The Third Leader: On defeat...

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Some suggestion, I understand, after Arsenal's defeat by Barcelona in the Champions' League final, that Thierry Henry and his team-mates are bad losers. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Is being unsporting really unsporting? Consider, for instance, these two cherished American quotations: "Good losers get used to losing," and, "We didn't lose, we just ran out of time."

There was also, of course, Vietnam, and there is Iraq, where we await the final whistle. Don't think, either, that bad losing is somehow un-British. It took us 100 years (1337-1453) to lose against the French, and we claimed their throne until 1801. We also burnt down Washington some time after we had surrendered America. Amundsen, who beat Scott to the Pole, called us "a race of very bad losers" (although this can be an advantage: one thinks of Dunkirk). WG Grace famously failed to emulate his surname (as one bowler put it: "You're surely not going, Doctor? There's a stump still standing"). Closer, we remember with affection Sir Alex Ferguson blaming defeat on the colour of his players' shirts.

No, sports people deserve our sympathy, as the impotence of any attempt to impose fairness on Life is shown most starkly when it should be simplest. I would recommend, in this and almost every case, the example of Rugby League, where passion and grace are tempered by northern realism.

So it was that a Hull Kingston Rover, complaining afterwards about a decision, was told by an opponent, the great AJ Murphy of St Helens: "Check it in the papers tomorrow, Frank; I think you'll see it was a try."

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