Quevilly And The Love Of The Underdog

How we love an underdog, and none are more deserving of that title than French minnows Quevilly. Daniel Storey explains our fascination with the little man...

Last Updated: 18/04/12 at 14:53 Post Comment

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Last Wednesday saw two of the biggest games in European football take place. In Spain, Real got the better off Atletico in El Derbi Madrileno, and shortly before this the full-time whistle had blown in the Westfalenstadion, Borussia Dortmund beating Bayern Munich to step closer to the Bundesliga title.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed both games immensely. Both contained pulsating football enacted to the backdrop of league importance, and were played out in front of intense crowd fervour. The results proved crucial in the title race in two of European football's top leagues and were screened live to a global audience. But neither were the big footballing story that night for me.

At the Stade Michel d'Ornano in Caen, Quevilly were beating Stade Rennais to qualify for the Coupe de France final. For Union Sportive Quevillaise (Quevilly) to achieve such a feat is remarkable. They currently sit 14th in the third tier of French football, and employ many of their players on a part-time basis. Their home ground is the Stade Lozai, which has a capacity of just 2,500.

More impressively still, they have won seven ties to get to the final of the Coupe de France, the last four of which were against sides placed above them in the league ladder. And, in addition, they reached the semi-final of the same competition just two years previously (eventually knocked out by Paris St. Germain), when they were playing in a division even further down France's football structure.

Upsets are one of the most celebrated and cherished of footballing occurrences. Whether it be Senegal 2002, North Korea 1966, Greece 2004 or Wimbledon 1988, an upset ignites and accentuates the glory of football fandom. These are the games that people talk about year after year. There are evident exceptions (Brazil v Italy 1970 springs instantly to mind), but the media will have talked more about Ronnie Radford and Hereford this year than Spain v Holland. One was the World Cup final less than two years ago and the other an FA Cup third round tie 38 years earlier. There is an infinite number of subjects on which football supporters disagree, but everyone loves an upset. And the reason for their popularity? The presence of the traditional sporting hero - the underdog.

Researchers at Bowling State University, Frazier and Snyder, published a report in 1991 on the popularity of the underdog in sport. They asked a large number of American college students to imagine that there were two teams in a seven-game playoff in an unidentified sport. Team A were much more highly-fancied to win than Team B. The students were asked to choose which team they would want to win. 81% chose Team B. Moreover, when told that Team B won the first three matches of the playoff, half changed their preference for the victor, continuing to back the underdog but altering their affinity based on performance.

So why do we tend to back the outsider when they have a lower chance of victory, whilst continuing to curse whenever our favourite team loses?

The first reason concerns our desire for excitement and surprise. Football is intensely popular because whilst professional (and even domestic) life can be mundane, football offers escapism and opportunity for wonder. Before every game we watch or listen to, we make an assumption about who we think will win the game, even if this is done subconsciously. When, as in the large percentage of underdog cases, our assumption is proved correct, we feel self-assured that our expectation was matched. If our assumption is proved incorrect and the outsider wins, we are reminded exactly why we love football. It has provided the unpredictability and exhilaration we crave. Football's, or perhaps sport's, uniqueness is that it provides just enough of these against-the-odds moments of shock to keep an audience addicted.

Secondly, underdogs inspire us by displaying the traditional values that we hold dear, again often subconsciously. When the Greeks were victorious in Euro 2004 and the Danes in Euro 92 they displayed no shortage of technical ability, but the driving factors were morale, togetherness and hard work. It is inbuilt within our human nature to dislike characteristics such as smugness and arrogance, and to an extent we even resent effortless achievement, struggling to feel any connection with an individual or team that has success on a plate. Perhaps it is a purely British trait, but the determination often displayed by the underdog in order to overcome the odds is an attribute appreciated by football fans. An upset proves to us that football is not just about sheer talent, and that perseverance and effort can be rewarded with genuine triumph as opposed to patronising plaudits from those on a higher plane of ability.

But the overwhelming reason for our love of the upset is that we can all empathise with the underdog, because at some point we have all been the underdog. We have all felt uneasy, disadvantaged, out of place or deserving at one point or another, and often some of our most vivid childhood memories are of such times. In our footballing experience, we have all faced a team of players that are better, bigger or more talented, whether it be through playing or supporting. We have an affinity for underdogs because they encourage us to strive for our goals, sporting or otherwise. David beating Goliath means that we can overcome anything. So if New Zealand can draw with Italy at the World Cup or Bubba Watson can win a golf major without ever having a lesson, is there any reason why next season can't truly be our year?

Put simply, underdogs fuel our dreams, because no matter whether it's Manchester City winning the Champions League or Darlington simply surviving, every football fan has a dream. Critics will dismiss such whims as fanciful and an unrealistic dependence on the unlikely. And, in fairness, they may be right; it might never happen. But try telling that to a fan of Quevilly.

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