Celebrating is not a crime

This weekend I watched Aston Villa defeat West Brom 2 – 0 in the FA Cup Quarter-Final, only the second English game I have bothered to watch on TV all season (the other being Sunderland’s late 1 – 0 victory at Newcastle). While the game was mostly dull, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Villa supporters passionate celebrations, which included spilling on to the pitch after both goals and the final whistle.

Once upon a time Villa were a massive club, picking up numerous trophies both at home and abroad. However it’s fair to say that they’ve been pretty consistently terrible since around 1996. They’ve lost two cup finals and had a few brief flirtations with Europe since then but still, it hasn’t been a very fun time to watch Aston Villa. So unless you support one of the Villain’s direct rivals, you’re probably willing to allow them to have their moment of gooning about on the pitch.

I was watching the game on a (totally not illegal) stream so didn’t hear the comments of the BBC pundits until later. When I did hear them, I wondered if I had perhaps watched the wrong game. The English commentators were wetting themselves with rage about “shameful scenes” and “a return to the dark old days”. Really? REALLY?

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Perhaps these commentators would like football crowds to celebrate goals in the same way as a tennis point at Wimbledon, a smattering of polite applause and the occasional strawberry dropped on the floor from all the excitement. The chance to go completely, irrationally mental is the whole reason most people go to football. We work in an office or project site all week for someone who barely knows we exist, making just about enough money to pay our bills and keep stuff in the fridge.

A quick search on Twitter found plenty of people who didn’t agree that celebrating your team scoring a goal or winning a game is perfectly ok:

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This was just a very small selection of tweets. The results went on for page after page after page.

So, should we only celebrate goals that win the Champions League? Should we sit in complete silence the rest of the time, waiting for approval from the celebration committee? Perhaps a message could flash up on the scoreboard when Twitter feels a goal is important enough for it to be acceptable to celebrate?

It got me thinking of the five goals in my lifetime of attending live football matches that I celebrated the most wildly. They’re listed below in no particular order:

Ben Turner (Cardiff City vs. Liverpool – Carling Cup Final)

Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord vs. Sevilla – Europa League Group Stage)

Gareth Bale (Andorra vs. Wales – UEFA European Championship Qualifier)

Elvis Manu (Feyenoord vs. Zorya Luhansk – Europa League Play Off 2nd Leg)

Paul Parry (Gillingham vs. Cardiff City – Football League Championship)

So while the first two goals are against prestigious opposition in Liverpool and Sevilla, the others come against pretty terrible teams, including the nation currently ranked 201st in the world (a list which only goes to 209). Think of your own favourite celebrations. How many of them actually meant anything? If Wales manage to qualify for Euro 2016 you can guarantee I will celebrate like never before (the last time we made a major tournament was 1958), should I not bother just because we’d probably get knocked out in the group stages? What about when Bradford City beat Chelsea? Should their fans not have celebrated because they’re probably not going to the win the FA Cup?

The beauty of football is you never know when you might witness a moment that you’ll remember forever. A game you look forward to for months can be a mundane 0 – 0 draw, while a bog standard league game you almost didn’t get out of bed for can turn into a classic.

The problem with this generation of “You’re not allowed to celebrate anything” supporter is they don’t understand what it’s like to attend a football match. They see goals scored from a television screen or an illegal stream on the internet, before updating their Facebook status or tweeting “YEEESSS!!!”. They don’t know what it’s like to travel 200 miles to get beaten 3 – 0 by Preston North End with your first shot on target coming in the 91st minute. Eagerly anticipating the FA Cup draw and then getting knocked out by Walsall.  Taking a day off work for a draw with Barnsley. When you see every other teams supporters have a moment to celebrate, while your side is consistently inconsistent for your entire life.

This ‘celebrating is below me’ type of individual is the type of supporter that the modern football club wants. They’ll buy the merchandise, like the Facebook page and watch whatever adverts their sponsors tell them to watch. They don’t want to see a bunch of idiots going nuts and falling over seats in a dodgy looking away end, because it’s not good for their brand. Instead of jumping over a row of seats when their team scores, they’ll reach for their camera phone to take a picture of Aguero or Giroud celebrating.

When people only experience football through a screen, they don’t appreciate the frustrations that come with being a supporter. Buying the overpriced tickets. Missing your train connection by 30 seconds because there was a leaf on the line. Being treated as a criminal by the local police force looking to justify the overtime your taxes pay for. Being a football supporter isn’t rational. If it was, none of us would do it. So if being a supporter isn’t rational, why should our celebrations be? The minute or two of sheer joy that follows a goal is the reason we put up with all the irritations and attempts from the authorities to drive us out of the sport forever.

After all, only one team can win the Champions League every season. And with the greatest of respect, it probably isn’t going to be Aston Villa. So why not let them celebrate however they want? The same applies whether someone supports Manchester United or Maidstone United. Seeing your club score a goal isn’t about what it means in the grand scheme of things, it’s about how it makes you feel. There are very few pastimes in the world where we look forward to waking up with aching limbs and bruised shins the day after, but being a football supporter is one of them. It means something amazing has happened which gave you a few moments of joy. Whether it wins you the World Cup or an undeserved point away at Exeter City is largely irrelevant – a goal celebration is not something to be mocked or repressed – it’s the whole reason the sport exists.

Some people will never understand that. They’ll laugh at the things they don’t understand. They’ll post scornful tweets and make Facebook statuses about how their club has too much “class” to celebrate like that. But some of us do get it. And we’ll experience things they could never dream of.

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Posted on March 9, 2015, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I was at the Villa game the other night and it was a celebration not hooliganism. The snobby press reaction has been utterly ridiculous and over the top. Okay the pitch invasion before the final whistle was a bit silly but that’s as far as it goes.

  2. With you all the way on this. They’re fecking eejits that tweet about celebrations being wrong – it is often the release of months or years of frustration of not getting ‘that goal’ or winning ‘that match’, of missed trains, cold, wet grounds, lack of sleep, disappointment and yet still still turning up and still rooting for your team regardless. It is not fashion, it is not a trend, it is not zeitgeist or mode … it is simply because there is not world in which you could not. Going nuts with joy happens rarely and you either get it, or you can take a flying feck out of this beautiful, wonderful, tragic, epic game and leave us to our calling.

  3. wildeyedtrot

    Fantastic piece. I’m a telly watcher now, but remember the years of trawling round the country being treated like a criminal with great affection. I’ve never actually run onto a pitch but that’s because a large part of my supporting years were on terraces. If you have room to go a little crazy and hug everyone around you a pitch invasion isn’t necessary. Still fun but not necessary.

  4. LuciusMaximal

    First off, I agree the press reaction has been about selling papers – nothing new there. But I think there’s a middle ground you’ve discounted in supporter type – those who want to cheer their team for a hard-fought and memorable victory, rather than see the players chased off the field my a hoard of fans. With some very notable exceptions, I see pitch invasions as completely selfish acts by fans who prize their own enjoyment over that of other supporters and even the players themselves.

    Also, to be pedantic, it is actually illegal to enter the field of play – there’s usually notices up and everything.

    • Irony possibly lost on you hey. this isn’t middle ground, is a selfish act not premeditated, these guys ardent thinking about their enjoyment its justas outpouring of joy and passion, if you had said inconsiderate you my have been more on key but still, who cares, really. what is the negative, the game takes a little longer to play out??

  5. I think a distinction should be made between invading the pitch and stopping the game and invading the pitch after the game has finished. I have no major issue with the latter. As you quite rightly say, the fans are overjoyed and relieved at the end.

    However, invading the pitch during the game invariably leads to the game being delayed, potentially abandoned and the club (your club) getting their knuckles rapped. I understand fans doing it, I can empathize but they are ultimately going to get their club in bother. That said, the fans should not be demonized – being a little bit daft and over-excitable is different from being violent and vandalizing. The return to hooliganism comments were a little premature.

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