Goal celebrations are less the cherry-on-top than the soggy bottom of the modern game. Less and less do we see the traditional wheeling off, ideally towards your own fans, elated. These runs usually end in a bit of a group hug (memorably parodied by Harry Enfield in his Arsenal ’33 sketch) which is nice and, we must assume helps bonding. But while more players are trying to do something different they rarely end up with anything actually good.
Starting with the most taxing of the basic moves, I have no problem with backflips. I might if I were the manager of one of these players but I’m not and I can see how a little gymnastics might help a man blow off a little steam. Also it’s very much an ‘ego-move’ and, let’s not kid ourselves, you need an ego to be a professional footballer. I prefer flips to the rather needy kissing of the club crest or the briefly ubiquitous fingers pointed to the heavens.
For the less athletic player you’ve got the aeroplane as favoured by Dean Holdsworth and Vincenzo Montella. The dive, utilised as a riposte by Jürgen Klinsmann and its variant, the slide, used in much the same way and then some by Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor’s celebration was in answer to the fans of his former side and that spirit (toned down) informs my favourite of the basic celebrations, the cupping of the ear to away fans. Because if you can hand it out; you should be able to take it. Perhaps uniquely, Marco Delvecchio used to employ a double ear-cup towards his own fans after they had fallen out. Italy!
From the land of the boot we also gained Fabrizio Ravanelli’s jersey over the head. A move he pioneered to avoid getting yellow cards for taking off his shirt. Despite this harsh sanction the original practice has been revived in recent times by Messi in a combo-move that fuses it with the display of the player’s own name on the back of their top. Many imitators have followed including his greatest rival, Ronaldo (the younger).
Beyond the standard celebrations above, there have been a number of players who have tried to extend their brand with signature moves. Ronaldo’s superhero pose was late to the party but may well be the best known; certainly more so than Daniel Sturridge’s terrible ‘the wave’ arm move or Dele Alli’s increasingly bizarre handshakes. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air made a running joke out of this sort of thing in the 90s. Then it was funny because it was ridiculous, when Alli does it, it is just ridiculous. Personally, I never thought I’d pine for the days of Emile Heskey’s DJ and Alan Shearer’s rather basic straight-armed salute.
The last category of celebrations I want to cover are the one-offs. Some like Paul Gascoigne’s dentist’s chair are pure tabloid but many, notably Samuel Eto'o’s old man, will be beyond the comprehension of the casual football viewer and a few beyond reason at all: I’m still waiting for an explanation of Finidi George’s dog piddle. In the same tournament (against the same side) Maradona ran screaming towards the camera in a one-off, his warped face, that of the best footballer on the planet now declared over-the-hill by many, knocked the world back on its heels.
My all-time favourite celebration also started as a one-off but due to public demand and its own awesomeness became a signature move. Stand back everyone, Peter Crouch is doing the Robot.