The ecstasy- and agony- of sporting humiliations

Time for some light relief. Those avid sports fans amongst us will know that a sporting triumph can only genuinely be appreciated to its full value when it has followed a barren period for spectators and participants, when adversaries were in the ascendant and ‘our’ day appeared some distance away.

Such fans will doubtlessly agree that nothing warms the heart more than a good ol’ fashioned sports drubbing, particularly when its at the expense of a long-time adversary.

This week, England’s cricket players and fans were experiencing the pain of being at the wrong end of an Ashes humiliation delivered by their most loathed opponents, Australia. Stung by their first defeat to England in a generation 18 months ago, the Aussies were ruthlessly efficient in their dismissal of the English, securing a famous 5-0 thrashing of their traditional foes in the process.

So what was your favourite sporting humiliation of all time? And, for the purposes of promoting humility, which sports drubbing left you in fits of depression?

Whether as player or spectator, such experiences can live long in the memory. I remember being on the wrong end of some shocking hammerings by a couple of Down and Connor under-age football teams in my younger days and dreading the return to school on Monday and the ‘slagging’ that would accompany my arrival.

As spectators, sporting embarassments visited upon our favourite teams would fill the heart with similar foreboding: Tottenham’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Port Vale in my youth still lives with me.

To this day, I can’t conceal a wry smile every time I line up my Primary 5 Boys at ten past nine on a Monday morning and eavesdrop on the piercing verbal blows being exchanged between fans of United, Liverpool and Chelsea as the weekend’s matches are replayed and analysed as only children can.

I can vividly recall sitting in shocked despair as Glasgow Celtic scarves rained down from the Ibrox seats above me as my beloved Bhoys were humiliated in a League Cup final by lowly Raith Rovers in my one and only visit to Ibrox; the bus journey back to Stranraer was memorable for the literally hundreds of Rangers fans who stood in field, bus shelter and shop fronts pointing and laughing as we humbly made our retreat through the villages and hamlets of the west of Scotland.

But such defeats are a necessary experience for the genuine sports fan. They humble us, providing us with an experience of sporting lows so that the high peaks will be all the more appreciated when they are finally reached.

Any Glasgow Celtic fan of the late 1980s/1990s will have a painful memory of Rangers’ Nine in a Row period, which started the year I left primary school and continued until my university days. This time was a glorious one for Blues fans, and I fondly remember being regularly ‘wound up’ by a loyal ‘Gers supporting Black taxi driver at Bridge Street who came to be a family friend throughout these years.

One of the great things about being a sports fan is that we rarely get to choose which team we will support. It is something we inherit and, so long as this isn’t taken too seriously (a la the more lunatic, hooligan or sectarian elements in every society, not least our own) it can be a great unifying factor within families and, more broadly, local communities.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I was born in the US and my sporting preferences betray that background. I was up until half past three in the morning on Wednesday/ Thursday of this week, watching with increasing despair and dejection as my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish suffered their own humiliation to match that of the English cricketers. In losing 41-14 to Louisiana State University, Irish-America’s favourite team broke the record for most consecutive Bowl games lost (9), bringing shame to the great sporting institution and another dose of humble pie to its ever optimistic legion of fans worldwide.

But the great thing about sport is that there will always be another day, and with it the promise of a return to Glory- and maybe a thumping victory or two along the way.

  • The Irish football team getting stuffed in Cyprus last year is one of my most embarrassing sporting moments.
    Norn Iron don’t fare much better, didn’t they lose recently to Andorra or some other minnow?
    The shame, the shame, the shame of supporting teams from this island.
    Another suttfing, which I enjoyed, was when Chelsea (before Abramovich) hammered Man Yoo 5-0. Think this happened around the end of ’99, the time of the great Man Yoo side.
    If memory serves me right Celtic legend Chris Sutton scored his only league goal for Chelsea in this game.

  • Ziznivy

    “Norn Iron don’t fare much better, didn’t they lose recently to Andorra or some other minnow?”

    No.

  • Merrie

    As an Irish Aussie I can’t think of any recent sporting humiliation, though I do recall that a few decades ago the Aussie cricketers were beaten by a Dutch cricket team.

    We also play Australian Rules football (a version of Gaelic football) against the Irish, using International Rules and I understand we have done OK in those matches.

    Having lived in the UK for some time I was really surprised that the Poms were such bad sports. When we lost one test match in the mid-1990s I was working in the City of London and people I had never seen before in the company would come up to me and say: “Are you an Aussie? Hah, we beat you.”

    I discovered I could not talk about cricket until 2005 and I was always very polite about avoiding the topic.

    Usually cricket doesn’t get much front page coverage in the UK, unless the Poms are winning. In Australia, cricket gets lots of coverage, even during the 1980s when we weren’t doing so well (remember Botham?) and when the West Indies had the greatest team in the world.

    This Ashes, all expectations fired up, there was a lot of coverage in the UK press and all the commentators had to say something – and were forced to give measly praise to the Aussies. After the unexpected end to the first test, one commentator moaned “The game isn’t over till the fat bowler spins.”

    And this time I got a bit meaner. I didn’t accost a Pom just to say: “Hah, we didn’t just beat you…whitewash!” but after the fourth test I happened to be a shop with the Evening Standard on a rack and in small letters on the front page it said “Humiliation – see back page“. So I turned it over, and in huge letters was “Humiliation”.

    I left the back page facing upwards.

  • Humblest apologies Ziznivy, got my ‘A’s mixed up, it was that footballing giant Armenia who beat Northern Ireland, not Andorra.
    Still humiliating, I am sure you will agree.

  • joeCanuck

    1969.

    Sion Mills dismissed the West Indies for a total of 25 runs to win the one day match by 9 wickets.
    Priceless.

  • brendan,belfast

    surely Seamus McKee’s use of the word ‘we’ and is general assumption that we would all bemoan Australia’s ashes victory is embarassing? cricket – who gives a shit?

    and him an Andytown man…………

  • merrie

    and him an Andytown man…………

    Maybe he should be supporting Australia then – and any other team which is playing against England.

  • parcifal

    Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White has reached six world snooker championship finals – and lost them all. Yet he remains the game’s most popular player.

  • Secur O’Crat

    Nice post, except for the end bit about Amnerican football.
    My most enjoyable one was reading the taunts of the English supporters after Scotland drew with the Faroe Islands. Sales of Faroe Islands shirts rocketed in London and one England supporer said “Yes, but if the Faroe Islands can only draw with Scotland”.
    San Marino’ quick goal against England was also a beauty as were the Brazil flags on the Falls for the Brazil England game.
    The most disgusting game I saw was the Holland Irleand match in theItalian World Cup. After England went ahead against Egypt, the Green and Orange time wasted for the rest of the game. The Egyptians must have been livid.
    I watched Ireland play Austrlaia in the World Cup at Landsdowne. Ireland snatched victory in the last seconds only to have Australia snatch it back in the last second. What further proof is needed that God is dead?

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    Merrie
    ‘As an Irish Aussie I can’t think of any recent sporting humiliation’ – well, in 2005 Australia lost to Bangladesh in a One-Day International. To be fair, I cannot think of another humiliation for the Aussie cricket team – not in the last decade anyhow.

    Most other sports are the same, although there is the occasional bad result. The Australian Rugby League team was smashed 24-0 by New Zealand in the final of the 2005 Tri-Nations, that particular humilation all the greater when you take into account that outside south Auckland, NZ is completely indifferent to the sport. In the past 4 years, the Wallabies have regularly been beaten when playing away from home but arguably their biggest humiliation was the 51-20 defeat to the All Blacks in Sydney in 2003.

    The thing about Australian sporting teams though, is that they take defeat on the chin and almost always bounce back. 3 months after that record defeat to the All Blacks, the Wallabies turned it around and beat New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final.

  • Alan

    It’s the fact that English expectations were so high that makes their defeat so delicious. I was at a conference during the first test, but before England declared. One of the Speakers ( English, needless to say ) started off with ” Are there any Aussies in the room? No? Oh dear, I can’t gloat about the test then.”

  • BP1078

    The worst, and I mean the lowest of the low, scraping 18 year old year old dregs out of a three metre bucket that I’ve ever felt after a game was leaving Maine Road 1989:

    Man City 5 Manchester United 1

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    So Paul Panther, Northern Ireland loses 1-0 to a country with a population twice that of Northern Ireland, and the humiliation is what exactly? There is an arrogance in British and Irish football supporters, a belief in the divine right to defeat countries with funny names from far-off lands. Its this arrogance which leads to the shock when we are beaten by so-called minnows (as if NI are anything but minnows themselves). I also remember the great gnashing of teeth when the ROI lost to Macedonia.

    As it happens, Armenia are undefeated in 4 matches against NI. A much bigger humiliation is that European record streak of not scoring, which if memory serves me right, the Armenian defeats were part of.

  • bhoy

    remember “super callie’s go ballistic, celtic are atrocious….”

  • Yokel

    Anytime England go out on penalties in the Euro Champs or World Cups.

    Football phone ins are a joy, tabloid pics of fat geezers, who look like they could have been throwing plastic chairs outside a bar just a few hours before, crying their eyes out. Best of all they inavriably go out after what the pundits say was their best performnance.

    The recent additon of Ian Wright into TV studios at such moments is like the cherry on the cake.

    Priceless

  • World’s Gone Mad – China has a population that is much, much larger than England. But if England lost to them it would be considered a humiliation.
    That is the fatal flaw in your population argument.

  • dodrade

    “1969.

    Sion Mills dismissed the West Indies for a total of 25 runs to win the one day match by 9 wickets.
    Priceless.”

    Not quite. Ireland beat the West Indies in Sion Mills.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Favorite sporting humiliation of all time?

    Too easy — the New Yawk Yankees, up three games to nil, blowing a best of seven, to the Bahstahn Red Sox. The only fly in the ointment, iirc, was that the Red Sox, to beat the Yankees had, in many ways, become the Yankees (the bloated payroll, etc.)

  • lonely pint

    I remember watching Cliftonville losing at home to the RUC back in the 80’s.

    It certainly wasn’t the first time that the Red Army had been at the wrong end of a beating from an enthusiastic squad of peelers but this occasion was notable for being the first time that it had actually occurred on the football pitch and not on the terraces.

    Oh how I recall the smirks on those coppers’ faces.
    Glad I’m a fireside supporter now-must check the ceefax for the latest scores….

  • alan

    I recall going to my first NI game when I was 8 against the Republic back in 1994-I left in tears after a 4-0 drubbing when a certain Roy Keane scored-whatever happened to him?

    Still at least we’re above them in the rankings now-Happy Days!

  • Blue Moon

    bp1078,

    great memories indeed-Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop , Andy Hinchcliffe and David Oldfield scored the goals for the true Manchester team against the Salford Impostors.

    Fergie with a face of thunder at the end…

    Nearly as sweet as the time when Denis Law in a City jersey back-heeled United into the obscurity of the Second Division.

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    Paul – “China has a population that is much, much larger than England. But if England lost to them it would be considered a humiliation.
    That is the fatal flaw in your population argument.”

    Actually the fatal flaw in your argument was choosing a NI defeat at random, and after eventually getting the name of the country right, assuming that a 1-0 defeat to a team that you didn’t know much about was a humiliation. The facts are that NI lost 1-0 in Armenia to a goal 4 minutes from the end and then lost at home in a match that they had the chances to win. 2 narrow defeats to a team which at the time had a similar FIFA ranking can hardly be described, in your words, as a humiliation.

    Also, a bit of research shows that Armenia does have some footballing pedigree – Armenian teams were a force in the old Soviet championships, and Armenians represented the USSR at the highest level. Armenian football would appear to have followed a similar path to NI – success in the 70s and the 80s but little in recent times. Since independance they haven’t had much success but from 1998 up until 2006 their FIFA ranking was very similar to Northern Ireland. Therefore, although the defeats were desperately disappointing, whatever way you look at it, they were not a humiliation.

    The comparison with England is a spurious one. England are the inventors of the modern game, consistently one of the top 10 nations in the world, and have one of the wealthiest associations in world football. The England squad ply their trade in the Europe’s best leagues and many of the team consistently play in the Champions League, the world’s premier club competition. At grass-roots level there are millions participating and England have a huge pool of professional players. England are one of the most populous nations in Western Europe and also in football terms one of its most successful. Therefore, a defeat to an emerging football nation like China would be a humiliation. Northern Ireland cannot claim any of these things – its players by-and-large are in the lower leagues and the IFA do not have much money. Its main (only) resource are its players, and as such, the population size is entirely relevant – the small population of NI means a meagre pool of players to choose from. The same can be said of countries like Armenia, which happens to have twice the population so potentially has a greater pool of players to choose from.

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    On a similar note – in today’s Observer Sports Monthly – 50 heartbreaking moments:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/osm/index/0,,1982132,00.html

  • lonely pint

    I see Derry City (sorry Dunfermline) have just knocked the ‘mighty’ Rangers out of the Scottish Cup.

    “Agent Kenny, This is the Brandwell calling-Your mission has been accomplished. Please return to Base”

  • Ziznivy

    “Humblest apologies Ziznivy, got my ‘A’s mixed up, it was that footballing giant Armenia who beat Northern Ireland, not Andorra.
    Still humiliating, I am sure you will agree.”

    It wasn’t out brightest moment, although Armenia is a substantially larger place than Andorra.

    It was a depressing night. I had just returned from our 0-0 draw in Ukraine and I honestly can’t remember being more depressed after a Northern Ireland game. My mates were all drinking in Hunters, but I had to go home for a while and take some time out and watch Teachers.

  • sad man

    Wow, what a fulfilling life you lead,Ziznivy

  • Donnacha

    Living in NZ, I have become used to sporting ignominy, most recently on Saturday when the disabledchildren — oops, national cricket team — got humiliated by Sri Lanka, all out for 73 in a one-dayer. Mind you, living here means that I can bask in such great moments as the 1995 Americas Cup win; the 43-6 All Blacks victory over the Aussies in 1997; the absolute humiliation of the Lions (although that was something of a double-edged sword for me). As far as Ireland goes, Stuttgart 1988 is a great moment, as is Croker in 1996 for Wexford’s All-Ireland. Worst Irish moment I believe was the bloody Cyprus match.

  • Ziznivy

    “Wow, what a fulfilling life you lead,Ziznivy”

    Oh aye. Just thank your lucky stars I refrained from describing how, to add insult to injury, I dropped a full pizza on the street that night. 😉

  • BP1078

    great memories indeed-Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop , Andy Hinchcliffe and David Oldfield scored the goals for the true Manchester team against the Salford Impostors

    Sparking off an 18 year old party in the City strongholds of er…Stockport,Burnley,Darwin and a host of other Lancashire milltowns. Manchester’s boundaries tend to be a little bit elastic, when talking about the City support-base.

    In the meantime, we’ve had to make do with a few Premierships, FA Cups, Doubles, League Cups (Remember that trophy? it was the last one you won…31 years ago, this year?) and the silly old Champions League.

    But yes, that 5-1 still hurts. Badly.

  • Patrique

    Antrim V Cork, 2004 All Ireland quarter final. I thought we weren’t going to score.

    In soccer, the richest club in the World, Manchester United, winning one champions league in 20 years under Fergie. Now that is humiliating, although I blame the board. Wouldn’t spend the money to win in Europe, and the idiot supporters thought winning the mediocre premiership meant something. You only need to be in the top four now, no point in over doing it and actually winning the silly thing.