I'll Be There For You. Or Not: The Role Of Friendship In Sport

Antony Herbert@LeeUwishWritingAnalyst IIIMarch 2, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  John Terry of Chelsea and Wayne Bridge of Manchester City walk past each other prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on February 27, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

Much has been made of the incident seen between love rivals John Terry and Wayne Bridge when they met at Stamford Bridge at the weekend. Wayne’s face down demeanour and decline of a handshake with the former England captain spoke volumes.

So Wayne’s decision to quit the England team has been met by some with an edge of sympathy.

However others have responded to the news with harsh criticism. They fail to understand why a player who may feel slightly uncomfortable with a team mate who made them a laughing stock.

So was Wayne right to ditch his personal aspirations and possibly hinder England’s hopes all in the name of a lost friendship? Or his choice a catastrophic decision that portrays him as just a willing cop out?

Constant spectatorship and active competitiveness do go hand in hand. The ability for players to compete but also maintain sportsmanship becomes highly essential, yet sometimes one must take precedence.

Maybe it depends a great deal on the sport.

In a sport such as football there are occasions when a team is regarded as a one man team. Liverpool without Gerrard is Torres and ten other men, and vice versa. This is a notion widely reported by the media and pundits who believe that a team without either is lacklustre and incapable of consistent results. So one man in this ideal can achieve greatness for himself and the club with his single name in the spotlight. He does not necessarily need to be the best of pals with his team mates; they just have to be able to feed the ball through to him.

This can be seen however as quite a naive view. Someone like Fernando Torres can only do so much and often he relies heavily on the approach of his ten other team mates who must weasel the ball towards him and ultimately the net.

Also on a vastly greater number of occasions a sending off in a match leaves the resultant ten man team disadvantage. The opposing teams impending domination is then usually quickly forthcoming unless the ten man team can use co-operation and stability to halt any embarrassment that could emerge.

So imagine then if Terry and Bridge found themselves in the same England team where an alternative player was shown red. Would they be able to function properly as team mates in a manner that would rescue optimistic possibilities of glory?

Those who do not regard the closeness of team mates as definitive would say that it would cause little interference in the consequential activity. Most managers or accompanying team mates would surely not want to risk this undesirable occurrence.

Many will remember the fallout between John Arne Riise and Craig Bellamy at Liverpool when the latter used a golf club to show the Norwegian star up for refusing to take part in a karaoke competition. Bellamy’s behaviour left the media perplexed and shocked gifting Benitez one of many reasons to show the Welshman the exit quite soon after.

You do sometimes get the instances though where a dramatically flawed partnership can reap certain rewards. A team in crisis can often produce higher levels of performance against the odds.

Despite neither driver winning the drivers title Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1 produced a fine display of cumulative results which enabled their team Mclaren to edge the constructors title in 2007.

Although on occasions they both behaved in a detrimental fashion, and despite their achingly close title credentials being shattered in the final Grand Prix, they achieved a consistency proving capable of glory. Their team was showered in triumph even if their competitors visibly portrayed a constant dislike for one another.

On the downside it has to be mentioned that especially the reputation of Fernando Alonso was heavily dented and many began to regard his as arrogant and disruptive. This was an opinion that undid much of his previous seasons of credible title wins.

Of course there are certain occasions when a team can appear to be completely equivocal and successful in their campaigns. A team of inspirational players, revealing a fondness for the game as well as an admiration for their team mates is a rare but often demolishing force.

Manchester United’s football team are a collection of friends who envisaged this form of friendship throughout the nineties and early noughties. Their complete trust in themselves as well as their counterparts heavily influenced their continuous victorious displays, allowing for multiple trophies.

Their manager Alex Ferguson must not go without mention as well, being a manager who provided a mouthwatering role model to any under his wing. He allowed his team to bulldoze at a rapid pace with a team which consisted through the years of many of those who saw the beginnings of his illustrious reign. There is an clear indication of this in Ryan Giggs’ dedication to the club and his portrayal of a player always in union with his team.

What provides the greatest spectacle is a friendship that can alter itself through realms of both togetherness but also in distinction. A friendship able to survive on both sides of the spectrum, and to survive on a global scale allows us as spectators to witness absolute beauty on a regular basis.

I can think of no other better example than Venus and Serena Williams. Here are two players who are not just sisters but also great friends as well. Their compassion for one another is often highlighted by their support of the other to succeed in singles matches. Recently this has been added to by their barrage of doubles titles which has illuminated them high and above any other doubles partnership.

They have become often unbeatable and instantly idolised as a result.

Yet they can also fight with enormous passion and fierce aggression when finding themselves upon opposing sides of the court.

Serena has no qualms in admitting that the second she faces Venus in a singles match, she forgets any friendly feelings and sisterly love, focusing entirely on attempting to defeat her competitor on the other side.

Such expression in opinion has repeatedly enabled us a followers to witness scenes of perfection on court. Matches between Miss V Williams and Miss S Williams have regularly left us speechless. 

Certain sports such as Tennis and F1 do indeed offer greater room for a competitive edge between friends. This may be in part due to the smaller number of team mates that competitors compete against on a match or race day. A lack of respect between a duo can however lead the results downwards and is at great risk in such small proportions.

However when a sport features larger numbers of team mates and competitors it can also often have the unexpected effect of a vastly weakened team as well.

Within a football team of eleven it is required to be just that; a team of eleven. With one person failing to pull their weight the whole show may fall sensationally to pieces and so the importance of compassion between team mates can prove vital.

Even if the friendship is frayed in parts it must still exist in a form of respect and willingness to aid each other.

Fernando Alonso found out to his detriment that if he can not co-operate in his role as a team mate and competitor that he will be shown the door.

So in retrospect if Wayne Bridge has put the England team behind him you must feel that the relationship with his former team mate John Terry is simply beyond repair. Yes a friendship between team mates is not necessarily the most important aspect of the game. We would rather see a show of talent than a vision of admiration, but in this instance on is believed to influence directly on the other.

And for this reason we must respect his decision, all be it with a little regret, to deflect away from the international game.


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