The Price of Success

In every popular sport in the world, there are heroes and villains. Those the crowd love and those they hate. Typically, the athletes or teams the spectator takes a disliking to share one trait; success.

Prime examples of the unfavoured, are sports’ elite competitors; Manchester United, Leicester Tigers, the New York Yankees etc.. Many people would put this dislike down to an admiration for the underdog, the romance of the unworthy pretender emerging in glorious victory. But why?

Brand… The Yankees are well-known and disliked in the sport

I was actually inspired to write this article based on a Ladies’ 4th Round match at the recent Wimbledon Championships between Serena Williams and Sabine Lisicki. Taking place in Old Blighty, neither’s home nation, you would probably expect a neutral crowd or one that’s slightly swayed toward the plucky underdog in Lisicki or another edging on the side of a respected veteran in Williams. That wasn’t the case. The raucous Centre Court crowd were overtly biased toward Lisicki, cheering her on to every point and greeting Williams’ successes with groans of disappointment. Lisicki’s support rivalled that of the home talents, Andy Murray and Laura Robson and it even continued through the next rounds when her more arrogant nature came to prominence.

In Serena’s case, she is partially disliked for her intense competitive nature. Understandably, most perceive a dislike of losing as a negative trait but it really isn’t as bad or counteractive as it seems. In reality, a hatred for defeat is the very thing that breeds the successful sports stars that are loved the world over. Serena is often levelled with criticism about her image too, with many labelling her as a ‘man’, usually the same people who detest the shameful body image tabloids pressure women to obtain, while mocking a woman making a positive contribution through sport. Actually, you could argue that Williams is simply ostracised because of her race or gender. It would be untrue to say stars like Nadal, Djokovic and veteran, John McEnroe are dealt the same backlash. They remain popular despite exhibiting very similar behaviour.

Of course, there is less opportunity for vocal bias in neutral grounds in football but that doesn’t stop Manchester United being targeted for abuse from supposedly apathetic fans. In contrast, local rivals, Manchester City have become many fans’ ‘second team’. Back in May 2012, when City pulled off a remarkable title theft from United, fans of other clubs publicly celebrated the failure of the Red Devils despite their club having no links to them themselves. In the Etihad, QPR fans (the visitors on the day), even publicly celebrated a goal being scored against them, because it was at Manchester United’s expense. Seriously.

(around the 1:45 mark)

Legend… Serena’s success breeds more resentment than admiration.

Ultimately, it comes down to jealousy. No matter that Serena Williams’ success story in particular comes from hard graft and determination and Manchester United didn’t necessarily employ the bank-rolling tactics of their cross-city rivals to start their route to success, they are still loathed by sports fans alike. It’s the same jealousy that sparks the Scotland or British debate among Andy Murray’s fans. Some Scots are keen to claim Murray as just theirs so they can exclusively identify his success. However, Englishmen are less likely to do the same because as a nation, they’re more successful. As with football, the neutral supporters identified with Man City’s title triumph as a victory for every other club against Manchester United… for some reason.

I’ve never bought in to the establishment of disliking the successful stars of sport. I can see why people do, but I don’t share their feelings. Being prosperous is an adaptive characteristic that biologically, every human is attracted to. When I think of the aim of sport, I think of every team or competitior striving to be the best and I cannot see any rationalisation for hating that. After all, being victorious is the reason we love sport, if you’re not trying to win then what would be the point?


  1. I’ve only just read this and the part about Manchester City’s title win is bang on. Even though it was a fantastic spectacle seeing the title won in the last minute of the season, it was quite pathetic seeing fans of clubs like Peterborough, Grimsby and Port Vale celebrate that win as if, like you put it, it was a victory for all football fans against Manchester United. I’m a Sheffield United fan so the only clubs I hate are Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, and I don’t particularly hold any resentment towards Manchester United (although they have had some hatable players, and I wish people would stop calling them ‘United’ as if they’re the only United, but I honestly don’t mind them as a club)

    Honestly I’ve never understood the universal animosity towards Manchester United. I’ve seen fans of Wolves say “I used to like Van Persie at Arsenal, now I hate him at United”, fans of Sunderland say “argh, now I have to hate David Moyes!”, fans of Derby County refer to them as ‘scum’, fans of Crystal Palace say “haha, tara bacon face you alcoholic!” when Fergie retired. I can understand Manchester City fans rubbing that win in – after all, it’s the ultimate getting-one-over on their rivals – and I suppose Liverpool and Leeds United fans giving Manchester United fans a few digs. Even Arsenal and Chelsea fans who have a rivalry with them. But what reason would fans of Bristol Rovers, Birmingham City or Southampton have to celebrate that? Manchester United aren’t their team’s biggest enemy, they’re not even rivals.

    And it’s good that you included Manchester City being everyone’s second team. That really annoys me. One of the most common reasons for them hating Manchester United is because of the amount of glory hunters they have, yet these people are glory hunters themselves as they have latched onto their glories since they became a good team, when they clearly didn’t care about them when they were a mid-table Premier League side. Ask them their five favourite Manchester City players from the 2006/07 season and they won’t reply, because Manchester City didn’t register with them back them. I even saw one football fan on Twitter – she shall remain nameless but she supports a non-League club – laughing about how she saw a guy in a Manchester City shirt on her street in a top with ‘AGUERRROOOOOOOOOO!’ on the back. She lives about a hundred miles away from Manchester. The irony of her bleating about Manchester United having glory fans and then she says that!

    Anyway, apologies for boring you with this stupidly long reply, just thought I’d say it! Cheers for the article, great reading and you’re saying exactly what I’m thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s