Footballers’ goal celebrations have evolved rapidly over the years, and it is now far more likely to see a carefully choreographed performance than an impromptu outpouring of emotion from a goalscorer. From Robbie Fowler’s infamous ‘snorting’ of the touchline to Emmanuel Adebayor’s length of the pitch sprint to gloat in front of Arsenal fans, the potential for goal celebrations to cause controversy is something which the footballing authorities are abundantly aware of.
With that in mind, how long is it until messages printed on undershirts are outlawed? The ‘Pray 4 Muamba’ shirts which many players celebrated with in support of the Bolton player were touching but there is nevertheless always scope for inflammatory comments to be displayed.
Manchester City have been at the heart of the recent spate of message-emblazoned shirts, beginning with the tongue-in-cheek ‘Why always me?’ shirt which Mario Balotelli unveiled after scoring in the Manchester derby last season. The start of this season has already seen Carlos Tevez reveal two messages in reference to where he grew up, and Samir Nasri celebrate his winning goal against Southampton by revealing ‘Eid Mubarak’. While these messages are fairly innocuous, some fear that controversy is just around the corner.
There appears to be particular worry over the potential minefield to be navigated if such messages become vehicles for political or religious statements. After all, it is only too easy to envisage a player, especially the likes of Tevez, revealing a message in support of Argentina’s claim to the Falklands and the public outrage it would cause.
I would like to believe, perhaps somewhat naïvely, that between the players and the kit men making these shirts there is the judgment to decide what is acceptable and what is not. However, cynics will always point to the poor judgment exhibited by footballers in general (think of Ashley Cole shooting a youth team player with an air rifle or Balotelli’s various misdemeanours) and state the obvious: that the risk of allowing these displays, albeit a very small risk, outweighs the gains (if any) from allowing them. The only possible gain can be in messages of support like those for Muamba, and in reality the vast majority of the celebrations are simply inane and gratuitous. Moreover, footballing purists would undoubtedly like these celebrations banned simply because, in their view, they have no place in football. Sadly, I have to agree with them on this one.