Saturday 24 March 2018

hoping shirty conduct will end is asking for the moon

Aiden O'Hara

IT IS difficult to pin-point exactly when it started happening, but the peculiar phenomenon of footballers whipping off items of clothing to express emotion seems to have got out of hand.

On Friday night in Dundalk, Dave Rogers dropped his shorts in the direction of St Patrick's Athletic fans although, judging by the pictures, he at least had the decency in his indecency to ensure that the full moon was eclipsed by his underwear.

Rogers had been on the receiving end of some 'banter' from the St Pat's fans but rather than ignoring it, or shouting some abuse back, or aiming a subtle Peter Kay-style V-sign in their direction, the defender moved his shorts south of the border and was sent off within seconds and sacked by his club within hours.

Rogers may have been frustrated with his team 1-0 behind but, in the alpha-male world of football where emotional well-being ranks a long way behind a tight hamstring in order of importance, expressing oneself via items of clothing has become de rigueur.

A couple of seasons ago, Stephen Ireland felt that a winning goal against Sunderland was justification enough to reveal his Superman underpants in celebration while, at the other end of the scale, Joey Barton went one step further by exposing his backside at the end of a match against Everton after an afternoon of abuse from the home support. The previous year, Barton had stubbed a lighted cigar out in the eye of a youth-team player for which he was fined eight-weeks wages. Yet, after the shorts incident, Barton was fined £2,000 and warned about his future conduct.

It's a wonder Newcastle didn't hear the laughter emanating from Manchester when they offered £5.8m that summer to take him off City's hands.

It's not just the shorts where players feel the need to express themselves. If someone isn't contributing to the cause he is ordered to pull his socks up; if he seems aloof, fans wonder why he has no pride in the jersey; if a team needs to work harder, they have to roll up their sleeves.

And then there's the shirt -- the item by which an opponent's respect can be gauged by how quickly they want to swap. The problem is that this can also provide a clue as to your standing in the game. After Real Madrid knocked Manchester United out of the Champions league in 2003, a shirtless David Beckham walked from the field having given his jersey to a future team-mate while Veron, Ferdinand and Van Nistelrooy were also in demand.

Not so Phil Neville who later handed his jersey to the Real Madrid kit-man and waited patiently outside the victorious dressing-room for the one worn by maybe Zidane, Figo or Ronaldo to come back. After a few minutes, his own shirt was handed back out the door.

Yesterday, in the Premier League, there were some jerseys thrown to the crowd, presumably to save those who'd been over-charged all season the €60 for next season's kit although Newcastle's players seemed keen to hang onto theirs -- probably because of the Premier League logo on the arm.

However, with the clampdown on goal celebrations, fewer players are deciding to show off their torso as an expression of their delight given that it now results in a yellow card, presumably for blatant stupidity. This season's best example was provided by Ross Wallace who celebrated a last-minute winner against Birmingham, by waving his shirt above his head as he charged towards his delighted supporters, when he turned around, the referee gave him a second yellow card to match the colour of his exposed vest. Two yellows equalled one red face.

Days later, Andre Bikey's rage was so unconfined that mere abuse at the referee who had just sent him off wasn't enough -- he had to fire his Reading shirt on the ground and stomp off the pitch to demonstrate the full spectre of his disgust.

Nobody has ever argued that players are perfectly in touch with their feelings but there must be a better way for them to express themselves than whipping off items of their kit. If clothes makes the man, it seems the lack of them maketh the footballer's emotion.

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