It has become clichéd for footballers to talk about whether or not scoring a goal is better than making love; Paul Ince even claimed that tackling was better than sex, which raises more questions than it answers, not least in relation to the importance of wearing shin pads. No doubt in the modern game scoring off the field is becoming easier than on it, thanks to a combination of enlightened defensive tactics introduced by foreign managers and Chinawhite’s door policy, but — with apologies to the cliché police — certain similarities remain hard to ignore. The glorious anticipation. The rising excitement. A moment of ecstasy that subsides into mere joy, accompanied by a soundtrack of thrilled exclamations and stifled screams of delight. And the analogy doesn’t end there. Note the guilt and self-loathing that attacked Shaun Wright-Philips within seconds of his sneaky “solo-effort” against Chelsea. And in 1998 I’m sure I saw Fabien De Freitas roll over and fall asleep immediately after scoring his second againstNorwich.
Facing the goal-vs-sex question in an uber-glamorous Metro interview in 2009, Ian Wright suggested that a player’s given answer would reveal a lot about their sex life. But actions speak louder than words. What could be more revealing than the behaviour we see in the seconds following a goal? Does it give us a glimpse of the goalscorer’s inner sexual soul? The lover within? The footballing world was shocked to learn of the extent of the shy and understated Ryan Giggs’ lascivious wassails, but wasn’t that hairy celebration against Arsenal a giveaway sign of the wild lothario hidden inside the wholesome yoga-toned frame?
How far can we push this analogy? Gary Lineker raises his hands to the heavens after equalising against Germany and we glimpse the joy of a man bedding a woman way out of his league. Jurgen Klinsmann’s self-deprecating dive to celebrate his debut goal in England suggests a man who’s not afraid to laugh while on the job. He’s the kind of guy who will happily joke about his own phallic inadequacy or erectile dysfunction, no matter how seriously Pele tells him to take it. There’s a heartbroken female somewhere in Manchester who thought she saw love in Emmanuel Adebayor’s eyes as he was bearing down on her, only to realise later that he’d only had sex with her to spite his ex. Meanwhile Alan Shearer, whose name is of course an anagram of Vanilla Shag, must be as bland in the bedroom as his punditry on Match of the Day; that drab salute tells you it’s going to be the same every time, and why shouldn’t it be? Who cares how many positions Prince can do in a one-night stand if our Alan can do the one so perfectly well?
The crass and superficial among us might look to countries like Italy andSpain for the hot-blood of Latin lovers inherent in goal celebrations. But then we see Francesco Totti sucking his thumb, longing no doubt for the pre-sexual innocence of his mother’s lap. And despite the rimming connotations ring-kissing might trigger in a filthy British mind, in Madrid it signifies Raul’s loyalty and love for his wife and his Real. Cross the Atlantic to stereotypically hot South America and the image that comes back is even more wholesome than that of Raul caressing the third digit on his left hand: Bebeto’s arms rocking the baby son he has yet to hold. They’re good boys those Brazilians. They belong to Jesus, and God knows sex is just for procreation.
I won’t risk wandering into the homo-erotic by wondering about the significance of Roger Milla’s rhythmic hips, or Lomana Lua Lua’s gymnastic flexibility. And it’s perhaps best not worth considering any possible links between Finidi George’s “pissing dog” celebration and either bestiality or showers of a golden variety. Ipswich supporters will of course attest to seeing Finidi take the piss without any goals available to celebrate. For legal reasons I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that Michael Owen’s celebration after scoring against Argentina in 1998 always put me in mind of a jewellery-jangling Jimmy Saville; recent revelations have obviously taken that connection to horrifically dark places. Darker still is the image of having sex with a cocaine-snorting Robbie Fowler, an eye-popping on-something Maradonna, or even a robotic piss-streaking Peter Crouch. Feel free to cross out the words “a robotic” and “piss-streaking” from that last sentence, unless of course you are currently wearing a short skirt and queueing up outside Chinawhite (in which case, save your eyeliner for later; you’re going to need it).
Just as lovemaking should be spontaneous and free, so surely must goal celebrations. Search Youtube for Stjarnan FC of Iceland and you’ll find a catalogue of elaborate and expertly choreographed celebrations, performed by pretty much all the outfield players together, to which my words can do little justice. With names like bicycle, toilet, rowing team, and birth, the celebrations make for an impressive montage, and the guy who plays the hooked fish in fishing deserves some kind of award, but at the risk of coming over all Jimmy Hill, this is certainly not something I want to see creeping into the English game. Players get booked for diving into the crowd in case doing so incites violence. Pretend to have a dump after scoring against Millwall and I think you pretty much deserve the ensuing violence.
Anyone with a soul will of course point to the brilliance of Jimmy Bullard’s piss-take of his then-manager Phil Brown, sitting his teammates down and giving them a telling off after scoring against Man City. And no English man can remember Gazza and the dentist’s chair without heartstrings tugging and yearning for happier, more innocent days. So perhaps the choreographed celebration isn’t quite the post-goal equivalent of premeditated rape after all. But ah, I’ll reply, have you not forgotten Didier Drogba playing the corner flag as a guitar with Florent Malouda standing behind him playing a tiny air drumkit? The only sexual equivalent as embarrassing would be to walk in our parents engaging in rubber-clad S&M, and realising that your dad is the letterbox rather than the postman. Pre-planned group celebrations: no thank you.
Of course there are some footballers who celebrate goals with such aggression that you fear for the damage they might do in more amorous peaks of excitement. I suspect that the queues outside Temuri Kestbaia’s bedroom door are pretty short, for instance, and not just because he once wore the foul orange shirt of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sex and violence are not a pleasant combination, and as a society we should all be concerned that someone somewhere might have had sex with a golf-club-wielding Craig Bellamy, a spiteful revenge-fuelled Ruud Van Nistelory, or a machine-gun-toting Robbie Keane (see also Rob Earnshaw — which starts to raise concerns about short footballers in general).
At a time when it’s our duty to be outraged by anything we don’t truly understand, we of course have to consider an ambiguous and hitherto unknown (at least inside Upton Park where it was “unleashed”) French gesture named after a dumpling (obviously) to be as shocking as the more recognisable salutes performed in stadia by Paulo Di Canio and Giorgos Katidis. While it must be terrible for a post-coital Mrs Di Canio to open her eyes and see her lover gazing wistfully at his Mussolini poster, spare a thought for anyone who has to spend the climax of any sexual encounter looking at Nicholas Anelka’s bored and miserable face. Anelka’s Quenelle has opened up a can of worms so ambiguous that if you tickle them in the middle, they smile at both ends, but surely his best defence against accusations of hate crimes is the fact that hatred is an emotion and there has never been any time during his career at which Anelka has looked capable of expressing an emotion. It does at least make sense that one of his best friends is a comedian who isn’t funny. It’s difficult to imagine Klinsmannesque laughter in Le Sulk’s bedroom.
Any psychoanalyst worth their salt will tell you that the sexual proclivities of the adult can be traced back to childhood (I’m making this up — I don’t even know if psychoanalysts accept condiments in payment for therapy). One of my earliest childhood memories of a goal celebration was the epic ecstasy of Marco Tardelli streaming away from the half-volley he’d just unleashed in the 1982 World Cup Final. But Tardelli’s body language is more reverential than sexual, and it’s clear that goals of great beauty and magnitude are spiritual, not corporeal. They belong to a higher power. I knew this for sure, of course, when Darren Bradley’s screamer flew in against Wolves in 1993. The sexual equivalent could only take place in heaven itself, quite possibly with a cherubic Wayne Fereday plucking away at a harp on a nearby cloud.
With the choices I’ve made in life up until now, I’m not expecting to ever have sexual intercourse with a footballer. But if life had panned out differently, I’d want my lover to be confident and in control, assured of their own brilliance and magic. Brian Laudrup, resting on his elbow after equalising against Brazil, perhaps. Cantona with his collar up, unmoved but radiating magnificence after a goal of rare rare beauty against Sunderland. Well, I would.
A beautifully illustrated version of this piece can be found in Issue 8 of Pickles Magazine.