|Written by Callum Wallace
Liverpool supporter. Devotes too much time to sport. Admirer of French football and occasional writer of rubbish. You can follow Callum on Twitter >> @Wallace_LFC
Aaron Ramsey’s decision not to celebrate after scoring against his former club Cardiff City for his current side Arsenal at the weekend has received praise from all sides, Cardiff fans included. Yet should we really care if a player celebrates or not? And is the act itself really a marker of respect or is it just now cultural standard practice within football?
Goal celebrations have existed in football as long as history dictates. Archival footage from the early part of the last century shows the arm-waving, jumping and joy that is synonymous with football today. Yet the act of the celebration was still fairly reserved for quite some time. Most of our footballing heroes growing up were seen after the ball had hit the net with both arms raised, a smile across their face and maybe a little run around for a particularly good strike. Watching footage from the 60s, 70s and 80s now it seems a bit comical the way almost every player would uniformly celebrate a goal.
As football moved in to the 90s and into the Premier League era with Sky, names on the backs of shirts, money, more money, bigger stadiums, more money, TV deals, sponsors, more money, superstar foreigners, worldwide audiences and more money, the goal celebration began to evolve. The unbridled joy of the fans in the ground and the players on the pitch remained, but the way it was expressed changed.
Choreographed dances, gestures, knee slides, corner flag abuse and more were seen on football pitches the world over. Players even began having their own trademark celebration, as if scoring was merely a precursor to the grandstanding that would follow. Children in the park began emulating their favourite player’s celebration style instead of their technique with a ball. Even players like Cantona who managed to subvert the celebration by often not celebrating (if you can call standing statuesque as if to say “bask in my glory” after scoring a goal not celebrating) were copied. Particular celebrations are now iconic (Cantona vs Sunderland, Robbie Fowler vs Everton etc). Players like Robbie Keane, Nani, Tim Cahill and Daniel Sturridge are renowned in the Premier League for having a very distinctive celebration that’s expected after a goal.
So with the goal celebration being such a big part of football today, is not celebrating against a former club a real mark of respect from a player?
Perhaps it is; a player is acknowledging to the club and its fans that they were a part of that player’s development, and that they have the player’s respect for their celebratory inaction. (The fact that we, as fans, respect the player for this and almost feel ‘less bad’ about the goal is quite funny when you consider he’s left our club and we’re now 1-0 down).
Yet perhaps it’s not; if a player does celebrate wildly against a former club, he is often abused by that club’s supporters even more than usual, as if celebrating is some traitorous act that you just don’t do. For this reason some players may just put their little dance or knee slide away and hang their head like a shameful puppy because they don’t want to be the folk devil, they just want to do the culturally right thing. I think this may well be the case when you consider the journey of certain players who started out at a big club and their career has perhaps plateaued or in the case of many players, nosedived. Frazier Campbell, who made just four senior appearances for Manchester United, declined to celebrate after scoring against them for current club Cardiff City last weekend. A player who scored 24 times in 38 games while on loan at Royal Antwerp, then subsequently made just 2 appearances the following season for United; who was loaned out once more and scored 15 in 27 for Hull, and then made just 2 appearances again the following season for United, refused to celebrate out of respect, apparently.
Robin van Persie didn’t celebrate after scoring against Arsenal last season, yet his match-winner against his former employers a few weeks ago was celebrated with delight and disregard for the feelings of the Arsenal supporters. What a difference a year makes. Perhaps some of the top players such as van Persie would now rather be respected for their footballing ability than whether or not they choose to celebrate. A shocking and absurd notion, no doubt.
With Ramsey in scintillating form this season, and showcasing his talents by scoring twice against his boyhood club who nurtured those talents and helped him reach bigger and better things at Arsenal, it seems appropriate and respectful that he declined to celebrate.
But does it seem appropriate and respectful because it is culturally constructed that way within football? Are celebrations such a big deal today that for a player to control himself and not celebrate is something that should be admired?
It seems so.
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