John Calvin, the 16th century French theologian, wrote that there is within us “a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul.” This is especially true of sports fans. After falling down a Youtube rabbit hole one night, I discovered Danny Baker’s Right Hammerings. In the video, Baker points out that when we see a 6-0 scoreline, we don’t think that Leeds had a great victory, but, rather, that “Palace got a right hammering.” There’s something dark that lurks inside of us and looks on with glee as a team is thoroughly tonked.
A recent example of the meanspirited nature of fandom is Messi’s 2nd goal against Bayern Munich in the first leg of the 2015 Champions League semifinals that caused a social media meltdown. Was it because it was an incredible goal, illustrating Messi’s wizardry with the ball at his feet? We might say so, but in our moments of quiet introspection it becomes apparent that we love that goal because it feeds our darker side. We love that goal because he completely embarrassed the defender Jerome Boateng, leaving him prone on the ground sheepishly watching as Messi delicately floated the ball past the best goalkeeper in the world. When we celebrate that goal, we aren’t celebrating the artistry of the game; we are merrily delighting in the complete ruin of another human being. It’s sick, but we can’t help ourselves. We enjoy it because it didn’t happen to us, or, as Mel Brooks puts it, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
The best illustration of this sporting schadenfreude is the Panenka, so named for Czechoslovakian midfielder Antonin Panenka who won the 1976 European Championship by delicately chipping his deciding penalty kick past Sepp Maier. While Panenka’s audacity and boldness to try such a thing is a delight, what I love about the original Panenka was that it was performed on Maier, the goalkeeper that had won the previous European Championship and the World Cup two years before. Despite all those victories, guess what’s the only clip I’ve ever seen of him. Is there anything more emotionally sadistic than watching a world class goalkeeper made to look like a fool as he dives low to one side but then ruefully tries to reach the agonizingly slow shot going past him? Yes. The most diabolical joy in all the world: the missed Panenka.
Weirdly, another notable Panenka often gets overlooked. Zinedine Zidane scored a beautiful Panenka (against Gigi Buffon, no less). The reason why it is often overlooked is that it occurred early in 2006 World Cup final, and Zidane finished the night with an even more iconic moment. If you play those two videos while listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “I See a Darkness” it’s amazing how it syncs up. In closing, I ask you how often do you think back to that match and smile to yourself as you recall Zidane’s elegant penalty? Probably not as often as you search Youtube for “headbutt,” you sick degenerate.