You know how it goes: You move to England, score loads of goals, win the league, your contract runs out, your club refuses to renegotiate, and the neighbours see an opportunity to stick an oar in by buying you. What next? Obviously your former teammate slags you off in the Maltese press, you score in a derby and he flips you the bird.
That, in a nutshell, is the life of the modern footballer. The Maltese angle is a nice touch, but the essence remains the same. And yet the interesting aspect of the whole story lies in the outcome. The FA have decided the suitable punishment for flipping the bird is… a nicely understated telling off. No more bird flipping, they said, think of the kids who are watching eh?
Which is fair enough really. Those kids see a player flip the bird and they think it’s cool. Next thing you know they’re flipping it at buses, other children, even Maltesers. And what did Maltesers do? So no more bird flipping. It’s nice to know the FA has a man who sits in a room and conjures up appropriate punishments for that sort of thing. The trouble is, try as it might to be a beacon of integrity, a pioneer for restraint and good judgement in a greed-driven world, the FA has missed the point: Flipping the bird is cool.
Cheese me off will you? Well why don’t you have a look at this finger? Yeah, that’s right, this finger. Not that one, but this one, the long one. Look at its bony structure, hmm? Or, if gloved, just look at the gloved finger. It’s a classic put-down. Of course some analysts believe the bird is shorthand for ‘sit and swivel’ or in other words ‘i’ll put my finger in your bum’ which, as a no win situation all round, isn’t such a classic put-down when you dissect it.
Obviously, with such a gesture being met with little more than a telling off, while a pitch length sprint and knee-slide is met with a ban, the question remains: Which gestures are a flip too far?
Ear cupping: A popular one in getting a point across, it can either mean Hear that? or I can’t hear that! Depending on who you’re trying to cheese off. The trouble is it makes you look a bit like dumbo, which could make for embarrassing headlines in the subsequent press. Verdict: Acceptable.
Shushing: From much the same school as the ear cupping, the shush is its stronger, older brother. Few things can wind someone up as much as a good shush. On the anniversary of his birth, my local pub decided to play Churchill’s speech explaining the necessity to try all alternative methods before going to war. Noble thoughts, interrupted only by one drunk guy who, when shushed by a pensioner, answered loudly with: ‘don’t you shush me, i’ll knock you out, you prick.’ Shushing has a nice way of inviting irony. Verdict: Unacceptable.
Crunch grabbing: An old classic with something of a continental flair. What was that that you said? Well allow me to rearrange my crunch. It’s not implicitly suggesting any suction, which is why Maradona felt compelled to spell that invitation out, it just says Hey, here it is! And puts an end to the conversation in much the same way as a dog licking its privates. Verdict: Unappetising.
The bull’s horns: Rarely seen on these shores outside rock concerts, the bull’s horns, or devil’s horns are a basic implication that you can’t keep tabs on your wife. Disagree with my style of play? Well I question your wife’s monogamy. It’s a non sequitur for sure, but it doesn’t half wind up the Italians. Verdict: Classy.
In the pocketing: A favourite of Ash Cole, in the pocketing provides a nice bridge from symbol to mime. What he is in fact doing is acting out the words of an expression that implies ownership. The fact that he looks like a slow motion version of Vic Reeves’s aroused thigh rubber is immaterial. Verdict: Avant Garde.
Fist shaking, pointing and jabbing: And here we are at the nitty-gritty end of things. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, all the choreography in the world goes out the window to leave a good old fashioned why-I-oughtta fist-shake. The trouble is such gestures are dangerously close to the rubicon of actual physical contact. Actually touch the other guy and you’re off. And being off means bans and fines and may go so far as to cost you the game, which fans won’t forgive. Basically, it’s no good if you’re a footballer. Verdict: Too risky.
So it seems that footballers have taken a lead from Afro-Brazilian slaves, inventors of capoeira, and developed new ways of fighting without actually touching. One thing’s for sure though, nobody should condemn a player who feigns injury after being tapped by a pointy finger. In the battlefield of gestures, touching, even with spit, is utterly forbidden.