In Celebration of Celebrations

In Opinion, Sport on November 4, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Infamous Mario Balotelli, to use a now well-worn cliché, sets the Manchester derby alight with a sublime 16 yard finish and, in celebration, reveals a T-shirt which reads: ‘why always me?’ Unusually, he doesn’t – directly at least – wind anyone up, he doesn’t harm anyone and he doesn’t indirectly endanger anyone’s safety by rushing to the crowd. Yet, inexplicably, he is booked.

Mario Balotelli: 'Why Always Me?'

Mario Balotelli: 'Why Always Me?'

In fact, he provides the millions watching with a great show, in particular reference to his recent mad-cap antics of setting his house on fire by lighting fireworks out of his bathroom window – something Sky Sports picked up on mischievously, playing out to the ad-break with the goal accompanied by Katy Perry’s Firework.

Granted, ‘Super Mario’ is not everyone’s cup of tea (but the Premiership would be distinctly duller without him), and in the end the booking mattered little as City went on to trounce United with the help of another Balotelli goal. In fact the incident could only have been better if Balotelli had revealed after his second a t-shirt that said ‘because I never learn’, and received a second yellow for it.

But Ballotelli’s booking for a supposedly inappropriate celebration illustrates a more worrying trend in football: that of stamping out any colour from the game. Indeed, on the same weekend, Nottingham Forest’s Guy Moussi received a second yellow for over-exuberant celebrations. If you just scored the winning goal against your fiercest rivals, wouldn’t you be ecstatic enough to celebrate wildly, even if it made you wince later?! As a Gooner, I detested Adebayor’s length-of-the-pitch run to celebrate in front of Arsenal fans, but didn’t once question his right to do it (his choice to do it is a separate issue).

And, if what Nottingham Forest’s Billy Davies says is true, it seems even many officials don’t approve of the law. After Moussi’s dismissal, Davies said: “The ref said he was really sorry and that he didn’t agree with the rule but he had to send him off. I said he was right so what do you do? It is the most pathetic rule ever. Your player is celebrating a goal and it comes from sheer emotion and he goes and forgets himself for two or three seconds and runs into the crowd. I’m gutted for the lad.”

But the worst example I have seen of this is during a recent game between Wycombe and Port Vale. Wycombe’s 15-year-old Jordan Ibe, on his football league debut, equalised with a stunning run capped off by a stinging finish. In celebration, he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with his family on the touchline. Despite no safety issues, the ref saw fit to give this touching show of gratitude and emotion. The words ‘have a heart’ come to mind.

It is a great paradox that so many complain footballers are faceless dilettantes with no connection to or passion for their clubs, yet we reprimand them for showing any passion or character in their celebrations. If passion is really such a vice in the eyes of football’s big-wigs, then they are dicing with the devil. Since it is a vice/virtue that football trades upon, as millions are dragged weekly to the stadiums and pubs to ardently applaud, berate and mock.

It is of course slightly different if cards are given to punish/deter players from celebrations which, supposedly, directly or indirectly endanger fans. These are the ones in which players run to the stands to celebrate with similarly elated fans. But, not wanting to appear blasé about safety worries, to my knowledge there has not been any incident where anyone has been seriously injured in this instance.

Rugby bodies seem to have the same stern, humourless stance as their round-ball counterparts at present. There was outrage in many quarters at what Martin Johnson rightly described as some ‘rugby players drinking beer’. (And, admittedly, one indulging in some adulterous canoodling at least, but this should be a matter for the couple and the couple alone).

Also, Manu Tuilagi got fined £3,000 for jumping off a boat – a less throwaway sum for rugby players. Quite how this ‘brings the game into disrepute’ I have no idea. He did not play the sport unfairly or insinuate that anyone else did, utter a derogatory comment or disobey/undermine anyone’s orders. In fact the only person the act could have possibly affected was himself, as he indeed found, claiming when he surfaced that it was much colder than expected.

And the French rugby team got ludicrously fined by the RFU for transgressing ‘ritual cultural protocol’ in marching stoically, but not violently, towards the Haka, despite the great spectacle this provided and no protests from the New Zealand players themselves. Why should they – or any other team – be forced to be cowed by this psychologically advantageous act?

So one is led to think that in many cases, for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, one can just read: ‘merely having a laugh or some personality’.

Just a few thoughts lest football even rugby become like prim-and-proper tennis, where spectators routinely let out astonished gasps at racket ‘abuse’ and utterances of filth such as ‘crap’ and ‘damn’….

For where else can we have such a cathartic outlet for euphoria, rage, and all between as in football. Is it socially acceptable to run around the office screaming at the promotion one got above one’s colleague and friend? No, is the simple answer, and it shouldn’t be. Sport plugs this massive hole between fantasy and reality wonderfully, and we should be thankful for that – not stifle its outlandish tendencies.

Late American politician, Earl Warren, once said: ‘I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures’. More fool on us if in humourless control of sports we confuse the two…

Joel Durston

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