There is nothing the British fan likes more than to wallow in the unconfined joys of what the Germans call schadenfreude

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The Independent Online
Just before half-time in Wednesday night's televised European Cup match, with Rangers already three-quarters of their way towards humiliation at the hands of Juventus, the Scottish champions won a corner. Up in the commentary gantry, Brian Moore said: "What we want now is for a big leap and a Rangers goal."

Well, I have news for Brian. What most of Scotland wanted at that point was not a Rangers goal. It was for Richard Gough to fall over and Juve break again, score and wipe another quarter inch off the biggest, smuggest grin in the country: that on the face of the Rangers fan. And I have news for Terry Venables and Mark Hateley, too. The nation did not share the bout of self-loathing and dismay with which they greeted yet another European lesson for British clubs. Across the land (except in those parts of Glasgow where a Union Jack tattoo is issued at birth) they were too busy lighting celebratory bonfires, joining impromptu street parties and raiding money boxes to finance the purchase of new Juventus shirts to shed a tear for our collective decline.

There is nothing the British football fan likes more than to wallow in the unconfined joys of what the Germans call schadenfreude: the deep pleasure to be gleaned from seeing your neighbour fall flat on their face. This has been a great week for schadenfreude enthusiasts. The tabloids may have described it as yet another seven days of disaster, but in the pubs, factories and offices of the nation, Legia Warsaw 1 Blackburn 0, Leeds 3 PSV 5 and Juventus 4 Rangers 1 were a trio of results which offered unbridled opportunity to laugh at your mates.

Now that Uefa, Europe's governing body, has spread the European games across the week in order to maximise the television revenue, it is even better - there is barely a morning when you can't get on the phone and snigger. Brian and Ron Atkinson, incidentally, are not alone in their failure to recognise this sadistic streak in the football fan.

All our television commentators are guilty of the jingoistic assumption that the moment a British club plays abroad, the entire country puts aside its little local difficulties and unites behind them, behaving as a sort of Portillo Expeditionary Force, willing the lads to put one up Johnny European. And when our clubs fail, as they inevitably do, there is a compulsion among the pundits to behave as if the Queen Mother has just died. On Wednesday night, Venables, dressed in a pepper and salt speckled jacket that merged seamlessly into his hair, was typical: he wore a face which suggested he was about to lead the country into mourning.

To be fair to Venables and his colleagues, schadenfreude addiction is a relatively new phenomenon. Back in the 1970s and 1980s when Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Everton, Aberdeen even, were winning cups across the Continent, there was relatively little opportunity to wallow in someone else's failure. But since the five-year post-Heysel ban, British clubs' technique (or lack of it) has led to regular fixes.

Since their Cup-Winners' Cup triumph in 1991, Manchester United have been singularly assiduous in this respect. Turks, Spaniards, Swedes, Russians, they lose to the lot of them. And every time they do, it provides hours of pleasure for their rivals: exotic and previously unknown shirts start appearing in stands when United come to visit; branches of the Galatasaray Supporters' Club are formed all over the place; the T-shirt sellers make a minor killing.

Plus it sheds some glimmer of light into the lives of Manchester City fans, to tide them through yet another season of derby maulings. Particularly since this pleasure is one they can uniquely call their own: the chances of their team qualifying for a drubbing in Europe and thus giving their red neighbours something to snigger about are as likely as Michael Howard defecting to the Labour Party. Just occasionally a British club defies stereotype and manages to win on the Continent. Liverpool and Forest, in particular, seem to have slipped happily into their old habits.

It sounds contrary, but most schadenfreude enthusiasts don't mind if their rivals win. When Leeds, for instance, stuffed Monaco in the last round of the Uefa Cup, the talk among most neutrals around this office was conducted in whispered awe about Yeboah's hat-trick. The sneerer doesn't mind because the further his rivals progress in a competition, the bigger the fall, and consequently the bigger the belly laugh.

If you want proof of that central rule, look no further than last season's European Cup-Winners' Cup final, when the joy was withheld until the very last moment. And in what fashion. Thus it is for the comedy element of that looping, speculative, let's be honest thoroughly flukey, shot from the half-way line, which left David Seaman flapping like a landed salmon in the back of his net, that Nayim is granted this column's first annual award for services to schadenfreude.