Our ten biggest sporting losers
Losing is not something we like to talk about much at this time of year.
We’re reminded of the greatest premiership winning teams, the possibility of St. Kilda or Parramatta breaking the drought or Geelong or Melbourne Storm cementing their place as real champion teams.
But given that the team or individual that we follow is more often going to lose the premiership, not win the gold, or fail at the World Cup, our experiences with losing are arguably are more important in defining our support of the team or person than that of winning.
So in the lead up to the two biggest sporting weekends of the year The Punch writers have compiled, in no particular order, the ten teams or people that have let us down or just not performed when it mattered in Australia’s recent sporting history. What are yours?
Wallabies (Present) – Paul Colgan
Forget for a moment that a Wallabies captain hasn’t raised silverware over his head since 2002 or that Australia hasn’t won the Tri-Nations for eight years.
Just look at their last 10 minutes on the park.
When the All Blacks put the game beyond reach at the 70-minute mark in Wellington, the Wallabies started looking around for their passports and plane tickets.
Coach Robbie Deans, unquestionably one of the world’s best rugby managers, was right to berate his players afterwards for lacking pride in the jersey.
A mate remarked the Wallabies had “even managed to make Robbie Deans look bad”. Forward Rocky Elsom said they needed to “out-enthuse” the All Blacks, and failed to do so.
This lack of commitment is becoming a defining feature of Wallaby play. They don’t dominate or intimidate. They struggle at the breakdown, make nervy errors under pressure, and miss critical tackles.
The win in Brisbane against South Africa is a blip on the Wallabies’ increasingly consistent tendency to fail to close out big games - so perfectly evidenced in their one-point loss to the All Blacks in Sydney this year despite having led for most of the match.
The ongoing failure to win trophies and the absence of mongrel which they have openly discussed means the current Wallaby side deserves to be on this list.
Collingwood (generally) – David Penberthy
Collingwood should qualify automatically as they’re the only club in the AFL that has spawned a noun – the colliwobbles – to characterise their traditional folding in September.
It’s not a gratuitous sledge either.
Collingwood are an awesome football club with a proud tradition. But they’re also a club with a tradition of seriously under-delivering on the promise they show in the minor round.
Consider the statistics. In the past 40 years Collingwood has played 11 grand finals, putting them up there with great clubs such as Essendon and Hawthorn.
But the difference is that Collingwood lost 10 of them and and won just one, in 1990, and even that was regarded as an accident.
The Pies get a special mention in this list because coach Michael Malthouse used this final series to engage in absurd mind games against Geelong coach Mark Thompson, saying the Cats would be agonising over the fact that their current great side only had the one premiership.
Pot, kettle, black, Mick? It didn’t work anyway – after losing to the Cats by less than a kick in the 2007 preliminary final, this time the Pies went down by 73 points, so that’s two lost prelims in three years to add to all those lost grand finals.
The Socceroos (1972 to 2005) - Tim Hilferty
To paraphrase the great Johnny Warren, sheilas, wogs and pooftas celebrated when the Socceroos qualified for the 1974 World Cup. When they earned the right to return to Germany in 2006, the whole nation went off.
In between times, the Socceroos were part of a four-yearly tragi-comedy. In 1977 we got knocked out by Iran. In 1981, we were bested by New Zealand (they had Richard Hadlee as striker). In 1985, we had to play Scotland at the last stage. And failed. In 1989, we succumbed to the sporting might of Israel.
In 1993, with a seriously good side, Maradona’s Argentina advanced by a single goal. In 1997, with a better team, nutjob Peter Hoare and Iran broke our hearts. At least now the public was taking notice.
In 2001 Uruguay got the better of us. But how we got our revenge four year later.
But two generations of Socceroos, including John Kosmina, Frank Farina, Charlie Yankos, Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, Milan Ivanovic and Aurelio Vidmar never got to play on the biggest stage in the world.
Jana Pittman - Ben English
“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.’’
In the case of Jana Rawlinson (nee Pittman), perhaps the less we understood the better.
Call us old-fashioned, but Aussies tend to celebrate athletes who make headlines with their deeds rather than their words.
Unfortunately for Drama, she got that equation the wrong way around.
Two world championships is nothing to sneeze at – but we all caught flu from Drama’s histrionics and, sorry Drama – her underwhelming performance when it counted: at the Olympics.
St George Dragons (last decade or more) – Luke McIlveen
There are chokers – and then there’s the Dragons.
Never has a rugby league club consistently promised so much then tanked at the very thought of making the Grand Final.
This year they led all the way, got flogged by the abominable Bunnies on the eve of the finals then folded like one of those beach dome tents when it counted.
The great Jack Gibson once said waiting for Cronulla to win a grand final was like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt. Waiting for the Dragons to deliver silverware is about as likely as a vacant Maxicab on New Year’s Eve.
Mark Philippoussis - Ben English
No self-respecting tennis player has more unflattering nicknames than trophies.
Yet that is the unfortunate epithet that hangs over Mark “Scud’’, “Poo’’, “Flip’’ Philippoussis.
Has there ever been a greater squandering of talent in the history of tennis, if not sport as a whole?
When the Poo smoked Pistol Pete as a teenager one steamy night early in 1996, his Dad predicted he would eclipse even Sampras’s swag of slams.
More than 13 years later, Poo is slamless and broke, having spent all his money (and energy) on fast depreciating cars and women. Like his promise, they’re all gone now.
He was recently seen with Melbourne hairdresser Chantelle Theos, but he has said that he is single and spending time with his mother.
Fremantle Dockers (Always) – David Penberthy
In one of his many beautifully composed tragi-comic footy columns for The Australian, the late, great Matt Price documented the many ways his beloved Fremantle Dockers had learned to lose.
As a biographer of the team – his book on the club’s early history, Way to Go: Sadness, Euphoria and the Fremantle Dockers, is a terrific piece of sportswriting – Matt emerged as a kind of chief public commiserator for Freo fans.
In the aftermath of their finals elimination by the Swans in 2006 – only their second September appearance – Matt had this to say on the nature of loss as perfected by the Dockers.
“A dozen years of following the once hapless Dockers has turned many of the club’s most steadfast supporters into involuntary connoisseurs of defeat.
We’ve lost ugly and horribly, beautifully and wonderfully. We’ve lost narrowly and by preposterously gargantuan margins; notoriously, Brisbane once led Freo by 20 goals to one at half-time.
We’ve suffered noble losses, character-building losses, perhaps even pyrrhic losses. We’ve been robbed more often than a Kings Cross chemist.
We’ve lost after playing ourselves into seemingly invincible positions. We’ve lost after the siren. Indeed, earlier this year in Launceston, the Dockers lost a full 23 seconds after the siren, sending the AFL into paroxysms of confusion.
Losing became the Dockers’ metier as the purple underdogs became rather expert at defeat. Your average overpaid corporate consultant might have described Fremantle as a loss leader.”
The one thing that should console Freo fans is that, one day, they will get their act together and win the flag – and every AFL fan will be cheering for them.
NSW State of Origin Team (Last four years) – Leo Shanahan
Oscar Wilde never had the chance to write about State of Origin Rugby League, but if he had his famous aphorism may have read: to lose one state of origin series may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four in a row begins to look bloody awful.
What is going on with the Blues?
Yes they’re coming up against an incredible Maroons team, but in the past NSW teams have managed to eek out a series wins against Queensland teams similarly stacked with the best in the game.
NSW great and on-field maniac Tommy Raudonikis has suggested that the team lacks the real mongrel of Blues teams of the past.
Last year’s victory in the final game in Queensland showed they’re certainly not scared to muscle up, but did walk a pretty fine line to pure thuggery.
Is another coach the answer? Craig Bellamy has consistently performed with the Storm so it’s hard to label him the problem.
Selectors are all over the place as they don’t seem to be able to settle on the pivotal positions of half-back or five-eight for more than a game or two.
The revelation of Jarryd Hayne this year gives some hope of Blue’s resurgence but the four series losses in a row is always going to be there.
Australian Cricket Team circa 1983-1984 - Tim Hilferty
It’s hard to believe now, but not too long ago, Australia had the worst cricket team in the world.
Unfortunately, our nadir coincided with the high-watermark of my cricketmania as a kid, so the sepia-toned memories of my youth include dead rubber victories over the Poms and Windies at the SCG (God bless you, Peter Leroy) and grimly hanging on for a draw against New Zealand. New Zealand!
It’s easy to blame the departures of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh after the 1983/84 season, but Australia had always managed to replace champions in the past.
The fact remains that the mid-eighties was a golden era for everyone except us. Great players like Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and any number of Windies champions took the game to a new level.
And all we had was little Pugsley Border, like the boy with his finger in the dyke. And it’s a good thing we did.
The Balmain Tigers 1989 Grand Final losing team – Leo Shanahan.
This was a team of legends that never got the premiership they deserved. I’ve devoted a separate entry for this team to mark the 20th anniversary of what could be the greatest Grand Final ever.
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