Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A simple law to curb excessive goal celebrations

Last weekend, for my sins, I went with my Dad to watch Gainsborough Trinity play Alfreton Town, two teams at the lower end of the English regional sixth division (National League North). Gainsborough haven't had much success lately, so when they went 1-0 up after half an hour the celebrations were more than you might expect at this level. The goal scorer sprinted towards the home bench and jumped into the arms of his coach. The rest of the team followed and there was an almighty love-in.

My dad, who's very much old school when it comes to sporting behaviour, groaned at this excessive display, just as he'd loudly objected earlier to one of the Gainsborough players trying to get the referee involved in a long and pointless discussion about the exact place where an opponent's free-kick was about to be taken. The Alfreton players, meanwhile, had spotted that the Gainsborough players were now all in their own half, emoting by the bench. They had the ball at the centre spot and were ready for a quick restart.

They looked to the referee for a signal. And according to the laws of the game, he should have let them play. They would have had a clear run on goal, aside from maybe the home side's goalkeeper. But the referee refused to give the signal for the restart until all the Gainsborough players had finished hugging each other and had lined back up in position.

Trinity slowly wind up their celebrations.
Note clear path to goal
This was a wrong decision, but understandable. There's enough drama at this level already - you could see this from the moronic antics of the home bench during the game's first half hour, contesting throw-in calls and throwing their arms up at every foul given against them. If Alfreton had taken a quick kick-off and scored, the chances that the home team would have understandingly conceded that this was well within the laws of the game were extremely low. There would have been theatrical protests, mobbing and hysterical remonstrations, and the rest of the afternoon would likely have been a nightmare for the young referee, Samuel Barrott, who overall did a very good job of managing the game.

On the other hand, I would love to have seen Mr. Barrott give Alfreton the go-ahead. The Gainsborough celebrations were ridiculously over the top not just for a game at this level, but at any level. If Alfreton had been allowed to speed down to the Gainsborough goal and equalise, the home side could have had no complaints. And they might have held back a little the next time they scored the opening goal of a game with an hour still to go, instead of reacting like they'd just secured Champions League qualification for the first time in Lincolnshire footballing history.

I don't expect teams to react to goals like Victorian-era gentlemen who thought that showing emotion was an unseemly aberration of character. Yet as a coach I see the effect that these public outpourings have on the game at large. During U7 practice it only takes a toe-poke between two cones to set some of the kids off running around the pitch like Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a last-minute winner in El Clásico. (Though I always encourage the team that's conceded to head straight back up to the other cones and cancel the goal out.)

The simple solution to ending this glut of self-glorification? A rule stating that the opposition is entitled to re-start the game within 15 seconds of a goal being scored, regardless of where the other side is piled up in a time-wasting communal snog.

Final score: Gainsborough Trinity 2 Alfreton Town 1 (crowd: 483)

Gainsborough Trinity v Alfreton Town, 27.01.18. 
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