Having some me, me, me time

England did so well against the might of Montenegro, the unbeaten group leaders.

Nil-nil was excellent. Having a hundred times the population, being a hundred places higher in the world rankings, are terrible disadvantages these days. Then there's playing at home: I was up cheering every time England got a throw-in.

The only disappointment was that the Montenegrin captain, Mirko Vucinic, didn't play. He was the one who, in the previous game, tore his shorts off after scoring, shoved them on his head and stood there in his undies - and, alas, caught a chill. I was longing for him to play, just to see if he would repeat his celebration.

For goal celebrations tell us a lot about the progress of the game, and of society generally. Pre-war, when you scored, the captain shook your hand, then you walked quietly, modestly back to the centre spot, head bowed.

Postwar, group celebrations crept in, with the whole team rushing to congratulate the scorer, often totally submerging him, sometimes covering him with kisses - a rather sissy habit that we tut-tutted about at first, blaming it on effeminate foreigners, until we got used to it. Just as we are now used to big, beefy English blokes hugging each other in the street when they meet, even when they're not drunk.

Along the way, there were some unusual displays: handstands from Robbie Keane, prearranged routines with silly dance steps and, now and again, personal statements like pulling up your shirt to reveal that you love Jesus or support the miners, but these were rare. Mostly, celebrations have been a group thing, an effusion of joy, signifying that we are all in this together.

In the past two years, I have noticed a change. At the Emirates on Saturday, the moment Chamakh scored for Arsenal, he ran away from all
his team-mates. I thought at first he was going to the Arsenal fans to milk the applause, but in fact he ran, probably without realising it, towards the Birmingham crowd. His first instinct had been to cut himself off and draw attention to himself personally, awaiting the arrival of his own team. This is becoming the most common form of celebration, often allied with pointing to your own name on the back of your shirt.

Sometimes they also kiss the badge, but we know that is bollocks. When foreigners do it, we rightly mock, because we know they're just passing through. But even home-grown players kiss it cynically, for they, too, feel no loyalty to their current club any more. And why should they? Clubs won't be loyal to them.

So what does it all mean? That the modern player is totally self-obsessed. That the whole point of celebrating a goal is self-adulation. They think they are wonderful, because from the age of eight they've been told so. Once into a top Prem team, they are in a world of constant adulation, becoming more powerful even than their coach or manager. It's football's version of the Me, Me, Me generation.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, What a carve up!