes some way to explain why we hardly ever win anything as a nation. Better to be an honourable loser than a crowing victor is still a view many have.If you want an illustration of what I mean, just look at the sheer levels of vitriol directed towards Jose Mourinho by many fans and newspapers. His off hand comment at his first press conference in England, in let’s not forget his second or third language said he though he was ‘a special one.’This could easily have been a mis-chosen word in the middle of a high pressure press conference but regardless it has been rammed back down his throat by all and sundry every time Chelsea display any fallibility. It seems to have been stored up to be used against him at very chance. People think it shows massive ego and arrogance.But even if we assume that Jose does think he is special, then he’s got every right to think so given his track record to date. If anyone is a special manager, he is. So why does that offend his critics so much?I have a feeling that in America this kind of comment would be a non event because people expect top performers to have confidence bordering on arrogance. It’s seen as a vital ingredient if you’re going to be successful in any areas of society. And in truth, if you’re going to be successful in your sport, you can’t go about it without a fearless ego and self belief.Yet in Britain we seem to breed that out of a lot of people. Perhaps its because we live on a small crowded island, maybe it’s guilt about the empire, maybe its the class system or a generation of liberalism in education, I really don’t know, but time and again you’ll see people sneering at success, looking to pick flaws in people, looking to bring them down, often after putting them on an unreasonably high pedestal. If it was a sport, we’d be world champions.In Australia it’s called the tall poppy syndrome. Get too tall and you get cut down. That must have been exported from the UK. Too often in Britain we rejoice in people’s fall from grace, we’re quick to criticise rather than praise and we’re keen to see problems not solutions.And if that isn’t bad enough, in football we have a media which is quick to over rate and over inflate players’ talents. Good players are lauded as great players when they’re not and too many fans follow this opinion without question.The bitter twist to this culture is we then expect our football teams to go out and be world beaters and we viciously berate them when they are not – wallowing in the failure and misery of it all. It’s a cruel Catch 22.So this week when Mourinho came out and said, with remarkable honesty that maybe Chelsea think they’re better than they are, and maybe he thinks he’s a better manager than he really is, after a couple of poor performances, his words have been leaped upon as a sign that he’s human after all. It’s welcomed because self doubt seems to chime with the British character and because it gives his critics a chance to say ‘I told you so.’If he wants to leave Chelsea at the end of this season, and I think there’s a better than even chance that he will, and if he wants to be remembered fondly in Britain, he should just keep on losing and keep on looking weary and bemused at his teams failure. After a period of mockery and rubbing his nose in his failure, attitudes to him will soften and he’ll be thought of far more highly. It’s perverse but it’s true.It seems we are less tolerant of the characteristics that make people single minded enough to be a winner than we have ever been, probably because of the extra focus the 24 hour media gives to everything. The slightest flaw in the fabric of someone’s character is ripped wide open. The smallest indiscretion is magnified into a major crime. Any weakness is dwelt on and obsessed over in slow motion, on the hour every hour.It’s often said that Winston Churchill would never have become Prime Minister these days because he was a morbidly obese old alcoholic who suffered terribly from black dog depressions and all of this would have been exposed in the tabloid press and dwelt upon in depth and he would have been torn to shreds for all these weaknesses. But clearly this would have been wrong.I’m not sure if Britain is exceptional in its suspicion of self confidant, single-minded, successful people or if it’s a trait in all contemporary western cultures but when I see Australian cricketers, I see men who are talented, bullish, self confident to the point of arrogance and they don’t care who knows it.I’d like a bit of that in British sport because without it, I fear we’re condemned to dressing up mediocrity as acceptable.John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.

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  1. Anonymous

    January 6, 2007 at 1:16 am

    I agree that there is the same phenomenon in American sports, but I would qualify it slightly. It’s not just winning teams, but how they are perceived to win.

    Notre Dame is not just hated because they are a winning program (13 straight bowl defeats), but because they are perceieved to be consistently overrated and operate with an undeserved sense of arrogance and smugness.

    Duke gets hated in the same way because no one likes the rich white school with the goodie-two-shoes players that gets constantly overrated.

    The Yankees make the playoffs every season because they have a crippling financial situation.

    All three have the same consistent factor as well that their fans are f-ing annoying.

    I think the same thing goes with the Premiership as well. Chelsea gets the animosity because they spend their way to the title. Manchester Utd. gets the animosity because they spend a ton of money and are perceieved to be arrogant. Whereas successful clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool are more favorably looked on by neutrals.

    I think it also can work against the underdog as well. If it were any other club making a run at the top 4 people would be celebrating, but because it is Bolton people cringe and hope they go down in flames.

  2. mike

    January 3, 2007 at 11:55 am

    I must disagree that this is a purely British phenomenon. Everybody hates winners… unless we liked them when they were losers.

    In the US, look at the most despised teams in sports: the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Lakers, Duke, Notre Dame. What do these teams all have in common? They win!

    Yet we looove the underdogs — the Red Sox, the Cubs, any double-digit seed in March Madness… these are the teams we root for year after year.

    As a die-hard Red Sox fan I like to think that losing is more interesting; I wouldn’t trade my sox memories for all those Yankees championships. But that’s just me.

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