The Look Of Losing

The siren sounded and my nephew in brown and gold sat shell-shocked. Low on his seat, shadowed by adult figures in red and black clapping and cheering.

What happened?

But we always win?

Between the hips of the fans in front, a young Essendon fan looks back. Same age as my nephew, 7 or so – his face impassive. The adults moved on, just empty seats between the young Essendon fan and our shell-shocked little Hawk. The little Bomber was staring directly at him, but the little Hawk was somewhere else.

Was he searching for the memory of winning?

The small Bombers’ eyes, behind his black-rimmed glasses, a pack fastened to his back, trained on the little Hawk for a sign of how to react. He scrunched his chin slightly, in a throw of empathy for the sadness he saw in my nephew. Just enough, the correct sentiment, and as soon as he delivered it, he took it away. He had won, and yet he wasn’t jubilant. He saw the look of losing, but gained no joy.

Had he seen that look in the mirror?

My nephew never met his eye, comforted by me and the rest of the family, behind him he could hear a younger girl in brown and gold crying, her mother telling her not to. Reassuring her daughter she said ‘some weeks you win, some you lose. Today it was Hawthorn’s turn to lose’. The young girl kept crying finding it difficult to relate when in her little lifetime the Hawks had rarely taken that turn.

Five minutes later, my nephew was bouncing on the grass of the MCG, tackling his sister, playing keepings off with his uncle, imitating Cyril, activity had censored his grief. Had he seen the young Bomber staring at him, offering him solace? Or did he refuse a look that he was fearful was filled with pity? Did my nephew feel the pangs of shame at expecting victory, expecting it every time, and then was he broken by the expectation falling short?

In my nephew’s hurt I remembered when I started to mask the look of losing. Now it churns my stomach, and I hold back the sensation not to vomit when we lose, and try not to look like a jerk when the dice falls our way. Who knows, it might be some other team’s turn next time.

My nephew kicks the ball over my head. As I chase it, I feel him gaining on me with renewed enthusiasm. There’s always next week.


  1. Wonderful Jason. Concise and profound. I cannot recall a better debut on the site.
    Made me think a lot about the societal issue of self esteem V self worth in kids. Self esteem being a shallow thing that offers rewards without effort. Self worth coming from trial and personal effort.
    Themes that come through in Mickey’s piece today with the youngster having 3 teams in 3 seasons until mum finally said ‘enough’. And Neil’s piece about hanging in with the Dogs for over 60 years of largely disappointment.
    Like Neil I grew up barracking for perennial losers – West Torrens in the SANFL? Character building? Or ingraining a deep pessimism that presages depression?
    Interesting and important questions. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Rick Kane says

    Thank you JC for detailing with care and consideration a small but very significant moment in the lives of footy fans, young and old. Cheers

  3. Cat from the Country says

    It is hard to see our children/nephews/neices/cousins taste their first real defeat.
    However this is life.
    Win some
    Lose some.
    Thanks for sharing and showing us the resilience of children over disappointment

  4. A bittersweet and paralysing feeling all sports fans know intimately, perfectly captured here. As a Bombers supporter, for the last few years I have known that look of losing too well. So much so that I couldn’t believe the result on Friday. It’s a victory that tells us how important that next game is. Maybe that’s what the little bomber wanted to say: “Don’t worry, you’ll win again. We did.”

  5. nice piece Jason,

    your nephew… He’s suffered a bout of sudden onset disorientation, leaving him with uncertain feelings regarding his identity…but…..and,,,which, seem to have been mitigated by the restorative powers of the hallowed turf, underfoot.

    Resilience in the making

  6. Thank you all for your kind comments, especially in my first endeavour.

    I’m glad the moment afforded each their own vivid reflections as it did in myself.

    Intriguing point Pete about our choice of team and whether it says something about who we are before we know who we are, or who we become. And to the points on resilience, the little champion nephew ran a blistering cross country run just a couple of days later. What loss? Only a chance to improve. Thanks Ross Lyon (I think I’ve horribly paraphrased his comment from a few years ago, or every press conference).

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

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