Kuqi's dive, Keane & Lua Lua's acrobatics, Balotelli's indifference. Welcome to IBWM Paul Gleeson.
With a glint in his eye, Robbie Keane launches himself into a fluid cartwheel-followed-by-forward-roll movement, finished with the customary gun slinging projection to the crowd. Meanwhile, Filippo Inzaghi hurtles with no inclination as to where he is heading, hands sporadic, with his mouth contorted in the image of Munch’s The Scream. Perhaps the crème de le crème though, is the Klinsmann dive – considered de rigueur within celebration etiquette.
What, though, is to be said for the arrogant glare or the refusal to acknowledge anything having happened. Of late, Mario Balotelli has taken to declining the flamboyant nature of the celebration and rebuking the hedonistic divulgences of his peers, favouring a more minimalist approach. In turn, a slight moral panic materialised, the likes of which Britain had not seen since the snood threatened to effeminate the world.
As any traditional patriarch would do, Roberto Mancini, as father figure to the City clan, joked of strong-arm tactics to set the wayward, divisive Balotelli on the right track. Balotelli replied, mooting the point that just because he doesn’t celebrate, does not mean he isn’t happy to have scored.
Despite this, there still remains a proportionally great core that insists on players celebrating: to rebuke is to sully the club and its fans, who suppose the players should embody their own hopes, aspirations and emotions on the field of play.
Overwhelmingly, players will abide to the given discourse of celebration; that it is not optional, but necessary. During the course of fixtures, commencing on New Years Day, only two of the twenty-five goals scored were not celebrated. Those two happened to be by the unfortunates, Zubar and Jagielka, both scorers of own goals, who skulked away, looking a tad embarrassed.
Sports psychologist, Martin Perry, who I imagine talks in a soft understanding tone like Dr Melfi, believes the celebration to be a construct of multiple elements. It could, he suggests, be conducive of a genuine need to express feeling, or it may be a symbolic gesture, evoking duality between players, spectators and owners. Occasionally it could, perhaps, take a political stance, while sometimes it’s a demonstration of agility beyond normality, a la Lua Lua or the flying man, Shefki Kuqi.
However, with Mario, it seems he neither possesses nor desires the compulsive fervour to express his goal through celebration, nor does he offer up gestures of humility to the admiring throngs of supporters and directors. His anti-celebratory manner is perceived as such an antithesis to common sense ideas of celebration, that it is bound to cause consternation amongst supporters. What refusal to express joy does is not just question club-player-loyalty; it also challenges the values of footballs hegemonic power bearers – the fans and owners.
Common sense, or Habitus, to adopt Bourdieu’s (1968) terminology, is ‘a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, function at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions’. To celebrate when you score is just one of many culturally held predispositions; as is lambasting refereeing decisions or hitting the deck when caressed across the face. It’s just what happens. As with all spectres of common sense, they must derive from and be upheld by a social hierarchy, which within the football sphere is the fans and also the owners, as previously alluded to, who form an unholy alliance akin to Molotov and von Ribbentrop dreaming up the German and Russian non-aggression pact.
So, when Super Mario bypasses the celebration he is, to an extent, opposing an element of football that is, really, the minimum required expression of loyalty, expected by fans and owners. Ignoring the minimum requirement has exposed MB to a swath of criticism, principally because it remonstrates with the values and ideologies held amongst the games hegemonic powers. A bit like a stern old teacher, they don’t like defiant young upstarts.
Hegemony, as a social force, is supposed as becoming naturalised via two main tools: coercion and consent. Attempts to coerce Balotelli, via verbal cajoling, are currently being applied. Slowly but surely, according to the theorem, he should embrace the celebration like a long lost friend. His attempts to counter hegemony were valiant, they will say, but doomed to failure. Sociologies Robin Hood, the naysayers snigger, will soon benignly submit to the will of the ruling junta and assimilate to the view of footballs dominant groups. So the plan goes.
Balotelli, though, could yet still prove to be the last great bastion of hope in the battle against discourse and hegemony. Currently, numerous courageous souls are countering discourses of masculinity, braving it with the snood: transferring a long established continental trend, as modelled on the catwalk by pre-eminent fashion darlings, Pagliuca and Totti, to the Premier League. If the pro-snood faction can forge a sustained challenge to the anti-snood hegemony within football, where men are men and do not get cold, then Mario may stand a chance.
Yet, despite all this theorisation, the snood is a different beast entirely to the celebration. Come summer, the snood becomes yesterday’s news as it is stowed away with those well-worn long johns, at least until winter breezes back. Meanwhile, the celebration lives on, defying seasonal weather changes.
Even though Balotelli is doing his up most to defy and challenge, the thought is inescapable that whilst fans celebrate, passionately leaping forwards into the warm, longing embrace of that gent who smells of dog and beer, an expectation will prevail that players should express, even a minute proportion of, that feeling of elation.
While we have him though, lets rejoice in his individualistic nature and revel in the stubbornness. Screw you, hegemony.
To read more from Paul & see his quite brilliant artwork, visit his excellent site here