I was watching the British Grand Prix from the comfort of the sofa on Sunday to witness the largest cheer of the day from the partisan British crowd coming on lap 42, in which World Champion for the last three years and current Championship leader Sebastian Vettel retired with a transmission failure. Unsporting, yes, but reflective of opinion for sure. Sky commentators theorised at the time that the sheer glee of Vettel’s retirement came from previous events, such as in Malaysia when he committed the ultimate unsportsmanlike act in disobeying the orders of his team/employers to steal the victory from his overall more popular team mate. But I think it’s more than that. The global audience of Formula 1 has had to sit back and watch Sebastian Vettel win from pole position with the fastest car time and time again, with any hiccups being more scarce than Britain winning anything in the Winter Olympics; or Sir Alex Ferguson blaming anyone other than a referee for when his team dropped any points. It’s just not natural.
Pathologically, I think that us sport fans simply lament the continued success of others. I say ‘continued’ because we don’t mind when someone wins something/tastes general success for the first time. We often feel happy that the latest event to herald a new talent is something to revel in. Of course we do. Why shouldn’t we? Someone has achieved a goal and has deserved it. Well done, them. Win the same thing over and over again however, and we won’t like them anymore. Because it’s boring. Put Manchester City up against Grimsby Town and very few of us will want City to win. Because we would expect them to.
One thought is that we might simply want to see entertainment. I’m pretty sure that in football a 3-3 draw between two evenly matched teams would be much more intriguing than a 7-0 rout. And in F1, a race with five different lead changes is far better to watch than the fastest man in the fastest car running away with the race and everyone finishing where they started. We should know, that’s all that happened for the first half of the last decade with a certain German driving a Prancing Horse… Along the same vein, in competition at the highest level spectators would expect to see a strong fight for supremacy, but if one person/team is metaphorical streets ahead of the opponent the spectacle is taken away to a certain extent.
If there’s one thing that sports fans love more than anything, however, it’s a good underdog. The 1000/1 outsider that can bring a brief smile when they defeat one of the big guns. And you only have to mention one word to sum up underdog stories this year so far: Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal crashing out in a tennis Grand Slam first round for the first time in his career against Belgian Steve Darcis; and the almighty Roger Federer falling in the second round against the un-fancied (and virtually unheard of) Sergiy Stakhovsky, who broke the Great Swiss’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter finals that he had reached previously. The tennis fan pages were in uproar, and rightly so. Because the fact of the matter is that upsetting the norm is what keeps sport interesting.
When Wigan defeated Manchester City to win the FA Cup in May, other than if you’re a City fan, obviously, the sporting fan community was ecstatic with that result. David had befallen Goliath (or another clichė along that line…) and for one day at least, we could smile knowing that people in Bookmakers’ up and down the country had made a lot of money on the extreme odds against the underdogs when they put a cheeky quid on. Drinks are on me tonight, lads. (But Wigan got relegated from the Premier League soon after, so let’s just gloss over that for now…)
Even when people decide to support those that win everything, that seemingly makes them suddenly lower in our expectations. This breed of people are often classed as ‘Glory Hunters’. It must be great for you lot, never having to taste defeat with the team you support. So don’t be surprised to see someone wearing a Man Utd shirt one week and a Chelsea strip the next when you see them at the pub. If you know anyone that does this, give them a telling off from me. Many thanks!
The great voice of F1, Murray Walker said in an interview this month that he was happy that he wasn’t commentating during the peak of the Schumacher dominance, branding it “The dullest period I’ve seen in F1”. And he’s right. It was. The same driver winning race in, race out, week after week. And in football, Man Utd won the Premier League? Again? Wow, I love a bit of excitement, I do, nothing predictable about that at all… So I can conclude with you now that repeated success truly is boring. Simple answer to a big question, really. The one exception I can think of is the Olympics. If the same person wins the same event, it’s only every four years, so we don’t really care. If the same teams/people win everything every week, it’ll get to the point where there won’t be any point wasting our time watching for the results when we already know what’s going to happen. But as Usain Bolt wins his races in the public eye very sporadically, we can let it slide. So there’s my message to you, sportsmen and women: keep it interesting, let someone else win once in a while. Then you’ll be liked more.