David Preece: Footballers don't just play for enjoyment - and the Women's World Cup is proving that
I sometimes wonder if the people complaining about “unsportsmanlike behaviour” in the US’s 13-0 win over Thailand in the Women’s World Cup have ever played competitive sport at all themselves.
At the highest levels, sport is more than just a game. People dedicate their whole lives to achieve their dreams and give their lives meaning. Sport, and football in particular, is a powerful thing.
It affords the chance for those thrown a bum deal to burn their cards and play a different hand. It gives purpose to this who would be lost without it.
Of course there is more to life than sport but what is life if not a competition to survive and do so as best you can?
Those who say it’s just a game are the ones who have the luxury of saying so.
To others it’s more than just a game and they shouldn’t be policed by people who feel pain and embarrassment on their behalf when they have been humbled by such a scoreline as the Thai women.
The thing is with sport, however damaging those defeats are mentally, those wounds will heal.
Yes, they will be scarring but it’s those experiences that shape you and give you character. And I should know.
I wish I’d had a glittering playing career filled with more 7-0 wins than defeats but the reality is that it’s a 2-0 win for the defeats column and that’s just the way it is.
When people suggest that the US team should have taken the their foot off the pedal and eased up on their amateur opponents they cheapen the competition.
The Thailand team appear at this tournament on merit and deserved their place by way of qualification and as disappointed as they will be, the last thing they would have wanted was pity.
Whatever you think of their level of play, you don’t reach World Cups by playing for fun or enjoyment. Sure, you get it, they are by-products but you play to win, for the challenge, to test yourself against the best and their level was shown for what it was. But there is no disgrace in that.
What would be a disgrace is to be the ball of wool between a cat’s paws, toyed around with for no reason. I think back to Cruyff and his all-conquering Ajax side of the 70’s going three or four goals up and instead of trying to score another goal would try to hit the post or the crossbar because that, in Cruyff’s words “was the most beautiful sound”.
When I first read of him saying that, I revelled in its purity but putting myself in the gloves of those opposition keepers they toyed with, the embarrassment that a team was actually trying NOT to score against me would have been a far more damaging experience to me than losing by double figures.
I’d rather lose by 20 goals than go through that.
Competition has to have winners and losers. Sometimes those losers lose in a big way but it’s also part of that team’s evolution.
Positives will come from this for Thailand. Investment in their game will come, measures will be taken for improvement and next time these two teams meet the difference in the teams might not be so vast.
So whilst they can take heart from what seems like the depths of that defeat, whatever you do, don’t pity them.
These women are achieving something I could only have dreamt of by playing in a World Cup for their country and the last thing I feel for them is shame.