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It was only a goal celebration

No one got hurt. No crime was committed. So why all the fuss over David Norris’s celebratory handcuff gesture?

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Now let’s just get one thing straight. David Norris’s ‘handcuff’ gesture after scoring for Ipswich against Blackpool was only a goal celebration. He didn’t actually commit a crime. He didn’t drink and drive. He didn’t kill any children. No one got hurt. So why has Norris been fined by his club and warned about future conduct? Why has a gesture by a relatively obscure Championship footballer sparked a ‘Manuelgate’-style moral furore?

A bit of background: Norris’s friend and former Plymouth team-mate Luke McCormick is currently serving a seven-year jail sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. McCormick, returning from Norris’s wedding, was drunk when he crashed his Land Rover into a people carrier, killing two young boys and crippling their father. Norris has said of his cross-wristed celebration: ‘It wasn’t a handcuff sign, it was a private message.’

The player has now apologised to the victims’ family. Ipswich Town has fined him because of ‘the potential for misinterpretation of the gesture’. I didn’t know that making a gesture, which might be misinterpreted, was a disciplinary matter, but there you go. Even more bizarrely, the club has said it would be donating the fine ‘to an appropriate charity’. Go figure. Out of curiosity, what exactly constitutes an ‘appropriate charity’ in these situations? Action Against Easily Misconstrued Gestures? Offensive Goal Celebration Concern?

If Norris is guilty of anything it is naivety. Given the extraordinary public scrutiny to which footballers’ conduct is subjected these days it was foolish of the player to imagine that, even with only 7,349 spectators at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, his gesture could remain private. ‘The country recoiled in disgust from the idea that a sportsman had chosen to mark his moment of personal achievement with an act of ignorant and obscene insensitivity’, declared Des Kelly in the Daily Mail (1).

Did the nation really recoil? Were any spectators at the game actually offended? I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. The press is ready and willing to take offence on our behalf. Reporters door-stepped the bereaved family and got the quotes they wanted: ‘I’m disgusted. To celebrate a goal like that is disrespectful to me and my husband and my boys’, said Amanda Peak, the dead boys’ mother.

‘Norris is doing this in front of thousands of supporters, including children’, she continued, ‘and sending out the wrong message that we can drink and drive and it’s OK to kill someone’. So, from a gesture that might or might not signify handcuffs, Norris’s goal celebration was redefined as a ringing endorsement of drink-driving and murder. By Monday morning the story hit the front pages and Norris was fed to the really easily offended lions.

How far we’ve come from the days when footballers were laced up and goals were celebrated by a simple handshake. Things started to go awry in the Swinging Sixties. Goal celebrations started getting more decadent. Players ran around waving their arms. They hugged and kissed. More recently goal celebrations have become increasingly choreographed. Players now imitate wildfowl, fire imaginary weapons, cradle babies, or perform gymnastic routines.

Invariably, as goal celebrations have become more elaborate, they have become subject to regulation. In recent years the football authorities have taken steps to stamp out excessive goal celebrations. Players are now cautioned for removing their shirts, jumping over the perimeter fence or provoking the crowd. It’s all quite absurd when you step back and think about it. These are goal celebrations we’re talking about. Silly mimes, dances and gestures performed when a goal is scored. They don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

However, as David Norris has discovered to his cost, a goal celebration is no longer a meaningless bit of tomfoolery. As with many other hitherto insignificant activities, like shopping or throwing away rubbish, the way you celebrate a goal is now seen as a moral act. And, like shopping or waste disposal, there is an ethical way to celebrate and an unethical way. Handcuff gestures are generally not a good idea. Tim Cahill’s handcuff celebration in March 2008 – a tribute to his brother who was serving time for an assault which left a man partially blinded – was also widely condemned. Glorifying weapons is not advisable. Rio Ferdinand was criticised for a firing an imaginary bazooka (apparently a homage to a shoot ‘em up Playstation game). Drug-related celebrations? Just say no. Robbie Fowler was fined £35,000 by the FA and handed a four-match ban for his coke-snorting goal celebration in 1999.

But not all goal celebrations are bad. We’ve recently seen the emergence of the ethical goal celebration. A number of players, including Fitz Hall, Micah Richards, Andy Johnson, Titus Bramble and Marcus Bent, have celebrated goals by forming the letter ‘A’ with their fingers. This A-Star salute is part of a campaign to persuade young people that guns, drugs and crime aren’t glamorous.

It’s time we restored a sense of perspective. Read my lips: You can’t change the world through goal celebrations. It’s not goal celebrations we should be worried about. What’s really sad is that we should get so worked up over something so trivial. A society in which footballers are punished for celebrating a goal is a society that has quite evidently lost its moral bearings.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.

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spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Obscene intrusion by Norris is beyond belief, Daily Mail, 11 November 2008

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