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Idiotic celebrations and lunatic fans
by Paul Gardner, September 17th, 2009 1:07AM
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By Paul Gardner

I see that goal celebrations are in trouble. Emmanuel Adebayor's performance in front of the Arsenal fans -- after he had scored against Arsenal, his old team -- has been deemed provocative and inflammatory and maybe even seditious. It so upset the Arsenal fans that they started throwing things, including a bottle that knocked out one of the security personnel.

So Adebayor will be punished, no doubt, with a few games of suspension. Quite right. He behaved like an idiot. As for the Arsenal fans -- how would you describe their behavior? They go ape, hurl anything they can find, and try to storm the field. That sounds like pretty idiotic behavior, too, doesn't it? All because one of their former players -- one they didn't get on with too well -- scores against them and then runs the length of the field to taunt them. Big deal.

But one thing is certain. The Arsenal fans will be excused for their stupidity. All part of the game, you see. It shows that they are passionate fans who love their sport. Apparently the only way of proving passionate interest these days is to commit some act of outright lunacy, preferably one that involves physical violence and mayhem.

While I was in England recently the specter of classic hooliganism -- which everyone thought was safely buried -- rose monstrously up during and after a game between the London rivals West Ham United and Millwall. Not pleasant. Especially for the fan who was seriously injured in a stabbing incident outside the West Ham stadium.

The press had a field day with the "return to the dark ages" but the soccer authorities (no doubt worried about the effect on England's World Cup hosting bid) played the incident down, and suddenly we were listening to the same phrases we used to hear so regularly in the heyday of hooliganism back in the 1980s and 1990s, when all the trouble was blamed on a "small group" of sociopaths who "aren't even soccer fans."

Small group? There were quite a lot of fans involved -- and hundreds managed to get on to the field. As to the "not even soccer fans" -- well, when rowdy riotous behavior has become the pretty standard method of showing one's devotion to a team, who's to say?

Times have changed, of course they have. Such behavior as Adebayor's and the fans' reaction to it belong only in these times. That didn't happen decades ago -- indeed, simply couldn't have happened. You can decide for yourself what sort of progress we've made.

I'm not here to say that it was all better back then -- I know that's not true. But what I find disturbing is the implied slur on the old-time fans, the implication that, because they didn't riot or throw things at opposing players, they were not "passionate" about the game -- or at any rate, not as passionate as today's fans.

I'm quite sure that's not true. Actually, there were a lot more fans at games in England in the 1940s and 1950s than there are today. They cheered and roared and booed and jeered, but rarely, if ever, were they malicious.

That is what has changed so drastically in the game. Sportsmanship has virtually disappeared. It has been replaced, believe it or not, by something called "passion." These days, to be passionate about your team means being utterly biased in its favor, totally unable to see anything good about opposing teams or players. An attitude closely linked to the willingness to go to any lengths to win a game.

FIFA has its Fair Play campaign -- and it remains just that, nothing more than a low-key campaign. FIFA has also gone to great lengths to convince us that the sport brings only joy and happiness wherever it goes. During the Confederations Cup telecasts from South Africa we were repeatedly shown crowd shots of carnival-dressed fans dancing and blowing those horrible horns, all having a great time it seems -- but none of them was ever watching the game. These were soccer fans? Merely because they were making a lot of noise? I guess so -- because that no doubt proved their passion.

A moratorium on soccer passion, or at least on the use of the word -- particularly here in the United States, where it is least understood -- sounds like a great idea to me. We might then be able to get rid of these damn goal celebrations altogether.

To start with, why do players rip off their shirts? No one did that until -- when? Maybe 15 years ago? Nobody even thought of it until then. It is hardly a natural, spontaneous reaction. The heaped-up bodies seem a bit much, too.

But the worst are these fatuous dances and embarrassingly silly little acting routines that players now like to go through. They get increasingly complicated as they involve teammates. When things get that choreographed, you know they're anything but spontaneous.

I should think those routines probably have to be practiced. How long before, at the end of soccer telecasts, we see something on the screen like "Chelsea FC's Goal Celebration Ballets Produced and Directed by the Stamford Bridge Nijinsky Dance Ensemble"? I would recommend less practice time spent on goal celebrations and more on corner kicks, which are uniformly awful in pro soccer.

Passion there will be -- but the word, a noble word, has lost its way when it has come to mean a state of mind that hovers perpetually on the edge of anger, when its spectrum has been narrowed down to comfortably embrace everything from blind allegiance to outright hatred.


  1. John Hofmann
    commented on: September 17, 2009 at 10:37 a.m.
  1. Harmon Barnard
    commented on: September 18, 2009 at 3:53 p.m.
    I don't always agree with Mr. Gardner, but this time he is right on. I think most of the problem is a symptom of our current society. Bad manners, lack of responsibility and no regard for good behavior has now become that standard.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: September 23, 2009 at 5:36 p.m.
    Great column. As for excessive celebrations, I'll pass on one comment that I heard that I think best summarizes how the scorer should act: "act like you've been there before..."

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