Offside, 1 October

Red tape is tying up goal celebrations.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

What is the point of Peter Schmeichel? I mean, what exactly does his post-match wittering contribute to the sum total of human knowledge? Bugger all if you ask me.

Take last Saturday’s Match of the Day, for example. Schmeichel took issue with the yellow card shown to Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie for celebrating a goal against Crystal Palace by leaping over the advertising hoarding. Of course the booking was ridiculous. If the referee was following the letter of the law then clearly the law is an ass.

But then the red-nosed Dane went and blew it by suggesting that Palace’s Andrew Johnson – AJ to his admirers – should have been booked for his goal celebration. The Villa fans had barracked AJ from the kick off because he once wore the blue jersey of local rivals Birmingham City. Fair enough. They’ve paid their money so they’re entitled to scream blue murder at their opponents.

But when AJ scored the opening goal he trotted to the Villa fans in the Holte End and faced them, arms spread wide. As provocative gestures go it was relatively tame but it had the desired effect. The Villa fans were incandescent. They were out of their seats, shouting and screaming and giving him the wanker sign. Technically AJ could have been booked for provocation, but let’s face it, football wouldn’t be the same without a dose of good old-fashioned incitement. Winding up the opposition is a fine footballing tradition and we outlaw it at our peril. It’s the stuff that ‘atmosphere’ is made of. Take away the needle, the excessive passion, and the ritual trading of abuse and you destroy the atmosphere.

Hendrie’s yellow card is the latest in a spate of early season cautions dished out to players for improper goal celebrations. New FIFA guidelines on ‘unsporting goal celebrations’ are now starting to bite. This week Patrick Kluivert was also booked for removing his shirt after netting for Newcastle. A couple of weeks ago Everton’s Tim Cahill was controversially sent off for lifting his shirt over his head Ravenelli-style after scoring his debut goal. Most commentators felt that the decision was wrong but, adding to the confusion, so too did FIFA president Sepp Blatter. ‘A referee should never expel a player just because he pulled his shirt over his head; he should just have a word with him’, said Blatter. ‘If you take off your shirt and wave it over your head that’s different.’

But what is the difference between lifting a shirt over your head and removing it altogether? None as far as I can see. ‘With rules like this, they are trying to turn us all into robots’, complained Kevin Keegan in a rare moment of lucidity. ‘Some guy stuck in an office in Switzerland dreams this stuff up. It is just stupid.’

Not only is the wording of the current law wrong, but the spirit of the law is too. FIFA guidance advises that: ‘A caution is only warranted if a player gives an excessive demonstration of jubilation.’ The phrase ‘excessive demonstration of jubilation’ is particularly striking. Jubilation is a pretty powerful emotion and any attempt to impose strictures on jubilation simply serves to suffocate it.

If FIFA wants to stop unacceptable goal celebrations there are far more deserving candidates. For example, I can’t abide those whacky choreographed goal celebrations which are intended to get a team of lower league cloggers on to They Think It’s All Over. You know the sort of thing, Darren Nobody bundles the ball over the line and suddenly all his team mates are walking on their knees, flapping their arms, imititating wildfowl. It might have been amusing once but now it’s Not Funny Anymore. A straight red card for all the perpertrators would be a proportionate punishment.

And then there are those extremely annoying ‘cradling the baby’ celebrations. When Brazilian striker Bebeto first performed this celebration in the 1994 World Cup finals it had some novelty value, but there’s no excuse for players still doing it today. It’s not clever and it’s not funny. A yellow card for lack of imagination.

And now that Alan Shearer has registered his single raised arm goal salute as a registered trade mark, I think it’s only fitting that he should be booked every time he performs this gesture. ‘Why have you booked me, ref?’ ‘Because you look like a twat, Shearer. If you waint to hail a taxi do it outside the stadium.’

I jest, of course. There are plenty of goal celebrations which I find infuriating but that is no reason to prohibit any of them. As long as it doesn’t involve bestiality or necrophilia, footballers should be allowed to celebrate a goal however they wish.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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Topics Politics


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