When is catching an 'L' truly a loss?

If you change your perspective, you may find that you've been looking at losing all wrong

18 August 2019 - 00:09 By

Image: Aardwolf

A friend I've known all my life, Mdu Mbili, is notorious for interrupting you mid-sentence during a heated debate about any subject, to tell you, "I hear you, but Chiefs caught an 'L' this weekend, didn't they?" Back when I was a Kaizer Chiefs supporter, I heard that a lot. But losing, or "catching an 'L' ", is not as straightforward as we all make it seem, innit?

People have been nagging me to watch the Netflix series Losers. This past Friday, I relented. I wish I'd watched it earlier. It is brilliantly conceptualised and executed. Losers turns our concept of "losing" on its head. It interrogates whether the situations and events we characterise as "losing" are truly losses. Let that one marinate a little.

On face value, when King Moshoeshoe and his people settled upon Thaba Bosiu circa 1824, they were fleeing the Mfecane troubles (or isiphithiphithi, to quote former president Zuma). They were losers, right? Or were they?

The Great Russian Retreat in the face of superior German firepower in the spring of 1915 during the Great War was considered an act of capitulation until things turned around in the autumn. History now records it as a major strategic move.

History will not reflect that, a century earlier, an outnumbered and inferior Zulu nation led by Shaka fled with their tails between their legs from the mighty Ndwande army, deep into the Nkandla Forest. History will characterise this a strategic masterstroke that led to the massacre of the Ndwandes on the banks of the Mhlathuze river.

But back to Losers. Episode 2 is dedicated to the football team of a small coastal town in the southwest of England, Torquay United, a rubbish team. The episode focuses on their gallant, epic match against Crewe on the last day of the 1986/1987 season, when they needed just one point to avoid relegation. With the aid of fate, prayer and voodoo power that entered a police dog named Bryn, prompting him to bite a chunk off Tourqay United's right back Jim McNichol's leg, they survived the drop.

Our former minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula, would call this football team "a bunch of losers". But I ask again, Are they? Is our collective definition of "losing" apt?

Let's suppose you have two matric students in the same maths class. Student A has maintained an average of 90%. Student B's average is a paltry 35%. Student A is assured of a place at university to study actuarial science if she can maintain it. Student B just needs to climb over the 40% mark in math to get the barest bachelor's pass. Student A has a wobbly final exam and ends up with a 84% in maths, missing out on a place in actuarial science, but Student B miraculously obtains 43% and gets accepted into varsity. Who is a winner here and who is the loser? This is clearly a ridiculous question, right? But I bet you spent at least five seconds on it, going, "Hmmm".

Here's the fascinating bit. This past Friday I'm watching an English premiership football match between Liverpool and newly-promoted Norwich City. The expectation is that Norwich are bringing a Swiss knife to a semi-automatic rifle gunfight and that they'll be massacred. Liverpool don't disappoint. In the first half, they are on the rampage. They put four goals past the hapless Norwich defence. In the second half Liverpool come out in a pragmatic mood. Keep things tight, don't take risks and catch them on the counter as they try to fight back. As a result, they fail to score a single goal that half.

Norwich City, on the other hand, go ballistic. But they're particularly unlucky or woefully inept in front of goal. Late in the game, they pull one back. The final score is 4-1. Here's the most delicious irony. At the end of the game, the Liverpool fans are applauding their team mutely. The Norwich fans are jubilant, singing "One-nil in the second half" at the top of their voices - easily one of the coolest scenes I've seen in a while.

We boxing fans have a beautiful phrase to sum up it up: 'Which guy would you have chosen to be at the end?'

We boxing fans have a beautiful phrase to sum up this phenomenon. Scoring professional boxing matches is a complex, technical exercise. A few times, the fighter who wins the decision has taken a more severe beating. When that anomaly happens, someone will ask, "Which guy would you have chosen to be at the end?"

I started high school at a Catholic boarding school, Inkamana, in 1984. I went there with my best friend since grade 5, a particularly quarrelsome chap. My friend was involved in a few successful physical scraps in the first two weeks to establish the physical dominance "we" required to survive.

Finally, he got his behind handed to him by a lanky fellow from Newcastle. Every recess, lunch break and free time we got in that 24-hour period, my buddy was grinding away at Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns from Newcastle.

By the time he instigated the sixth fight, "The Hitman" was either too exhausted or too bored and turned his back. My friend declared victory. A mere mortal might declare this a 5-1 loss for my friend. But that would be looking at this all wrong.

In the end, "we" won.

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