It is through the bad times that the good supporters reveal themselves. Step forward those Aston Villa fans who remained at Villa Park until after the final whistle on Tuesday night, to applaud Bradford City. Through the prism of their disappointment, the Villains provided an emotional encore to what was the greatest shock of the season by some distance.
Bradford, from the fourth tier of English football, in the final of the League Cup . . . who could deny this club its moment in the sun?
Football is full of bad losers. The good losers are rare. In this case, the good losers showed enough class to realise that the story was not about them. It was about the fairytale. It was about the club that, apparently, cost £7,500 to put together.
Too much is written about the atmosphere created by fans during the good times or during the moments when there does not appear to be anything to lose. I was there in Istanbul when Liverpool were trailing by three goals at half-time to AC Milan in the 2005 Uefa Champions League final. Yes, the Liverpool supporters were superb. Yes, they played a small part in Liverpool’s dramatic second-half revival (and subsequent victory).
But, to my mind, the Liverpool fans were never better than they were after the final whistle in Athens two years later. Their team had just lost to AC Milan in another Champions League final between the teams. Despondency hung in the air. But when the Milan players took the trophy towards the expanse of space occupied by a sea of red, the Liverpool fans got on to their feet as one to disseminate the loudest round of applause I have ever heard. I was in the press box that night and I found the experience quite edifying.
It takes class to be a good loser. I know personally some of the Villa fans who stayed behind to applaud Bradford. I was proud of them, just as I was proud of the Liverpool fans who realised at Athens 2007 that it wasn’t about them. It was about somebody else.