There are so many baskets in basketball, usually quite a few touchdowns in football, but very few goals in a soccer game – sometimes, not even one. Therefore one shouldn’t be surprised when players describe the moment they score as a moment of pure joy, complete insanity. The result is celebrations that often become classic for being entertaining or symbolic – such as new father Bebeto’s cradle celebration in the 1994 World Cup.
In other cases, loss of control leads to stupid actions.
One can point to the ecstasy of the moment as an excuse for Nicolas Anelka’s silly gesture, when he celebrated his goal on Saturday with a reverse Nazi salute, the “quenelle,” invented by French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, well known for his controversial and sometimes possibly anti-Semitic views. “This was a dedication to my friend Dieudonné,” Anelka tweeted. It might be that the French striker’s gesture wasn’t motivated by anti-Semitism, but rather by a momentary lapse of reason. Still, he might face an extended ban by the English Football Association.
This wasn’t the first time Anelka came up with a controversial celebration. In 2010, when he scored for Chelsea against MSK Zilina, he raised his arms as if they were handcuffed. “It was just something for the French [soccer] federation about what happened at the World Cup,” he explained. This was his response to his 18-month ban from international soccer following the meltdown in the French camp in South Africa.
Numerous players from different countries are solid proof that when the ball hits the net, the mind can be rendered useless for several seconds. Sometimes this is expressed by weird, yet entertaining responses − such as when Sevilla midfielder Francisco Gallardo celebrated a goal by teammate Jose Antonio Reyes by biting on Reyes’ genitals – and sometimes the celebrations are simply repulsive.
Drugs and homicide are usually not issues to be taken lightly, but that didn’t prevent Chivas striker Marco Fabian de la Mora from carrying out a mock execution on a teammate after scoring in a Mexican league game, sparking outrage in a country where drugs-related violence claimed 44,000 lives in 2011. Both players apologized and were fined. One can also wonder as to Tim Cahill’s handcuff celebration several years ago, dedicated to his brother who was imprisoned for assault. The victim, incidentally, lost his eyesight as a result of the assault.
These acts may indicate the vacuum most players live in – focusing on themselves and their social milieu. How about celebrations alluding to recent events? Well, yes, but mostly if these events are directly related to the players. Luis Suarez celebrated a goal in last year’s Liverpool derby by diving next to Everton’s manager at the time, David Moyes, who accused him before the game of diving, saying that it turns fans away from the game; Emmanuel Adebayor celebrated a Manchester City goal by dashing all the way to the Arsenal stand – baiting the fans of his former team who had been booing him throughout the game. After reports that he threatened a teammate with a golf club, Craig Bellamy celebrated a goal for Liverpool with − yup, you guessed it − a mock golf swing.
Still, you do have exceptions. Robbie Fowler, who once revealed a shirt supporting dock strikers, was banned for four games after going down on all four and “snorting” the white pitch lines. That was his response to baiting by rival fans. In his autobiography Fowler admitted that the gesture was premeditated. “I had enough of all the verbal abuse and the chants insinuating I was on drugs,” he wrote. “Even now, I don’t understand some of the responses. Fine, it wasn’t the smartest move and I understand I shouldn’t have been so explicit, but I couldn’t believe the stick I got in the following weeks. I turned on the TV one night and saw a bunch of journalists discussing me. One spoke of the bad example for the poor little kids, how I encouraged drug abuse.”
Instead of countering the rumours, Fowler said, the celebration only strengthened them. Gerard Houllier, Liverpool’s manager at the time, claimed at first that Fowler was only pretending to eat grass as a homage to his teammate Rigobert Song, who imported the unique celebration from Cameroon. Fowler later recalled that journalists told him that they hardly managed not to burst out laughing at this explanation.
In many cases the celebrations are premeditated, such as the English team’s celebration after scoring against Scotland in Euro 96, when Paul Gascoigne lay on the pitch and his teammates squirted water on his face – referring to the infamous alcohol scandal involving national team players before the tournament. During his time at Glasgow Rangers, Gascoigne twice emulated playing the flute – a Protestant symbol. The player said that when he did the first time, he didn’t understand the significance. After the second time, against Celtic and its Catholic supporters, Gascoigne went as far as to admit it was a mistake, but was nonetheless fined and had to cope with death threats.
When Jurgen Klinsmann signed at Totenham in 1994, there was talk of him diving. Klinsmann recalls that his teammate Teddy Sheringham suggested that he celebrates his first goal for the club with a dive. This time it worked out for the striker. “The humor of the gesture made me popular in England,” he says. At the time, Klinsmann’s celebration caught on for a while, and some never forgot it. Klinsman’s compatriot Lewis Holtby celebrated in similar fashion his first goal for the same club.
“I saw it done so many times,” says Dennis Swills, an amateur player. That February, Swills scored an exceptional solo goal and dived into the mud, but instead of sliding forward, his face hit the ground, causing him a spine injury. Surgery saved him from complete paralysis, but he never returned to the game.
Still, there’s a huge difference between successful or less successful gestures in response to rival fans or the press, and downright offensive gestures. Mark Bosnich didn’t even score a goal – he was a goalkeeper when he showed the Nazi salute at Tottenham, whose fans are associated with the London Jewish community. He later claimed ignorance, saying it was a joke.
Paolo Di Canio certainly wasn’t joking when he made the same gesture as a Lazio player. After the infamous event during a Rome derby, Di Canio was quoted as saying that he was “a facist, not a racist.” He later denied this quote, but repeated the gesture in a game against Livorno and said: “I couldn’t avoid it. I’m proud of being the target of people who cannot accept our values.”
Still, when in October Mauricio Pinilla scored the winning goal for Cagliari, shoved past the ushers and broke into the stands, it was purely a soccer sentiment: It was the club’s first home game after 18 months of playing hundreds of kilometers away, following the stadium’s closure. “When you score, you never think of the yellow card,” he said, “you only want to celebrate with the fans.”
On the other hand one can find peaks of nonchalance. Photoshop lovers had a field day earlier this year playing with Thierry Henry leaning peacefully against the goalpost after scoring for the New York Red Bulls. “It meant nothing,” he explained, “I needed a rest and saw the post.” Anelka could probably learn a thing or two from Henry.