Diving players and fibbing fans: football’s a game of liars and cheats

It was obviously very moving, not to say uplifting, har har, when Kieran Richardson of Sunderland lifted up his shirt while celebrating a goal to reveal that on his vest was written: “I belong to Jesus". For which he was booked.

Not for the message, God forbid, but for removing his shirt. This is one of the strangest rituals in football, yet a fairly recent one, that's only become popular in the past 20 years or so. In the old days, when men were men, with stiff upper moustaches, there was little celebration after a goal, apart from a brief handshake from the captain, then you walked back briskly to your position. None of this kissing nonsense.

Where has this urge to remove one's shirt come from? From childhood, perhaps. Little children love stripping off their clothes - back to the womb, naked as nature intended - and, of course, players are merely large children. Daft young teenage and twentysomething fans now do the same, standing topless even on the coldest winter day, showing off their beer bellies or skinny chests.

It's popular abroad as well, the ultra-lads convinced they are sending out some sort of message: look how hard we are, we support our team through thick and thin and in the freezing cold, not like you, you wimps in the posh hospitality seats with your hot prawns.

You often see players thinking about it - this is what players do - then thinking better of it, knowing they will now get a yellow card. Instead, they go through this pathetic gesture of pulling up just a bit of their shirt, as if wiping their pretty noses.

I would allow it. I do like to see a good, toned torso and some first-class tattoos and any friend of Jesus is a friend of mine. Shirt-removing doesn't take up much time or space, unlike those potty celebrations in which the whole team piles on top of the scorer, which take ages to sort out, and often someone emerges injured, missing a head or a leg. I would ban such pile-ups. We are paying to see football, not playground romps.

The action I think really deserves a yellow card is kissing the badge. No player should ever be allowed to do this. It is cynical and manipulative. We know they don't give a fig for the club, have no idea of its history, what the symbols mean, even which country they're in, and will be off the second they get a better offer. Only fans should badge-kiss.

Truth is out there
I'd also like to see some sort of truth test introduced. We wouldn't have these arguments over alleged racial abuse if players were wired up, so that we heard exactly what they said to each other. When they shouted "our ball", there would be a lie-detector element. On to the big screen would flash the words: "Liar, liar!" When they fell deliberately in the penalty area or collapsed under a non-existent push, the same detection system would establish the truth and the screen would announce: "Diver, diver!"

It would have to be used for fans as well, only fair, so we'd all know when they were fibbing and could deal with them accordingly. "You dirty northern bastards!" they shout whenever a team from north of Watford commits an offence, while in the north, any team from anywhere south of Birmingham is accused of being "dirty cockney bastards".

The reason why these cries are upsetting to us seekers of truth is that, in each case, they are totally wrong. These days, most players have no connection whatsoever with the location of their club, so they should really be shouting: "You dirty Dutch, French, Russian, Polish, Belgian, Moroccan, Cameroonian, Czech, Israeli, German, Swiss, Ivorian bastards!" And that's just the Arsenal team on an average Saturday afternoon.
“The referee's a wanker!" Can the fans on the terraces prove this offensive refrain? Have they got photographs or first-hand reports? Otherwise, I think they should desist.

If more and more words and messages, shouts and phrases heard on football grounds are going to end up being penalised, or even in court, I think we have to set a few ground rules.

So, those are my fond hopes for 2012 . . .

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 02 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, And you thought 2011 was bad ...