Fresh from Lewis Hamilton’s outburst after the Monaco Grand Prix, we look at his place in the wider pantheon of British sports people.
Tim Henman, Eddie the Eagle, Colin Montgomery, the England football team; all are examples of that famous breed of great British sporting losers. For those uninitiated in this mystical, but sadly not mythical, genre of sporting underclass, a brief definition would be: a person (or team) who demonstrate the ability to play sport at a high level (well, Eddie the Eagle got to the Olympics didn’t he?) but, for whatever mental reason, couldn’t quite push over the finishing line to achieve the ultimate prize.
The most famous of those must be Tiger Tim, the Lord of Henman Hill. He tried, he was good, sometimes very and, most of all, he just seemed nice. Apart from one well-publicised incident with a ball girl (he hit her with a ball), he never seemed to lose his cool; he always lost with dignity, behaved with pride, had good manners and appeared to be well liked within his sporting community. The perfect British sportsman.
His successor in the British tennis world is Andy Murray who, at least on court, appears to be an angry, petulant, barely constrained ball of rage. A single-minded determination to win shines from his every pore – he’s dismissive in interviews and forever angry at himself in his attempt to push himself forward into the elite of world tennis who’ve won a Grand Slam. And, you know what, we don’t like him very much.
Another modern British sportsman to suffer from the same attitude is Lewis Hamilton. But why?
When he came into Formula 1 as a McLaren protege he was confronted with double world champion Fernando Alonso in the same team. He took him on, toe-to-toe, faced him down and effectively made the team pick one of them at the end of the season. Unsurprisingly, they chose the driver they’d nurtured through junior formula, was British and, it turned out, pretty damn quick. This led to two altogether more friendly team-mates in Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button. Tick.
When it came to making difficult decisions that straddled his personal and professional life, he did that too. Goodbye Dad, hello one of the biggest sports agencies in the world. If he’d been a proper British sporting hero, he’d have kept his Dad on. Wouldn’t that have been nice?
Does he conduct himself well at all times? No. Evidence his outburst after Monaco and his tendency to blame his team when things go wrong. That said, it doesn’t seem to have served those notorious underachievers Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho that badly does it? You don’t just have to think that you’re right and everyone else is wrong, you’ve got to believe it beyond a shadow of a doubt. The British sporting hero shouldn’t apportion blame, at least not to anyone but himself, and should be continually grateful to his support staff for getting him in a position to compete.
We in Britain don’t tend to like things like that – we think he’s too uppity, too forward, too brash, not humble enough and lives a lifestyle so far apart from the rest of us he may as well be on a different planet. Witness the reaction to Ricky Hatton, a man whose fame didn’t seem to have changed him in any way at all, who drank beer, ate fry-ups and whose fans were moved to travel half way across the world on a regular basis to support their man. He was them, they were him. That was love; Hamilton only inspires respect, if that.
However, speaking personally, that’s what I want to see. A British sportsman who, quite frankly, doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks and has a realistic view of how good he is and his value to his team. It’s his career, his legacy, his talent and he has a responsibility to make the best of it. Loyalty to McLaren, or to anyone holding him back, would be stupid.
Yes, he may have a pop star girlfriend and an annoying beard, pierced ears and a liking for big sunglasses, but he’s a winner and one of (if not the) best. Maybe that’s why we don’t like him.