The last time I went to a game of football and the team I was supporting scored a goal I celebrated, if it was a really big game or a really important goal, I really celebrated, fist pumping, hugging people beside me that I didn’t know and letting out a colourful barrage of joyous expletives that only a Scottish football fan can. Do you know why, because it feel’s brilliant, a release of tension built up over a week of knuckling down and doing some of the things that you necessarily never wanted to do in the first place, all to pay for that ninety minutes on a Saturday, Sunday or whatever day it may be where anything could happen.
Now imagine you are a football player, finely tuned to give everything for those same ninety minutes and you score a goal, what you do next is crucial, how do you celebrate? A knowing nod to the crowd? Do you kneeslide to the corner? Do you gather your teammates together for a ridiculously over choreographed routine involving the lady whose quietly minding her own business at the first aid station, or do you simply stand arms outstretched soaking in the cheers or boos that the crowd are bellowing at you and you alone? Sometimes the classics are the best and wrapped up in the emotion of it all you pull at your sleeve hard and the next thing you know you are whirling your top above your head like you’re about to take off. As things calm down you put your top back on and jog back to the centre circle where you are greeted by a referee standing with his hand in the air waving a yellow card in your face.
Seriously!?!? I know this isn’t a new phenomenon, but an incident in a match between Everton and Southampton agitated me so much that it prompted the words you see before you. With Southampton 1-0 down and 20 minutes left to go substitute Gaston Ramirez took a pop at goal that had no right to go in but Joel Robles in the Everton goal made a hash of it and so with joy Ramirez spun away to celebrate taking his shirt off in the process. That’s not all though. He then gave the shirt to a young Everton fan sitting in the front row. So not only has he pulled his team back into a difficult game but also contributed to making that young fans trip to Goodison one he will likely never forget. His reward for all these positive efforts, a yellow card. It’s just ridiculous.
A quick history lesson, in 1999 Ryan Giggs scored perhaps the greatest FA Cup goal of all time in a semi final against Arsenal that was the culmination of one of the great rivalries of the modern era. A majestic run and finish that continued after the ball had settled in the goal as Giggs, with the hairiest chest seen in the UK since Pete Sampras last changed his shirt at Wimbledon, sprinted around the pitch with his top waving wildly in the air. Did he get booked? Of Course not. So what’s changed?
Well not a lot, a quick glance at the FIFA 2013/14 rulebook and what merits a cautionable offence in relation to the ‘Celebration of a Goal’ can be read as follows:
A player must be cautioned if he removes his shirt or covers his head with his shirt.
Leaving the field of play to celebrate a goal is not a cautionable offence in itself but it is essential that players return to the field of play as soon as possible.
Referees are expected to act in a preventitive manner and to exercise common sense in dealing with the celebration of the goal.
In the case of Gaston Ramirez, was common sense used? I don’t think so, and in the numerous other cases where a player is booked for the removal of their shirt is common sense used as best practice? I’m not sure.
It’s all abount interpretation. My interpretation of the rule would be that unless the removal of the shirt is done so in an inflammatory nature or to display a message inappropiate in its context to its surroundings then a yellow card would not be required. However the mandatory wording of the initial law would mean that if this was in force over the last 20 years Fabrizio Ravinelli would have had as many suspensions as he would have had goals, renowned for pulling his shirt over his head whenever he scored a goal, he would have been left to twiddle his thumbs as part of his celebratory routine.
Arguments that players should not show their bare chest are becoming redundent when so many players wear body hugging under armour to prevent muscle strains and a common sense approach can be used in countries where such a gesture will cause offence. The removal of garments to flash an individual sponsors logo like the infamous Nicklas Bendtner boxer incident may cause the bean counters in Geneva a headache but in actuality cause no real harm. In fact the huge deal that FIFA made of it only highlighted Paddy Power’s cause further and that’s without the ludicrousness of a fine that was greater in amount than many given to clubs across the globe for the overt use of racism, violence and homophobia within their grounds.
I am not saying the rule is wrong, as I have stated in some instances a yellow card should be considered, what I am suggesting is to take away the mandatory nature of the caution and let actual common sense on the part of the referee decide the players fate. If we don’t then moments like the one experienced by that young fan at Goodison will be a thing of the past and in my eyes that can not be for the good of the game.