Cause to Celebrate
Back in the 1950s, a goal was usually greeted with the scorer rigidly shaking hands with his team mates before trotting back towards the centre circle. Then, for better or worse, the 1960s happened and footballers began to become more expressive in their delight. As time has drawn on and upper lips have slackened (look at Rio Ferdinand`s upper lip for example), the goal celebration has become a more and more iconographic feature of the game. Sky Sports trailers often feature the screaming face of Rooney punching the air, a wide eyed Cesc Fabregas sprinting to the touchline in ecstasy. It`s even considered acceptable nowadays for footballers to break down into floods of tears. Goal celebrations have become woven into the fabric of football; they can be used to hush dissenting voices (Samuel Eto`o`s brilliant monkey dance after receiving racial abuse from Zaragoza supporters), they can be moving (Lampard and Sagna`s tributes to lost loved ones), they can have a political motive (Robbie Fowler`s Liverpool Dockers tee shirt) and some are plain daft (Adebayor`s and Eboue have been ripping off my moves).
This month`s edition of When Saturday Comes features an article on the lost art of the goal celebration, the writer purveying his particular annoyance at the trend for eye bulging, fury encrusted facial expressions that litter the game at present. It got me thinking about the phenomena of the goal celebration. From Kanu`s gun toting, to Thierry`s moon faced pouting, each of us has a memory of a celebration that resonated with us in some way. I still remember Aylesbury Town in the Third Round of the F.A. Cup some years ago; four players sat on the ground behind one another and shuffled across the pitch on their backsides in mimic of a coxless four. Of course, it`s not only goals that yield unusual or memorable celebrations. Older readers may remember David Pleat`s hilarious saunter onto the pitch in the 1980s when Raddy Antic`s last gaps winner saved Luton Town from relegation. Or Martin Keown`s infamous leap of vein bulging zeal at Ruud van Nistelrooy.
When somebody mentions goal celebrations, I immediately think of Ian Wright`s arsenal. A natural showman, Wright took the art of acclaiming a goal to another level in the top flight. Whether break dancing with Kevin Campbell, theatrically puffing out an arm in exclamation of the captain`s armband or cocking an insidious ear to Coventry City fans, Wrighty set the standards. He even pioneered the crudely drawn message on vest that is still trotted out ad infinitum today. With the influx of continental flair into the Premiership in the mid nineties, the goal celebration took on a more cosmopolitan air, whether it be Jurgen Klinsmann`s self mocking dive or Emerson and Juninho at Middlesbrough pulling off the sort of dance moves that would have even the most limber of us on crutches. Perhaps the Premiership`s most definitive celebration of the era came from the finest player of the time. In a Boxing Day match against Sunderland in 1996, Eric Cantona slalomed between three Sunderland defenders before effortlessly clipping the ball over Lionel Perez and in off the crossbar. Cantona stood static, simply turning his head to watch the acclaim po-faced, his collar upturned assessing his kingdom and soaking in the adoration. Like Jackson Pollock momentarily stepping away from the canvas to admire his art.
Some eighteen months later, the collective hairs on the arms of Arsenal fans were ordained to stand erect forever at the mention of Tony Adam`s "would you believe it?" strike against Everton. It is not only the significance and the way the goal "summed it all up", but the celebration. Adams, the recovering alcoholic, admitted prior to the game that he couldn`t even remember his two previous league wins with the Gunners. So once he smashed the ball home with a crashing left foot volley, he visibly closed his eyes and took a deep breath in. He literally breathed the moment in, squeezing it in a tight grip, before letting go of it again, like a butterfly that has fleetingly taken refuge on a nearby leaf. You could see that he was determined to remember this particular moment. One photographer caught a fantastic image of the incident from behind; Adams has his arms spread with the North Bank baying in his presence in the background. Momentarily, he had the whole world in his hands.
A more recent celebration to whet the Gooner appetite comes, inevitably, from Thierry Henry. Running from the edge of his own penalty area, Henry beat the entire Spurs team before lashing the ball into the net in front of the North Bank, in acknowledgement of his genius, Henry decided to run all the way back again, sliding on his knees in a barely concealed scowl at the Tottenham fans in the Clock End. This a man famed for the poker faced celebration. Last season, following his fabulous strike in the San Siro, Cesc ran headlong towards the bench to embrace his manager Arsene Wenger, a tidy snapshot of gratitude and recognition from Fabregas to his mentor. Of course the killjoy authorities are trying to sanitise the routine of the goal celebration; apparently the sight of a footballer`s bare chest is simply too much for the spectators. (Yes, I can see scores of women in the crowd averting their precious little eyes and blushing ad nauseam as a twenty something professional athlete reveals his toned six pack). For one reason or another, some of these peculiar, sometimes even childish acts stick with us. The Italian striker who scored the winner in the 1982 World Cup Final ran around the pitch screaming his own name, just as you did when you were a child in the garden pretending that the tennis ball you kicked in the flower bed had just won the Jules Rimet trophy. Maybe it`s a small part of the game, but it`s a part nonetheless and therefore worth writing about. Perhaps you have a favourite?LD.