Germany: Champion Losers
I’ve never been very good at losing. This is not to say that I’m a winner, it’s just I tend to lose at most things. When my friends and I play poker, I could save myself time and effort by simply handing over my money at the beginning. I don’t play board games, not because I don’t like them, but years of coming last has taught me to avoid them like the plague. Uno, although an inanimate card game, clearly hates me. The feeling is mutual. The salient truth of my life is that, if you can play it, bet on it or support it, I’ll probably lose. I’m not even sure I’ve won a drinking game.
There is one area of my life where my losing streak hurts the most, football. Paradoxically, it is also the one sport that gives me the most hope. If that isn’t the purest form of masochism, I don’t know what is. During 2016, as I watched England meekly exit the tournament at the hands of Iceland, my wife went to bed early, rather than suffer my tirade of expletives that accompanied every kick of that match. My losing streak is ugly, loud and often to my constant shame, public. I don’t want to be a bad loser, it just tends to happen.
However, last week taught me something that has shown me the error of my ways. I watched Germany implode against South Korea, in the company of a group of Germans. As much as I wanted them to win (there’s that horrible hope again), as the clock wound down I began to realise it was unlikely to happen. When South Korea finally scored, I was unsurprised. What totally blindsided me was the reaction of my guests. One of them laughed, another mused that it was all Germany deserved, while other nodded in agreement. I was astonished. Aside from and errant “Scheiße”, which everyone here in Germany knows is the weakest of swears, the language was temperate. It was unbelievable.
Objective opinion is not a characteristic of most English football fans. Sure, there are some that can keep their cool, but in my experience the majority instinctively look for any number of excuses. I expected the same reactions here, given that in all the time I’ve been here, die Mannschaft have been a force to be reckoned with. This was my first experience of abject German sporting failure and not one person in the room chose to criticise anyone expect the players and the coaching staff.
This could have been an aberration, but over the last week, I’ve heard the same refrain “We didn’t deserve to win”. Colleagues, acquaintances, my wife, all have said the same thing. Barring a rather unsavoury text exchange, most of the German fans I spoke to have taken the defeat and exit of their national team in stride. They were gutted to miss out, but they won the award for best losers.
Contrast this with the outpouring of delight from all corners at Germany’s unscheduled demise. Social media was awash with Schadenfreude jokes. I began to wonder if there was an industrial production line of lame memes, churning out insufferable gags. One bright spark suggested “Don’t mention the VAR” a reference to the famous Fawlty Towers line “Don’t mention the war”. When I pointed this out to Germans I knew, most laughed it off, reminding me that “We didn’t deserve to win anyway”. Losing well makes you bullet proof to mockery.
Celebrating the failure of others is part of the landscape of football. As a neutral fan, large teams getting knocked out of a tournament only adds to the excitement. I can’t say I shed a tear for Spain or Argentina when they lost over the weekend. Yet accepting a loss, with the only complaint being that your team didn’t perform well or wasn’t organised enough, is an admirable quality. It is one I hope to emulate…at some point.