I am not sure where the tradition comes from, but tears after failure have been de rigueur and socially sanctioned in sport since at least the Iliad, when Greek warrior Diomedes unabashedly wept over losing a chariot race. And thank God for that.
Because what would we do if our champions did not miss a few penalty kicks? What would we do if every once in a while, these undisputed, alpha superheroes did not stand there, heartbroken, weeping and publicly defeated, before a crowd of millions? What would we tell our children then?
How would we put across the message to boys that it is okay to cry if they had not seen Bukayo Saka, 19, sobbing and being comforted on the sweaty manly chests of his teammates, even as Gianluigi Donnarumma, 22, was raised aloft on the shoulders of his?
When footballers go out there to take (or face) penalty kicks under tremendous pressure, they are not just taking one for their country or their club—they are taking one for everybody in the whole world, and especially, they are taking one for all young boys and men.
And when they miss, they reassure us that it is okay to fail. And it is okay to cry after you fail. And that life goes on after the ‘epic fail’ and there will be many more opportunities, many more joys, many more learnings to come in the future.
Honestly, Virat Kohli’s dud score of one run in two consecutive World Cup semi-finals has provided me with more motivational fodder while giving pep-talks to my kids, than any of his victories have. I mean if Virat can fail, and that too so spectacularly, then surely you, little twelve-year-old who fluffed your notes during your piano-performance, are allowed to cut yourself some slack?
Virat ruined it for us mommies who want our boys to be in touch with their emotions by being all stoic after these infamous dismissals, but if we rewind slightly, he did weep in 2012, when he was the youngest player on India’s T20 world cup squad. As soon as South Africa crossed the 121-run mark, which ensured India’s failure, tears welled up in Virat’s eyes, causing girls all over India to surge to their feet and let out a long, screeching cry in unison, ‘Aww, how cute’, even as their mothers grabbed their younger brothers and said, ‘Look, Virat is crying. He’s in touch with his emotions, you can be, too.’
But no other sport gets the pathos, the beauty and the dignity of failing after trying your hardest as right as football does. Because those kids try their darndest. There is nothing half-assed about their effort, they really go all out, and they do it with full theatrics, and all the bells and whistles, and raw, nautanki-saala elan.
In a world full of blasé, insouciant young men and boys, who feel they have to be chill, and underplayed and world-weary all the time, the enthusiasm, the sheer lack of chill and the unabashed wearing of your heart on your sleeve that football spotlights every time these big tournaments happen is gorgeously refreshing.
Unfortunately, because of some inexplicable rule of male etiquette that I cannot quite grasp, it is not okay to weep like this when your grandma dies, or your old dog has to be put to sleep. Or when you become a father. Or when you get made redundant at work.
These events, though admittedly tragic, are somehow not as devastating as a missed penalty kick.
And so, me and all the other mommies continue to live in hope of a day when off-field tears on the faces of our boys will finally be normalised.
Meanwhile, weep no more, Saka. You may have been blocked by Donnarumma, but you sure scored over grandma.