We were all moved by the scenes at the Liberty Stadium last Sunday. The season now looks over for Manchester City, marooned in second place, one point adrift of Manchester United in first place with only ten games remaining. The only reaction to such a dire situation was tears, justified as the club look into the abyss of another summer of spending, with only the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Nicolas Gaitan possible targets for the hardest hit club in the country. With this in mind fans of Darlington FC sent their hearts out to this man.
Still, he’s not the only one to be reduced to tears by sport, as these five examples show:
5. John Terry – Chelsea vs Manchester United, Champions League Final, 2008
The American columnist Erma Bombeck once said ‘there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt’. If any moment in sport straddled this ‘thin line’ it was John Terry’s performance in the 2008 Champions League Final. He had given a classic passionate performance, earning plaudits for a ‘world class’ display, back when hoofing the ball away and shouting a lot still made a ‘world class’ centre-back. So when he stepped up to take what would have been the winning penalty (the match itself was a tedious 1-1 draw) the future seemed written. Then, as though divine providence suddenly realised who John Terry is , he slipped, smashing his penalty against the outside of the post and giving Manchester United another chance. Terry’s misery was compounded when Anelka’s effort was saved by Van de Sar in sudden death, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to lift his second Champions League trophy.
(Go to 6.20 for Terry’s penalty miss)
The comedy of his slip combined with the tragedy of the beaten captain to create a moment we could all enjoy – the dislikeable face of Chelsea (impressive, given the competition) laid low in such a hilarious manner as to render it heart-breaking at the final whistle, as we witnessed ‘England’s Brave Lion’ crying in the middle of the pitch, no longer the infallible heart of his team but the failed leader. Of course this was John Terry so many just found it funny.
4. Derek Redmond –Olympics 400m Semi-Final, Barcelona, 1992
If it was hard to feel sympathy for John Terry then Derek Redmond provides a complete contrast. He was a great athlete, winning gold in the 4x400m relay at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo and many tipped him to take home a medal in Barcelona. They looked to be right when he eased into the semi-final, setting the fastest time in his first heat and winning the quarter final. Then, after a great start in the semi-final, his hamstring snapped about 250m into the race and he was out. Not wishing to stop though, Redmond carried on, the pain, and the tears, visible as he forced himself past the officials imploring him to stop. Reaching 100m his father joined him on the track, guiding his son to the finish.
The image has become part of the Olympic, and British, sporting myth; it is not just the winning, but the determination that gets you there, that makes sport so fascinating. Visa even used the images of Redmond and his father in an advert before the 2008 games, because nothing reflects the amateur spirit of the Olympics more than an advert for a multi-national official sponsor.
3. Roger Federer – Australian Open Final vs Nadal, 2009
The late David Foster Wallace described watching Federer play tennis as akin to religious experience. If so this moment was the outpouring of emotions that accompanies the intense effort of perfection, the collapse after the battle. The match swung both ways, eventually ending 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6,6-2, giving Nadal his sixth Grand Slam final and first on hard courts. These tears were not just tears of defeat though; Federer has never been one to lose without grace, and this was no exception as he told Nadal ‘you deserved it. You played a fantastic final’. This touching closeness between the two players made the moment – we saw the two best tennis players in the world spar for over four hours, then praise each other, clearly admiring the talent and technique that makes each of them a great sportsman.
2. Jong Tae-Se – Korea DPR vs. Brazil, World Cup Group Game, South Africa, 2010
When the world saw Jong Tae-Se the internet went into overdrive with unfunny, boring jokes about Kim Jong-Ill punishing him when he got home. However these tears were not political; Jong Tae-Se was one of the few players to play abroad in that squad and he has never commented on politics, preferring instead to focus on the football. Having led his country to their first World Cup since 1966 Tae-Se was obviously emotional, especially given the opposition was Brazil. In an interview with the Guardian before the tournament he admitted ‘I cried for a long time’ after the goalless draw against Saudi Arabia that secured qualification, and he had a reputation for crying at the national anthem before the tournament, so his waterworks weren’t without precedent. The actual match was Korea DPR’s best of the tournament – they were defeated 2-1 by a side including Kaka and Robinho and Tae-Se provided the assist for Ji Yum-Nam’s consolation goal.
As we see a man so clearly in love with his country and sport that the emotions become too much before the biggest match of his career, who better to analyse his mental state than Gareth Southgate and Adrian Chiles on ITV?
1. Paul Gascoigne – England vs. West Germany, World Cup Semi-Final, Italy, 1990
Who else could be number one? Gazza’s tears are one of the enduring images of English football, up there with Bobby Moore held aloft on his teammate’s shoulders, Jules Rimet in hands, and the scoreboard bearing the 5-1 result over Germany at Munich’s Allianz Arena in 2001. Perhaps the night in Rome represents English football better than any of the others, as Gascoigne’s performance dipped with the knowledge he could not play in the final and England went out because of it; when Michael Ballack received similar punishment in the 2002 semi-final he proceeded to score the only goal in a 1-0 win over South Korea.
That said, there was something attractive in the human side of Gazza. In narrative terms he was the flawed genius, brash and naïve at times, but also brilliant, pulling off goals like the brilliant second against Scotland at Euro 96. The fact that this picture is revered so much only shows how the flawed genius captures the public imagination in the way a simply brilliant player does not. It’s why Messi will probably never be as revered in Argentina as Maradonna is – he doesn’t have the same flaws that make Maradonna not only a sportsman or even a celebrity, but a character who captures the public imagination.
(Skip to around 2.30 for the tears, although it’s all interesting, with the exception of the diplomatic Lineker pieces)