THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

6 October 2009 ~ Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook's Wikipedia page states that he had the new indoor ticket office built at Eastlands after watching fans queue up for match tickets in the rain. But it is other, less philanthropic, soundbites that most remember him for. When asked about former owner Thaksin Shinawatra's dubious human rights record Cook stated: "Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Has he got the finances to run a club? Yes. I really care about those three things... Whether he’s guilty of something over there, I can’t worry too much about."

And it was during last summer's undignified pursuit of Ronaldinho that he chirped: "We need a superstar to get through that door. Richard Dunne doesn’t roll off the tongue in Beijing." So it was understandable that Richard Dunne criticised Cook on signing for Aston Villa in August: "All he wants is big-money players. He doesn't understand the core loyalty of the club and where it begins." It was obvious too that in last night's match between his current and former clubs Dunne provided one sub-plot in a game full of them. In a performance described by Martin O'Neill as "immense" the defender opened the scoring and upstaged Gareth Barry on his much-hyped return to Villa Park. But it was Dunne's reaction to his goal that made the headlines and confirmed one of the major themes of the season so far.

In the light of the moral outrage surrounding Emmanuel Adebayor's taunting of Arsenal fans and Carlos Tevez's painfully self-aware gesture on scoring at Upton Park, the way that a goal is celebrated has never been under so much scrutiny. Last night Dunne refused to celebrate against Manchester City, something that has been roundly applauded by this morning's newspapers. The Sun described it as "a lesson [to Adebayor] in how to react with dignity even in the heat of the moment" while the Daily Express saw Dunne making "an emphatic point with dignity and grace". Meanwhile, the away fans at Villa Park clapped their former defender, leading Mark Hughes to comment: "The fans were fantastic in terms of the reception that they gave to Richard."

Making a point on scoring against a former club or the team you support is not a new thing. There are many examples, from the very famous – Denis Law against Man Utd in 1974 – to the more obscure, such as Darren Huckerby not celebrating a goal against the team his family follow, Notts County. Now, however, a particular and special reaction is anticipated whenever a footballer faces an old employer. All eyes will be on Marlon Harewood when Newcastle travel to Nottingham Forest on October 17.

Comments (1)
Comment by ian.64 2009-10-07 07:55:36

"But it was Dunne's reaction to his goal that made the headlines and confirmed one of the major themes of the season so far."

Yes, and the theme seems to be one of operatic emotional overload, in which the ex-player who scores against his former team and walks away instead of celebrating isn't just an honourable man but a knight in shining armour bringing dignity, purity and moral purpose to the game. Only football could turn a small gesture of decency into a historic moment of overblown, dramatic schmaltz, which explains how moronically shrill the sport can be, in which every incident on pitch which looks piffling in a way is magnified into a cause celebre by hysterical fans and an even more idiotic sports press.

I'm reminded of the Eduardo affair, in which an on-pitch incident that has been going on for absolute decades for almost any player, any team and any club was suddenly transformed into a situation that, through incessant argument and spotlight, had you thinking whether lives had been lost in the process. And with the Adebayor escapade, a ridiculous occurence involving a painfully childish man, an episode that should have been resolved sooner and put to bed is still chewed over vehemently by a number of people who should be growing enough sense to put a sock in it.

It remains one of many drawbacks about the game: trust football and its denizens to inflate the incidental into the realms of crisis. As Vic Reeves would have it, they wouldn't let it lie.

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