The Last Word: At least Britons are unbeatable at crying game

Federer is just a serial sobber but it was Gazza who opened the way for real sportsmen to cry in public

Paul Newman@PaulN54
Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

Paul Gascoigne has much to answer for. Gazza's weeping at the 1990 World Cup was by no means the first occasion when a sporting personality cried on the field of play, but ever since emotions got the better of English football's greatest character of the day, the trickle of tears has become a flood.

Roger Federer almost solved Melbourne's drought problems in one fell swoop when he broke down after losing the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal last Sunday. The former world No 1 wept uncontrollably through most of the post-match presentation ceremony. "God, this is killing me," he told the 15,000 people in Rod Laver Arena and millions more watching around the world.

Television, of course, loves such displays of emotion. Cameras zoom in on faces, searching for expressions of inner turmoil. At football matchesin particular, the cameras are still prying long after the players have left the field, scouring the stands in search of supporters with tears in their eyes.

Some of modern sport's strongest images feature men and women in tears: Jana Novotna, consoled by the Duchess of Kent after losing the Wimbledon final in 1993; Ben Curtis, sobbing into a microphone after winning the Open at Sandwich in 2003; John Terry, one of the hard men of football, breaking down after his penalty miss in Moscow last May cost Chelsea the European Cup.

There was a time when it would have been almost unthinkable for a sportsman to cry in public, which was why Kim Hughes's tearful resig-nation as Australia's cricket captain was such big news in 1984. Hughes,whose own form had dipped under the pressure of leading a team still affected by the divisions of World Series Cricket, stood down after losing a Test against West Indies in Brisbane. Welling up as he attemptedto read from a prepared text, Hughes had to walk away, leaving his team manager to read out the statement.

Twenty-four years on, another national cricket captain broke down while announcing he was stepping down. Michael Vaughan's tears when he announced he was resigning from his England post last year were widelybroadcast and reported, but this time the manner of the captain's departure was less of a story than the actual resignation. Crying, it seems, is no longer news in itself.

"I think it was Gascoigne who reallyopened the way for other men to cry," said Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University. "We know that men don't express their feelings as well as women. I think for men to cry in competitive, aggressive, macho sports like football is quite healthy.

"It's an expression of emotion and people aren't ashamed of doing it anymore. You're seeing a physical, outward manifestation of what someone is actually feeling inside, without disguising it and trying to play the part of a macho man. That's what I like about it, provided people don't start crying just because it's the done thing."

Professor Cooper, who as a Manchester City supporter clearly knows a thing or two about the subject, believes Britain has shown the way in the crying game. "Fifteen or 20 years ago we led pretty stable lives, a nine-to-five culture. Now we lead much more frenetic lives and people areso much more ambitious and achievement-driven. We've been Americanised. Everything is about winning.

"I think that has led us into feeling more pressure. And given the freneticway that we lead our lives we don't have time to express our emotions, until something goes wrong. Then we can't control it because it's overwhelming. It's like a pressure cooker. It just boils over."

The tears, of course, can reveal more than just a hunger to succeed. When Oliver McCall wept in the boxing ring during a fight against Lennox Lewis in 1994, they were the tears of a man in the middle of a mental breakdown. Gazza's tears, with the knowledge of hindsight, may have been evidence of problems yet to surface.

As for Federer, who is becoming something of a serial sobber, the tears were a reminder that no sporting personality has ever controlled his on-court emotions more effectively. The Swiss was a temperamental racket-thrower in his teenage years but subsequently channelled his emotional energy into the business of winning.

"He was a hothead," Rene Stauffer wrote in Quest for Perfection: The Roger Federer Story. Recalling the first time he saw Federer, as a 15-year-old in a junior tournament in Zurich, Stauffer observed: "His temper exploded even from the smallest mistakes. On several occasions he threw his racketacross the court in anger and disgust. He constantly berated himself."

Last Sunday appeared to show that redirecting and suppressing those emotions can only go so far. Once the need for self-control had been removed, Federer's feelings flowed to the surface. "Given the fact he lost to the guy who has taken over his mantle as No 1 it must have been very emotional for someone who has been really focused," Professor Cooper said.

"What we saw was a different kind of crying to what we've seen from Federer before. In the past it was tears of joy. This was an expression of how much he wanted to win, and it surprised most people. He usually seems so focused, cool and controlled. This demonstrated how much winning meant to him."

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