At some point, you have probably seen some old black-and-white footage of a football game played decades ago. You’ll notice the physicality of the tackles, the tightness of the shorts and the absolute lack of pomp-and-circumstance when a player scores a goal – a simple handshake or a pat on the back before jogging back to the halfway line and doing it all over again.
Indeed, if a player had performed a choreographed dance routine after scoring in the first half of the 1900s, or pointed to the name on the back of their shirt (which, of course, was not even a thing back then), they would likely mark themselves out as a target for derision from the fans watching on and a scything foul from the opposition later in the game.
There is no way to verify the first footballer to celebrate a goal with gusto, but there was certainly a change that came in the 1970s – players started to eschew the stoic masculinity that had gone before in the beautiful game and began to embrace the unbridled delight that a goal can bring; suddenly teammates would crowd around and jump on the scorer with joyful abandon.
The decade also gave birth to a new breed of player: the celebrity footballer, with the likes of George Best, Kevin Keegan and Johan Cruyff ascending to levels of notoriety beyond the sport. They were showmen, entertainers… and they wore that with a batch of honour when it came to their play on the pitch and how they celebrated their goals.
That would lay the foundation for the weird and wonderful ‘cellies’ that would follow in the subsequent decades, and while curmudgeons of the modern game like Nigel Clough would love to outlaw goal celebrations, for most these are a fun part of football that should be cherished.
What Are the Most Common Goal Celebrations?
Many of the most common goal celebrations can be traced back to the 1980s and 90s. Fans started to become tribal in the terraces around this time, with rather brusque chants aimed at opposition players. And so the finger on the lips celebration, a manner of silencing rival fans, was born. Its sibling, of running around the pitch with a hand cupped to an ear, followed thereafter.
A similar, albeit more positive goal celebration, is the kissing of the badge on the shirt: designed to show a player’s loyalty and love for the cause, even if they’d happily leave in a heartbeat if they get a better offer elsewhere.
Footballers have often celebrated a goal in a way that commemorates the upcoming or recent birth of a child. At the 1994 World Cup, Bebeto was helped by his Brazilian teammates in a ‘rock the cradle’ celebration to mark the birth of his third child, and these days the ‘ball up the shirt’, mimicking a pregnant woman, and the sucking of a thumb have also been deployed by many.
A very modern goal celebration is the shaping of the hands into a heart – Gareth Bale was one of the first to offer up this celly, although plenty of others have borrowed it since. The Welshman has since trademarked the heart celebration, perhaps thinking it could make him a few quid in retirement.
For the more adventurous, acrobatic gymnastics is a celebration that never fails to please the fans. Obafemi Martins and Julius Aghahowa were Nigerian back flip kings, although Lomano LuaLua didn’t always time his landing right; an injury caused by his trademark celly led to him being banned by club side Portsmouth from showcasing his agility. One of the more controversial goal celebrations, which has now been effectively outlawed, is the removal of the shirt – either as an act of wild, untamed joy or to reveal a message on a T-shirt worn below.
What Are the Most Iconic Goal Celebrations in Football?
How do you know that your goal celebration has achieved iconic status? Surely, it gets no better than being immortalised in a statue? Plenty have been: Sergio Aguero’s shirt-spinning celebration when scoring the goal that secured Manchester City the 2011/12 Premier League title has been cast in bronze, while Alan Shearer also has a bust of him wheeling away in his trademark celly – albeit, controversially, with his finger in the air opposed to the whole hand as was his speciality.
Thierry Henry was reduced to tears (in a good way) when seeing a statue of his sliding knees celebration unveiled at the Emirates Stadium, while one of the more poignant goal celebration statues belongs to a trio of players: Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson, who were amongst the first black footballers to represent West Brom and England, have been immortalised in the town’s New Square.
Pele had a postage stamp commemorating one of his famous goal celebrations, and befitting the technological age others have been depicted in video games like the FIFA series: Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘Siuuu’, Son Heung-min’s ‘Eye of the Storm’ and Lionel Messi’s pointing to the sky are all present and correct, amongst dozens of others.
Other iconic goal celebrations are those that almost become verbs in their own right. Youngsters in the 1990s will remember ‘doing a Klinsmann’ when they scored – sliding on their stomachs, arms outstretched in front of them, in the manner of former Tottenham and Germany striker Jurgen Klinsmann.
Jurgen Klinsmann. *That* iconic diving celebration.
— Premier League (@premierleague) August 3, 2017
Why Don’t Players Celebrate Against Their Old Team?
There are, of course, instances when a player won’t celebrate a goal in any way. This is typically after scoring against a former club; a mark of respect to show that they hadn’t forgotten a successful spell there.
Even prolific celebraters like Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil have tempered their histrionics when netting against former sides, while so overcome was Gabriel Batistuta when scoring for Roma against Fiorentina, his most famous club, he broke down in tears on the pitch.