Jamie Vardy’s celebration against West Brom ungracious but understandable
9 November ~ Leicester City’s winner at West Brom on October 31 seemed to exemplify the insolent and incendiary nature of scorers celebrating in front of opposition fans. Jamie Vardy’s 77th-minute strike into the Birmingham Road End put the visitors 3-1 up and saw him run along the front of The Hawthorns’ “Brummie Road” stand, beaming incitement directly at Albion’s most vocal supporters. But surely it’s more difficult for players not to celebrate in front of opposition fans when scoring on the road.
Vardy checked his celebratory run to directly goad Baggies fans running down the aisles towards him. He was engulfed by team-mates as his hecklers were engulfed by panicking stewards. He was neither assaulted nor booked, Leicester won 3-2, and the only controversy expressed regarding the goal on Match of the Day – on which I viewed the entire incident – was whether Vardy should start through the middle for England.
The most infamous recent example of a scorer taunting rival fans is Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor running the full length of the Etihad pitch to find the comparatively small visiting Arsenal support. That most away scorers manage to avoid this, when they have at least three-quarters of the ground available, indicates most full-time footballers do indeed behave professionally.
Perhaps Vardy had been barracked by the Albion support. It was a Midlands derby of sorts. But, more importantly, whoever won the toss decided neither side would shoot towards their main body of fans in the second half.
Nearby, on the same day, Wolves’ Sheyi Ojo slotted home a late clincher at local rivals Birmingham City. He ran briefly towards St Andrew’s Tilton Road home end in a state of innocent joy. As soon as he realised where he was he turned back towards the away end. Fulham also happened to be shooting towards their own support when scoring four first half goals at Bristol City. Home fans share Ashton Gate’s Atyeo Stand but none were taunted by any away scorer.
One explanation of Vardy’s celebration is the goal itself. His manoeuvring – shifting his weight to the right when shooting across keeper Boaz Myhill – and speed of travel made it inevitable he would carry on towards the Baggies fans. Yet team-mate Riyad Mahrez scored twice into the same net earlier in the half. His momentum also took him towards the Birmingham Road End but each time he wheeled away in the general direction of Marc Albrighton, who had crossed from distance.
Some players operate in a state of intense concentration, blocking out the crowd. Others are powered by the combative aspect of the game, always ready to expectorate a surfeit of bile. Vardy’s goal confirmed not just the win and that only Ruud van Nistelrooy had scored in more successive Premier League games; it put Leicester third.
More than any cupped ear or sliding on knees, this burst of egomania – turning a team triumph into personal triumphalism – is the truly common theme in goal celebrations. In last week’s Champions League clash, Juventus wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner put a hand behind each ear to ask where the noise had gone upon equalising at Börussia Moenchengladbach’s home end.
Young men at peak fitness can’t help strutting, especially on a stage that managers, agents and fans have assured them is theirs. The mental and physical wringer of professional football means moments of personal victory will inevitably lead to isolated explosions of ungracious behaviour. But if I wanted puritanical Hollywood joy I’d go to the cinema. And if a scorer can’t receive adoration the next best thing is the bile of opposition fans. At least it keeps the stewards busy. Alex Anderson