At the trophy presentation for almost every cup competition around the world of football, you’ll see the runners-up taking off their medals as soon as they receive them.
Colloquially referred to as the “losers medal”, the football team who loses the cup final receive a medal to “reward” them for their efforts in the competition. Whether it is the World Cup Final or the FA Vase final, footballers dread being seen with a runner-up medal around their neck.
However, if you’ve worked hard all season to reach the cup final, why would you reject a reward for your efforts, even if you didn’t win the final game?
In this post, I’ll explain why footballers take off their medals as soon as they receive them.
It has become common practice for footballers never to acknowledge a “runners-up” medal.
In an episode of ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’, Crouch talked about how little care he has for his medal for reaching the UEFA Champions League final with Liverpool in 2007. He said that he had no idea where his runners up medal was and hasn’t known since the night of the final. Peter expressed that this is common practice for footballers.
After all, they’re essentially getting a reward for losing, and no elite athlete wants to be recognised for losing.
How Medals Are Perceived In Other Sports
The same pessimistic approach to second place in football doesn’t translate to every sport, however.
The Olympics is one of the biggest sporting events that occurs every four years, with athletes competing at the pinnacle of their chosen discipline, yet you’ll see athletes celebrating second AND third place.
So, why do the athletes who finish second and third in the Olympics react vastly differently to footballers?
Firstly, there could be the fact that footballers are in the centre of the spotlight almost every single day. It’s a worldwide sport with a lot of attention constantly pointed towards them, which, in turn, inflates the egos of some footballers (or creates a constant wall of defensiveness, depending on how you look at it).
They know that one slight mistake will be zoomed in on and magnified by the media, so they can’t be seen to be celebrating a loss even in the slightest.
This is in stark contrast to the Olympics, where second or third place could be the greatest achievement for an athlete and is worth being celebrated not just by them but by their entire nation.
The Euro 2021 Final
The entire country of England was glued to their TVs on the 11th of July 2021 in the hope of the country’s first major international trophy since the 1966 World Cup, when they faced Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
Football didn’t “come home” for England that year – if you didn’t know already. But they did win a runners-up medal!
Was it a cause for celebration? The England players didn’t think so.
They were seen taking off their medals as soon as they received them after losing the match on penalties. Mason Mount didn’t even let the medal get over his head before he took it off!
As a figurehead and leader of the England national team, Gareth Southgate (head coach of England) kept his medal on as he applauded the fans. But it didn’t last long as he took his medal off just a few seconds later.
From the outside, it could seem like a complete disrespect to the manufacturers of medals for footballers to try their best, not even to acknowledge them.
Due to being unable to write about England “bringing football home”, several media outlets in England jumped to report how ungrateful the players are for taking off their medals. Of course, it could also have been the first time many people in England watched football as well.
So, they were confused as to why the England players weren’t happy or grateful for coming so close to winning.
The governing bodies of the Papa John’s Trophy (EFL Trophy) have seemed to adopt an alternative to the notorious “losers medal”.
After Plymouth Argyle lost 4-0 to Bolton Wanderers at the 2023 Papa Johns Trophy final, they climbed the famous steps at Wembley Stadium to receive a small rectangular box rather than a medal.
This saved the embarrassment of the Plymouth Argyle players taking off their medals because they could discreetly hide their boxes as they walked back to the changing room. I can imagine that it also saved the English FA some money.
Instead of spending resources manufacturing a medal that has a high probability of being thrown away within minutes of it being presented, a discreet box has a higher chance of being kept by the players – even if they don’t necessarily want to be reminded that they lost a cup final.
Could you imagine a footballer celebrating losing a match? Whatever team you support, you wouldn’t like to see them celebrating after receiving a runners-up medal – it’s embarrassing.
Even if Wrexham suffer a narrow loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup final next season, you won’t see Ryan Reynolds lifting a runners-up medal in celebration.
Footballers taking off their medals has been the normal thing to do for a long time and will continue that way all the time the losers of a match are rewarded for losing. No athlete wants to hold the record for most runners-up medals in their career.
Taking off their medals doesn’t mean that they’re spoilt rich kids who happen to play football, though.
The principle of accepting a medal for losing goes against everything that professional athletes stand for. Working hard to reach a final and falling at the final hurdle is unacceptable for those who want to achieve legendary status for their club or country.