Success Is Counted Sweetest

The World Cup has rolled around again.  If you love it, you’ll have flung the front door open, arms stretched wide in welcome, and the eternity that was four years of waiting will have come to an end.  On the other hand, those of you who are lukewarm towards the tournament are more likely to have thought, “Four years? Really?  Surely we went through this rigmarole just a couple of years ago.” I’m somewhere in between.  I don’t watch it, but I loosely follow the results and usually end up feeling like I do when I try to follow the family whatsapp conversations: dipping in and dipping out, and never quite understanding what is going on.  One thing I do understand is that, for many, football is officially a ‘big deal’.  Far be it from me to dismiss the oft-quoted line from the late player turned manager, Bill Shankley, as outlandish hyperbole:‘Some people thinkfootballis amatter of life and death.  I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’  I know of a man who visits his father’s grave each time their team plays.  Within an hour of the game ending, he’s there, telling a tablet of stone the score, recounting the game in a blow by blow account of each move, pass, and missed opportunity.  I’ve heard of another man who has invested in an old jalopy of a car for the sole purpose of driving to the side of the city that is home to the rival team whenever his team wins.  He’ll choose his prey carefully, wind down his window and innocently ask the score as though he doesn’t already know.  And why the jalopy?   In case he is discovered as one who revels in the misery of others and his car takes a beating!

A part of me loves the state of heightened emotion that comes with sport: the acts of dedication, the miles travelled in solidarity, the unbreakable bonds even in death.  But the gloating is less attractive. Of course, sport needs supporters; there would be no excitement if there was no tension, and no tension without rooting for different sides.  It’s great fun to nail your colours to the mast (or a hang them out of a window, or fly them from a car aerial), and there is nothing better than the work sweepstake – when you become a supporter by virtue of colours that have been randomly pulled from a hat.  Take the delight and bewilderment of being told you’ve got Panama when you had no idea they were even taking part.  However, wouldn’t it be better still if willing your team on to win didn’t involve rejoicing in another team crashing out; if the winning and losing could be celebrated and lamented with a measure of level-headedness?  It seems that those rare occasions that we celebrate multilaterally is when the unexpected happens: when that team – or person – from whom little or nothing is expected, rises to the top and gets to the quarters, semis or even to the finals against all odds.  I’m not sure if John Masefield was using this example as a metaphor, but I rather like the idea of the horse with the worst odds winning:

‘An Epilogue’, By John Masefield

‘I have seen flowers come in stony places

And kind things done by men with ugly faces,

And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,

So I trust, too.’

I was part of a bedraggled, dripping, wet, muddy group scrambling around Calton Hill in the rain on Saturday.  We had a quiz with no quiz master, no score keeping, no rules, no beginning, no end, and – as it ended up – no winner.  In any case, how can there be a winner when the final question was, “What is that pigeon thinking?” and the correct answer was given to be, “Can you tell me the way to the Ukrainian Community Centre?”  Lets hope there is less controversy over the result of the World Cup when it comes to July 15th.  Perhaps is might even be it will be a time of sweet success for one of the underdogs, you never know.  Come on Panama!

‘Success is counted sweetest’, by Emily Dickinson

‘Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.’

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