Tuesday 4 March ~
Goal celebrations are almost invariably naff. After he'd scored for Everton against Portsmouth on Sunday, Yakubu performed the fluttering hands gesture – which seems to have been pioneered by Nicolas Anelka – to the accompaniment of team mate Steven Pienaar miming slap bass. But it was the actions of Everton's other goalscorer that generated widespread comment. Tim Cahill is the type of player most spectators would find annoying when he's playing against them but they'd still like to have him on their team. As well as scoring consistently, he's also perpetually active, harrying opponents and generally making a nuisance of himself. This week he has also provided something of PR problem for Everton, one which they all but ignored in the hope that it will go away.
After scoring Everton's second in their 3-1 win over Portsmouth, Cahill repeated a gesture he'd made when playing for Australia in a World Cup qualifier against Qatar in February. Prior to doing his usual routine of throwing punches at the corner flag, he simulated being handcuffed as a sign of support to his brother, Paul, who was recently jailed for serious assault. Everton defended Cahill, with a club spokesman commenting that “No one dictates what the player can do as long as he stays within the laws of the game”.
Some voices were raised in criticism, with a police detective who was involved in the investigation that led to Paul Cahill being imprisoned suggesting that the gesture had been “grossly irresponsible”. But the football authorities haven't made any comment and they seem unlikely to take any action given that Cahill's gesture was not aimed at opposition supporters or other players. Ever since the massive expansion in live coverage of matches in the early 1990s, footballers have been using goal celebrations as a means of making statements, knowing that they will be picked up by the cameras. After a spate of controversies, players were banned from wearing T-shirts with messages which they displayed after scoring – Robbie Fowler's support of striking Liverpool dockers at a European game in 1997 even led to him being fined by UEFA.
But while Fowler's and Cahill's gestures were no doubt heartfelt, you have to wonder why players in general feel the need to make statements of any kind. Tim Cahill can still communicate with his imprisoned brother him without needing to do so via TV; any player who has recently become a father can let his family and friends know without making a rocking gesture in front of a stand full of people. Given the popularity of retro kits, perhaps one team could similarly turn back the clock when they've scored a goal, by reintroducing a firm handshake followed by a brisk walk back to their own half of the pitch.