Wednesday 20 March 2019

The pleasure of watching you lose

I have often noticed an analogy between the passionate rivalry which exists in some Maltese football supporters, and the way some people support a political party.

It is not always for some reason rooted in rationality or, in the case of politics, of ideology. With football, certainly, there are no patriotic reasons, because lacking our own real team to root for in big events, many “adopt” a nationality and embrace ‘their’ team with body and soul, wrapping themselves in another country’s flag, and even blowing kisses at that flag as I saw one ecstatic supporter do.

It is when it comes to winning or losing, however, that things become interesting and the parallels between sports and politics become more apparent. Forget about being gracious in defeat or magnanimous in victory. If I win, I’m happy because I won but I am downright giddy with triumph that I saw you lose; enjoying the feeling of seeing you squirm and suffer at the sight of your team being given a good trashing. And if I lose it is like I have to crawl home utterly humiliated and whipped; my pride wounded, my morale at an all time low. I even know people (especially diehard male supporters) who refuse to go to work the next day, and just lie low for a while socially, so that their friends who support the rival team (OK, we are talking about Italy and England here, let’s face it) do not have the pleasure of seeing their pain. Of course, these are usually the same supporters who crow the loudest in victory, so I suppose they have it coming.

What I think is unique in the Maltese psyche is the ability to conjure up such elaborate insults (tghajjir) and the sheer pleasure some people experience at seeing their rivals pissed off. The one and only time I attended a football game at Ta’ Qali stadium I was fascinated how savage-looking supporters spent the other match calling each other names, complete with expressive gestures, rather than focusing on the game. It is like their happiness at winning can only be complete if they witness seeing ‘the other side’ devastated and furious at being beaten, preferably with steam coming out of their ears – so beautifully expressed in Maltese with that choice expression ‘mahruq’ (burnt).

Did the Germans really coin the phrase Schadenfreude? Because I could swear it is a Maltese invention, although granted, our expression is rather more long-winded: tiehu pjacir bid-deni ta’ haddiehor. In an case, there is this very palpable streak in a lot of us, and I will be honest enough to concede that I too have experienced that feeling one or two times in my life (though, to be fair, it is only when I see that certain people who have backstabbed me, have got their comeuppance – Karma, I love you.)

But what I witness in football (and in politics) has nothing to do with Karma. In the build-up to a football match (or an election) for some people it is all about pumping themselves up with boasts about having the best team in the world, complete with jeers and taunts towards their rivals as they recall past defeats (the sneer of “when’s the last time England won then?” is similar to the sneer of “when’s the last time Labour won an election?”)  It is about putting others down rather than enjoying the beauty of the sport. In politics I have often thought that it really has nothing to do with people genuinely siding with one party or another, it is that just some people can sniff out who the winner is going to be and scramble to hook up with that bandwagon so that they are not perceived to be on the side of the ‘losers’.

It happened to Labour in the aftermath of the EU referendum when it started to disintegrate, and it is happening again now as people can sense that the PN is a sinking ship and they are abandoning it in droves.  Unfortunately, politics is not a game – although from the most recent revelations it is clear that it is often treated as such by those who are in positions of power and clout.  And while Italian supporters will eventually lick their wounds at being defeated so spectacularly last night, and while England supporters will eventually recover and dust themselves off at the humiliation of being beaten by Italy – whoever wins the next election will probably wonder whether winning was such a great idea after all.

After the taunts, the jeers, the carcading and the honking of horns are over, many of us will be looking expectantly at whoever sits in Castille and demanding tangible results. Because, no matter wins this one, a new administration is going to have to face a truly exasperated electorate which has lost its patience at childish shenanigans and politics-as-chess.

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