The Strange Allure of Losers

13 Mar

In a world enthralled by winners, sport reminds us there are also losers.

Last weekend I watched Spurs (that’s Tottenham, not San Antonio) lose their third Premier League match in a row.

Although the team is still in third place, their lead over Arsenal (our arch-rivals) in fourth place, has evaporated to a solitary point, from 10 points, in just two weeks.

As a longstanding Spurs fan this is disappointing, but not altogether unexpected.

It’s the price of following a club with a tradition of swashbuckling football and a masochistic tendency of giving up soft goals.

A club that hasn’t won the game’s top honour since 1961, and could well go another 50 years before winning it again – but still sells out more or less every home game.

In a society that idolises winners, sport may be the only area where associating with losers is considered acceptable.

Even losing sports brands are incredibly powerful, with teams getting passed down through generations of families like blue eyes, or big ears.

In many communities it’s OK to change your spouse but not to change your team.

In sports, even losers have allure.

History, on the other hand, is said to be written by the winners.

Maybe so, but there are losers who capture our imagination across the centuries, with a grip most brands can only dream about.

Napoleon may have lost the battle of Waterloo, yet he’s certainly defeated the Duke of Wellington in the battle of pop culture.

There are innumerable films about Napoleon, including Abel Gance’s 1927 epic, in most of them Wellington is relegated to a minor role.

While Wellington can lay claim to a boot and a beer or two named after him “Napoleon” is the term given to a whole category of Armagnac and Cognac.

Oscar Wilde died broken and penniless.

Since then, practically all his work been filmed, he himself is the subject of numerous films and Wildean has become an adjective.

His epigrams endure and he’s the subject of numerous biographies.

Van Gogh never sold a picture in his lifetime and cut off his ear.

But two of his paintings are among the 10 most expensive ever sold, (adjusted for inflation).

And his pop cultural influence ranges from a portrayal by Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life, to the song Vincent by Don McLean and at least 5 other films.

We’re fascinated by Van Gogh’s brilliance, his madness, and his persistence, in death we accord him the place he was denied in life.

Napoleon died in exile, but is still regarded as one of the finest military strategists ever.

Oscar Wilde’s wit overshadows his fall from grace over something as commonplace as homosexuality.

In life, as in sport, the best players don’t win every time.

But sport at least gives us transparency along with victory or defeat.

A transparency that can be missing in life, where sometimes the game feels rigged before it begins.

And there’s something heroic about rolling the dice for really big stakes.

Whether the winners write history or not, the losers are often more interesting.

Even if, when it comes to sports, they break your heart every time.

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