When does a goal celebration become an offence?

Do you remember the days when if a player scored a goal, his team mates would at the most slap him on the back or shake his hand? The player himself would do nothing more than raise his hand in jubilation, if that. Somewhere along the line these muted celebrations have turned into an extravaganza with the scorer running off in some glorified exhibition of self congratulation, before his teammates settle on him often resulting in him finishing under a heaving mass of bodies.

I thought of this when I read David Downs’ column in getreading in which he described how Reading player Nick Blackman received a yellow card for his unusual celebration. If like me you didn’t see it, what I understand happened was that after Blackman scored his goal against Fulham, he celebrated by attacking the corner flag, I remember an international player who used to pretend to box with the corner flag after scoring but Blackman went a little further and kicked the flag post out of its hole. The referee, Mike Jones, promptly showed him the yellow card.

I think it fair to say that the International FA Board, the games law makers, have never been happy with exaggerated displays after goal scoring and devote over half a page to them in the Laws of the Game interpretations.  They accept that players want to celebrate but say, ‘Whilst it is permissible for a player to demonstrate his joy when a goal has been scored, the celebration must not be excessive’. Of course it is left to the referee to decide what is ‘excessive’. It goes on to say ‘Reasonable celebrations are allowed but the practice of choreographed celebrations is not to be encouraged when it results in excessive wasting of time,’ and referees are instructed to intervene in such cases.

Although celebrations are not specifically mentioned under Allowance for Lost Time in the Laws, they are covered under ‘any other cause’. Remember how Sir Alex Ferguson complained when he thought his team had won the match in added time, only for the opponents to equalise in what he claimed was extra added time. Thanks to the courtesy for Premier League referees chief, Keith Hackett, I was able to see from the pro- zone recording that the extra added time equalled the time United players took for their goal celebrations. Similarly, it says that leaving the field of play is not a cautionable offence in itself but it is essential that players return as soon as possible.

There is however some firm rules which lay down when a player must be cautioned. First, if in the opinion of the referee he makes gestures, which are provocative, derisory or inflammatory. An example was when Emmanuel Adebayor scored for ManchesterCity against his old club Arsenal and then retaliated for the catcalls received from Arsenal supporters by celebrating in front of them, resulting in a yellow card. Next the yellow card is given if a celebrating player climbs a perimeter wall. Royals fans will remember Simon Church being sent off for jumping up onto the wall to celebrate a rare goal at the Madejski Stadium after already being cautioned for disputing an offside decision when still a substitute. Then there is the one that every player knows, so why do they still do it, ‘removes his shirt or covers his head with his shirt’, and the final mandatory yellow card is ‘if he covers his head or face with a mask or something similar’.

Other than that, referees are given a little discretion, for the book tells them that they are expected to act in a preventative measure and exercise common sense in dealing with the celebration of a goal.




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