Tag Archives: World Cup

Barber shop punditry: December 12th, 2008

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Unfortunately, not that much punditry was being offered today at the Marylebone barbershop. I guess that says something about how hum-drum the final group games of the Champions League really were, and also how generally unexciting this weekend’s Premier League round appears to be.

However, as one gent was getting his hair shaved closely, the barber remarked that Wayne Rooney’s hair had grown all the way back from the Rio-inspired shaved look he sported a few weeks back, and what a shame that was.

‘Rooney looked good with a shaved head’ the barber mused, ‘and’, he added,  ‘it did wonders for his baldness.’

After a minute of mirror-staring, the customer remarked ‘He played better when he was shaved.’ Then a few sage nods as the barber contemplated that Rooney’s shaved head could in fact have been positively correlated with his performances for England and Manchester United.

Rob Bagchi wrote about the Roo’s new ‘do in The Guardian a few weeks back, and it got me thinking: maybe an athlete’s haircut is not only correlated to a) their performance, but also b)  how seriously they are taken by their opponents and the watchful media.

Consider Roger Federer:

Pony-tailed, The Fed was a) great but b) still considered an upstart to the likes of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

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Trimmed and floppy-haired he was a) in a different tennis dimension and b) the inevitable conqueror of Sampras’ all-time Grand Slam tally and the greatest ever player, probably.

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Or Agassi himself.

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On the left, Agassi was a) brilliantly temperamental and b) an affront to the decency of the blazers at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club.

On the right he was a) brilliantly consistent and b) cementing his place amongst the pantheon of all-time tennis greats.

Ok, so far my sample of two has yielded the desired results. What’s that you say? Rafa Nadal has gotten better and his hair stayed the same length? Zinedine Zidane remained a bald genius from Juventus to Real Madrid? To that I say Nadal will obviously win the Grand Slam if he shaves his head and Zidane…er, well, he only won the World Cup after he went bald. Yeah, that works.

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Filed under Barber Shop Punditry, Football, tennis

Crikey! Aussies really are the sorest losers

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In his thoughtful book, The Meaning of Sport, Simon Barnes argues that the English are born to lose. He argues that losing is nothing to be ashamed of, simply something to manfully strive against. And because the English are so pre-disposed to sporting failure, it gives them an entirely different perspective on it, and indeed, on victory.

Oh how we Aussies could learn a thing or two from the English on how to lose well, especially when it comes to Rugby League, a sport in which Australia has experienced defeat about as many times as England has reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. When Australia finally lost the Rugby League World Cup after 33 years in possession of the trophy (have you ever heard of a more ridiculous dynasty in a sport that purports to have global status?), it was summed up in those two most punchy words, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck.’

More specifically, it was ‘you’re the cunt who cost us the World Cup…you fucking cheat.’ This from the Kangaroos coach, Ricky Stuart, to Ashley Klein, the Briton who refereed the final game that Australia lost to New Zealand, 34-20. But that wasn’t the lot of it. The Aussies didn’t bother collecting their runners-up medals and even shirked the post-match dinner and drinks affair, in the process fobbing off members of the much-lauded Rugby League Team of the Century.

Is defeat really that hard to take? Really? And why is it seemingly so hard for Australia to lose? What is wrong with us?

Let’s go back to Barnes for a second. He reckons that when the national psyche is already prepared for failure, it makes the next defeat part of the ongoing cultural narrative, and in England’s case, makes their victories all the more important. When England win, they don’t really do the smug satisfaction thing. They do the ‘wow, that might not happen again for a really long time, good thing we won that’ thing.

Australia, on the other hand, becomes a collective basket case in the face of defeat. We’re a young country, and have spent the majority of our time proving we’re not just the rabble England chucked down south a couple of hundred years ago. So desperate are we to prove it, and so perfect an arena is sport in which to prove it, that a sporting defeat is like an assault on national identity. Consider the ‘big three’ defeats up till now:

1. England beats Australia in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. This one really hurt. Australia got past the All Blacks in the semis (which no-one expected, don’t believe anyone who says otherwise), then got done by Johnny Wilkinson’s left boot. On home ground. The press then was all about how Wilkinson beat Australia; that England didn’t have a ‘team’ in the way Australia has a ‘team’; that only Australia wanted to play rugby the way it’s meant to be played. What a load of hogwash. It’s not like Australia didn’t see Wilkinson coming. It’s not like England’s forwards didn’t do their job in making space for him. It’s not like Australia didn’t depend on kicking just as much as England. The real tragedy of that result is that Elton Flatley’s supreme kicking in that game has been forgotten in the years since.

2. England beats Australia in the 2005 Ashes. This was simply a shock. No-one, perhaps even the English themselves, really saw this one coming. The media wrote it off as a weird, flukey event; that England were just lucky in victory, whilst Australia were brave in defeat. Attention immediately turned to ‘the next one.’ Rather than congratulate the English on a job well done, Australia started talking about how they would win the 2007 series 5-0. They did, incidentally, but starting that chat in 2005 before the England team had even done their lap of Trafalgar Square smacked of a badly banged up ego.

3. Italy beats Australia in the 2006 World Cup. This was more about naivety that anything else. Having qualified, Australians figured the Socceroos might as well go on and win the damn thing because, you know, we’re pretty good at other sports. But that is where international football had a surprise in store. International football doesn’t like plucky upstarts. It likes the established order. And Italy are the most established of that order. So when Lucas Neill ‘tripped’ Fabio Grosso to concede a penalty in the last minute of their round-of-16 match, a nation pointed a collective finger at the ‘cheats’ of world football, which included the referees. We’re honest, you’re liars. We’re physical, you’re weak. But that is what you get for supposing that the international order will be turned on its head because Australia finally managed to turn up.

And so back to Rugby League and this seemingly impossible defeat, and our reaction to it. Are we actually the worst losers in the world? My gut tells me yes. Where a country sees defeat as an outrage on our national sovereignty rather than what it simply is – the most common part of sport – is when we need to rethink things. Maybe we should just do what the Americans do and play amongst ourselves yet call everything a ‘world championship.’ That way we’ll never have to experience being beaten by another country. Yep, the sore loser in me thinks that sounds alright.

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