David Norris's goal celebration in support of jailed friend Luke McCormick upset many, including the bereaved family. Csaba Abrahall reports

Shortly after his former team-mate Luke McCormick had been imprisoned for causing the deaths of ten-year-old Arron Peak and his brother Ben, eight, in a drink-driving accident, Ipswich midfielder David Norris told the local Evening Star newspaper that he intended to stand by McCormick, a close friend from their time together at Plymouth, while insisting: “I don’t want to do anything that causes them [the Peak family] upset.” These are two aims he seems to have had immediate difficulty in reconciling.

Little more than a week later, Norris was celebrating his winning goal at Blackpool by briefly crossing one wrist over the other. The gesture went unnoticed by the 8,000 fans present and passed without comment on the weekend television coverage.

But the Daily Mirror, recalling that McCormick had attended Norris’ wedding the night before the accident, concluded that Norris had performed a handcuffs mime in support of the jailed player and brought the matter to the public’s attention via a front page vilifying the “arrogant” player and the “sick goal celebration” that Phil and Amanda Peak described as an insult to their sons’ memory. The story soon featured prominently on television news bulletins, earning the player widespread condemnation at a time when, following the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross hullabaloo, public denunciation was all the rage.

Contradictory statements subsequently released by Norris only exacerbated the situation. Having originally acknowledged that it was a “private message”, he later claimed that he “made no handcuff gesture or personal message to Luke McCormick” and regretted that his actions had been “misinterpreted”. Later still, perhaps after being reminded of his earlier comment, he settled on an admission that “it was a small private gesture”. As he dug himself deeper into a hole, his apology could barely be heard over the scraping of the shovel.

The facts of the case provoke understandably strong emotions. McCormick left Norris’s wedding tired and more than two times over the limit. The court heard that he had nearly crashed several times before sending the Peaks’ vehicle down an embankment, killing the boys and seriously injuring their father. He had even ignored a plea from a friend to stop driving. For many, this appalling abdication of responsibility renders him undeserving of sympathy, but it is not unreasonable that Norris should wish to privately express ­support for his remorseful friend.

The problem is that the message of support he delivered was, despite his protestations, anything but private. Quite how a goal celebration at Bloomfield Road is a more effective way of delivering a “private message” than, say, a letter is not obvious. Even lower-league matches have long since ceased being exempt from exhaustive media coverage, and for a player to believe that any action taken on the pitch can be a private matter – or, given the effort put into choreographing celebrations, that the public could be persuaded that any such action was intended to be private – betrays a stunning level of naivety or condescension. Even allowing for its spur-of-the-moment nature, Norris must have been at least dimly aware that this was a public act, something to be noticed and interpreted, and it is therefore difficult to view it as a completely innocent one. At best, it was crass and insensitive. At worst, it was simply cruel.

Norris was brought to Ipswich in January after a lengthy pursuit. Until that afternoon at Blackpool, he had seemed a level-headed individual, the epitome of the club’s recruitment policy, whereby, they boast, as much importance is placed upon a player’s character as his ability. Perhaps, then, this indiscretion can be put down as a momentary act of unthinking stupidity rather than a callous glorification of the fatal actions of a friend. Suitably chastened and fined by his club, Norris visited Arron and Ben’s parents to apologise in person. Showing astonishing composure, as they had throughout, they accepted the apology, describing Norris as “a nice person” and expressing a belief that it was time to move on.

Opposition fans are unlikely to do so just yet. A week after the incident, Norris – along with a couple of team-mates who look a bit like him – was jeered throughout Ipswich’s defeat at Doncaster. Norris had told the Evening Star that McCormick “made a massive mistake and is paying for that – quite rightly”. The abuse he can expect for some little while will serve as punishment for his own blunder. Of course, whatever discomfort it will cause him will pale into utter insignificance compared to the burden the Peak family must continue to bear for Luke McCormick’s tragic idiocy.

From WSC 263 January 2009

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