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Underdogs and Outsiders

Fascinating how the Wimbledon tennis crowds always seem to support the underdog. It’s been a mixed week for sporting underdogs in tennis and football. In Euro 2020 Ukraine were trounced and Denmark edged out by England, one of the pre-tournament favourites. At Wimbledon it has been a better week for outsiders, particularly for Hubert Hurkacz, a Polish player who (admit it!) most tennis fans have never have heard of, who humbled, even humiliated the mighty Federer. We have expended a fair amount of nervous energy this afternoon for young Dennis Shapovalov fighting so valiantly against the Djokovic ‘machine’. On Sunday we shall cheer Matteo Berrettini as his turn comes to battle against Djokovic!


Why this common inclination to side with the underdog and the outsider? Cynics would say it’s because we want a match not a walkover! But there’s probably more to it than that!


Part of it is to do with having your ‘back against the wall’. It’s a phrase repeated many times in a book I have just read, Jesus and the Disinherited, written by a man called Howard Thurman (no, I had not heard of him either). He was in at the very beginnings of the Civil Rights movement in the USA and was a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jnr and other higher profile leaders. He writes on behalf of those who spend their lives ‘with their backs up against the wall’.


Beyond the circus of sport there are so many people with ‘their backs against the wall’. In our small circle of acquaintance we have been in touch with those who face serious health problems, those facing redundancy and the search for another job. And we’ve heard from those who still have their work but who sometimes stagger under the weight of it. Truly many backs against many walls.


And, of course, beyond are the untold global millions with their backs against the wall. They wake to another day when they feel on the outside or at the bottom of the pile, when they will not taste the fruits of success or feel the warmth of inclusion.


Perhaps we identify with the underdog because in some way all of us sometimes feel, or have felt, like an outsider. It may not have seemed so to those looking on but internal and external realities do not always match. There are many reasons to feel excluded, some justified, some not. Most of us will have felt what it is like to be ignored, to feel invisible.

Euro 2020 and Wimbledon will be all over by Sunday night. There will be celebrated winners but many losers too. Many outsiders will remain outsiders still. Underdogs will still be bottom of the pile. Many uncelebrated sports people know, as they trudge around the world, that it is their lot to lose so that a few greats may stride the earth. Some players feel it is hopeless to pursue their dreams. They give up.


So maybe we should keep an eye out for the outsiders and underdogs who cross our paths. Along the way all of us have sometimes needed someone to believe in us, to support us. Just today Adidas have committed themselves to support ‘Common Goal’ a big campaign by sports people to join the fight against global poverty. Adidas have committed 1% of their annual profits to this cause.


Supporting the excluded is, as they say, a win-win situation. But on Sunday of course, it won’t be!

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