Every plucky underdog has his day

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The Independent Online
"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet", said Damon Runyon, thus reflecting the great truth that the favourite is not often passed in the last furlong by an outsider. The favourite usually wins, yes. On the other hand, that is not always enough to make him popular. It is the underdog that people want to win, the little guy that nobody fancies. There is nothing quite like seeing Holyfield dump Tyson on his backside, or Sri Lanka thrash the world at one-day cricket, or Wrexham beat Birmingham and go on to take the F A Cup. (The latter is just wishful thinking from a Wrexham supporter, and has not actually happened yet in this space-time continuum.)

But the underdog can only win for a while before things change. Once the underdog starts winning, he isn't going to be the underdog for long or quite so popular, or not in the same way. Tim Henman will never quite be the dark horse again, the brave little struggler - indeed, one day soon, Henman will be upset by an underdog, and my goodness, what is this in Tuesday's paper? "Henman beaten by unknown." Henman, 17th in the world, put out of first round of the Dubai Open by the German Martin Sinner, 183rd in the world. A new underdog!

So the big guy can never be the underdog. The only way in which the big guy can ever achieve underdog status is by pretending to be, by rolling over on his back and looking temporarily helpless. Here is an interesting thought on the film Independence Day by Phil Raby, the excellent film critic of the Bath Chronicle.

"It (the film) fulfils all the necessary conditions of the way Americans see themselves: unprovoked attack from out of nowhere by vastly superior faceless forces and defeat staring them in the face. Then comes retaliation and, against all the odds, victory. It's strange how the most powerful nation on Earth needs to see itself as a plucky underdog when, for the most part, its foreign policy has consisted of crushing plucky underdogs, but self-delusion is a common phenomenon."

Maybe it was for psychological reasons like this that McDonald's made the strange decision to take the McLibel two to court. Maybe McDonald's felt terribly, helplessly threatened by these two people handing out leaflets outside one of their London branches. Maybe McDonald's felt impelled to send in the lawyers to handle the two protesters in the same way that America used to feel impelled to send in military advisers to recalcitrant places, or to isolate them in the same way America tries to isolate Fidel Castro (and thus help to make him the world's longest-surviving leader). Whatever the reason, McDonald's must now be regretting its decision to blast the underdogs, as it must have lost them a lot of friends. It certainly helped decide me never to go inside a McDonald's joint again, though in all honesty I cannot remember being a friend of McDonald's beforehand.

And it has all happened again this week with the news that the big boys in the whisky industry are trying to squash a tiny firm in the Isle of Man which is putting out "Manx whiskey". As far as I can gather, they don't actually want the firm to disappear. They just want them to stop calling it whiskey and start calling it Manx Magic or TT Thunder or something. Glen Kella Whiskey, as it is called, offends the mighty Scotch Whisky Association because it is not actually made on the Isle of Man - it is Scotch whisky bought in Scotland and redistilled to remove the colouring. You mustn't fiddle with whisky, says the SWA, or it stops being whisky. What comes out of the cask after maturing is the real thing and shouldn't be fiddled with, as the bad boys of Glen Kella are doing.

Now, quite apart from the distasteful sight of the huge industry combining to squash one little Manxman, the big boys are on dodgy ground here, because THEY too fiddle with whisky after it has matured and left the cask.

I am not referring here to the stuff called blended whisky, the Bell's and Famous Grouse and Teacher's and all that, which is a mystery to everyone because it combines an unspecified amount of unnamed malt whisky with an unspecified amount of nameless grain spirit coming from no one knows where.

Nor am I referring to the way whisky is reduced in strength by the addition of water, which it is. No, I am referring to the fact that even the so- called real thing, single malt whisky, is also tampered with by the industry after it has left the cask.

More on this tomorrow, if I haven't been arrested by the whisky police.