Sport is always sweet when your great rivals are suffering

Derek Daly on why we often enjoy the misery of our opponents as much as we savour our own team's victories
Sport is always sweet when your great rivals are suffering

England's Harry Kane dejected following the FIFA World Cup quarter-final exit to France. Picture: PA

THE German people should be thanked profusely, for without them we would not have one of the greatest words in the English dictionary.

Schadenfreude which, of course, means the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune, is not only a humdinger of a word but also a genuine feeling and one that, if we are all honest, sums up why we take so much interest in sport.

And before we blame it all on the Germans it must be noted that this feeling is very much a universal one, with many other cultures and languages also having words and phrases that capture that guilty pleasure of deriving delight from other people’s adversity and misadventure.

The Japanese have a saying: “The misfortune of others taste like honey”, while the French speak of joie maligne, which is the feeling of taking delight in other people’s suffering.

There are others too, but the German word just captures the emotion with the most enthusiasm and verve.

Famously the German word is used in English due to there being no direct counterpart in the English language.

There may have been an assumption years ago that there is no such word in the English language due to there being no such feeling in Britain, but one look at the terraces in English and Scottish football will inform you very quickly that schadenfreude is very much alive and kicking in the Premier League, and always has been.

In sport, it is a real thing. A study in Germany, yes those guys again, in 2015 deduced that football supporters smiled more quickly, and with considerably more relish, when their main rivals missed a penalty than when their own team scored one. Sometimes schadenfreude can actually top your own celebrations.


I think most of us can relate to this feeling. If we are honest schadenfreude simply makes sport better. Why else would you watch your own team’s rivals in action?

Yes, we all like to attend games live or sit down and watch them on TV, for the skill on show, or the drama of it all, but it helps to have some skin in the game, and when that skin is potentially an unhealthy brandy butter sized dollop of schadenfreude then yes please.

That could be shouting against England at the World Cup, or deriving pleasure from a Liverpool slump or the latest crisis at Manchester United.

It might be taking waves of untold joy when Kerry lose in football or when Kilkenny come crashing down in hurling. It might even be more local than that. 

In fact, you might argue that the closer to home the schadenfreude, the more glorious it is.

Supporters of the Barrs, the Glen and the Rockies will know what I mean here, but so would the likes of Doneraile and Buttevant, or Urhan and Adrigole, as local rivalries that span generations continuously swing back and forth one way or the other.

 Ben Heffernan, Glen Rovers, battling John Barrett, St Finbarr's, in a P1 Minor Hurling clash. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Ben Heffernan, Glen Rovers, battling John Barrett, St Finbarr's, in a P1 Minor Hurling clash. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Quite often your own club does not have to be winning for you to be enjoying a local championship result.

Some folk would even have you believe that a rugby supporter in Ireland should support all the provinces when they are playing against non-Irish opposition. To this I say Balderdash. Any time Leinster lose should be a day of rejoicing for Munster fans, and vice versa.

What is the point in having rivalries if everyone just gets along? Where is the craic in that? There’s no room for being the better person when there’s some tasty schadenfreude up for grabs.

There are probably even a lot of friendships out there that rely almost exclusively on schadenfreude.


How many of us only contact old friends when their team loses? When a local GAA team goes crashing out of their respective championship, or when that ‘friends’ favourite Premier League team comes a-cropper there is a lunge for the mobile phone.

Gifs on WhatsApp of Antonio Banderas looking smug, or any number of Leonardo di Caprio options can be sent in order to rub it in and to receive that dopamine kick that schadenfreude inevitably brings.

Payback is expected at some stage, of course, but that doesn’t stop the messages being sent.

So, this Christmas message is a simple one. Never feel guilty about obtaining joy from the misfortune of someone on a sporting field or arena.

It is one of life’s great pleasures, and one that should be encouraged and enjoyed to the upmost.

Now where is that Antonio Banderas gif when I need it?

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