Offside, 20 March

'Spitter' Diouf did well to disrupt the mawkish love-in between Liverpool and Celtic fans.

Duleep Allirajah

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‘There’s no place for spitting in football’, declared Celtic striker John Hartson after Liverpool’s El-Hadji Diouf had spat at Celtic fans during the UEFA Cup quarter-final first leg last week.

Could this be the same John Hartson who famously kicked his West Ham team-mate Eyal Berkovic in the head during a training session in October 1998? Hearing the fat-necked forward pontificating about spitting is a bit like listening to Dr Harold Shipman complaining about medical negligence.

While a bone-crunching tackle or an elbow in the ribs are part and parcel of the ‘hard but fair’ tradition of British football, spitting is seen as beyond the pale. Football’s hard men seem to take particular offence to a flying volley of phlegm.

‘Spitting is a coward’s way of getting your own back from people who aren’t so strong in the tackle’, says legendary Chelsea tough guy Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. ‘It’s the sort of thing which makes you feel like going up and smacking him with a right hand’, he added without a hint of irony. When Patrick Vieira spat at Neil Ruddock in October 1999, the defender got his grammatical knickers in a twist with rage. ‘What he did was scum’, ranted Ruddock. ‘He’s scum. A nasty man. It’s the worst of all things. The lowest of the low. A disgrace.’

Such is the shame attached to this forbidden act that most expectoration suspects go to extreme and frankly ludicrous lengths to explain away their actions. Rangers captain Lorenzo Amoruso’s justification for spitting at Ayr United’s James Grady in February 2003 is straight out of the Railtrack PR Handbook of pathetic excuses. ‘All through the game I was having to clear my nose and throat because I was congested’, insisted Amoruso feebly. ‘I may have spat but I did not aim at him and he must have ran into it accidentally.’ Yeah, right.

Amoruso is not the first player to deploy a comically unconvincing defence against the charge of spitting. When Gianluca Festa was red-carded last year for flobbing in the face of Sunderland’s Kevin Phillips, his excuse was equally lame. ‘I did not spit at him but some blood did come out of my mouth as I remonstrated with him’, muttered the Middlesborough defender implausibly.

Birmingham’s Christophe Dugarry is currently facing an FA rap for aiming a greenie at Aston Villa’s Joey Gudjonsson. ‘Christophe has told me he did not mean to spit at the player’, said manager Steve Bruce. ‘But he spat in Gudjonsson’s direction at the floor in disgust at him over what he had called him and what he had said. It was like a Gallic gesture.’ (What, like those other misunderstood Gallic gestures: feigning injury, kung-fu kicking spectators and waving white flags?)

Gerard Houllier has also tried to play the cultural difference card in El-Hadji Diouf’s defence. ‘I don’t think he realised that there is a difference in the way spitting is seen between different cultures and different countries’, said the Liverpool manager. Maybe the Kick It Out campaign should organise a day of action to promote cultural tolerance of spitting. English players could don ‘Spit on me’ t-shirts while supporters could hold up ‘Respect Saliva’ placards.

Diouf has been docked two weeks’ wages by Liverpool, handed a two-match ban by UEFA and could face prosecution by the Procurator Fiscal. His punishment is somewhat excessive, in my opinion, particularly when you consider that nobody was actually injured by his flying saliva. However, as those baying for his blood see it, Diouf is culpable not just for spitting at Celtic fans but also for damaging the ‘special bond’ between the two clubs.

Personally, I think he should be applauded for disrupting the mawkish love-in between the Liverpool and Celtic fans. They even wheeled out veteran pop warbler Gerry Marsden to orchestrate a saccharine sing-along rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It was as if all the pre-match pies had been spiked with ecstasy. The match was billed as the ‘Battle of Britain’ but, until Diouf rudely punctuated the nauseating orgy of good will, it felt more like a special edition of Songs of Praise.

And, as far as I’m concerned, there should be no place for that sort of behaviour in football.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

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