I’ve talked about my love for an underdog story before. The past twelve months in sport has spoilt us with an unprecedented amount of underdog stories in almost every sporting code. Between Singapore’s first ever Olympic Gold Medal at Rio, Leicester City’s maiden EPL title, the Western Bulldogs’ AFL Premiership win, or Portugal’s win in the Euros, we’ve seen some absolute cracking upsets, and that’s barely scratching the surface of what was an unpredictable 2016 in sport.
Backing an underdog gives us a glimmer of hope to hold onto in our lives for a brief while. We ride it out till the very end, praying and hoping for a miracle that will turn our predictable and monotonous lives into moments of ecstasy and jubilation. When an underdog triumphs, it fills our hearts with joy and makes us believe. It gives us the sense that anything can be accomplished, and that nothing is impossible.
But what if you’re always labelled as the underdog? What if the team you support barely ever wins? What if you’re expected to fail? What if being associated with them can leave others to laugh at you and question your allegiance? What if they cause you more pain than joy and leave you frustrated week in week out? Is the pain really worth it?
On Saturday the 28th of January in the 4th round of the FA Cup, my team, Wolverhampton Wanderers delivered a huge upset to Liverpool FC at Anfield. Sitting 18th on the ladder in the second tier of English football, they put 2 goals past a Liverpool side currently sitting in 4th place and a division above Wolves.
Now, by no means is this all that uncommon. We see upsets like this almost every season, especially in the FA Cup. It’s part of the magic of cup football. So what’s the big deal then? It’s just another upset right?
Wrong. It’s a whole lot more than that. For the fans and the town of Wolverhampton located in the “Black Country” of England’s Midlands, it means absolutely everything.
Teams like Wolves don’t win every week. We don’t have worldwide exposure. You won’t find our club kits in many sport shops and retailers. We aren’t expected to lift the silverware at season’s end. Many people have never even heard of the old gold of Wolves.
Let me put things in perspective. Manchester United are a big club, undoubtedly so. They have a huge following, plenty of money and are expected to win almost every time they play. When Manchester United go out and win a game, it’s no surprise because they’re Manchester United. It’s routine for the fans to go home happy having watched their side win. They’re expected to win games every single week. They’re expected to finish every season with some silverware. It’s like supporters of such clubs have some sort of insurance policy relating to the likelihood of success. It sounds great right? Supporting a team that consistently finishes in the top 4, constantly qualifies for the world’s biggest tournaments, and always, always provides a great spectacle.
I think people are right when they say you don’t know how to value success unless you’ve experienced failure. And fuck me sideways have Wolves had some failure over the past 5 years. We suffered not one, but two relegations in successive seasons, the loss of almost every star player, mass walkout and protest from fans, the signing and subsequent sacking of 5 managers, and a fat “for sale” sign on the club that for some time, seemed that nobody really wanted anything to do with.
We’ve done it hard. Limited success on and off the field can make it extremely difficult to support a side, to turn up week in week out or turn on the television set on game day. If you support such a team, you will break something in frustration, you will cry, and you will wonder why the hell you go through it all every single week. We’ve had five years of disappointment. Five years of failure. Five years of hating football for the cruel, heartbreaking sport that it can be.
But it’s all gone now.
It takes 30 wins a season to touch the heart of a Manchester United fan. Anything less and they’re calling for the manager’s head. For us, it took just one win.
Saturday’s win will forever remain in our hearts and remind us that without failure there is no success. Real joy and ecstasy cannot be felt without real pain. I wonder if supporters of those big four clubs feel the same way we do when we score a goal or win a game? Does it mean as much to them? Or do they take it for granted? Either way, supporting Wolves has taught me one thing. Remain patient, and battle through the pain, for that taste of victory is the sweetest nectar the world can offer.
Just look at the way the 8,300 travelling Wolves fans celebrated the victory on Saturday. It speaks volumes.
If we follow the Wolves motto we can be certain that “out of darkness cometh light.”