Why do sportsmen spit?
Or soccer players to be precise; because it does seem confined to that sport. You don’t see Kevin Pietersen letting go as he disputes an lbw decision, nor rugby players when the ref disallows a try. Bradley Wiggins didn’t flob his way round the Tour de France, and it’s not saliva being mopped up by large brooms as they change ends at badminton.
No, it’s only soccer players. But not all of them; let’s not implicate Bobby Charlton or Gary Lineker, David Beckham or Michael Owen, or the entire Brighton and Hove Albion team – I’ve never seen them gob. And make that male soccer players. I don’t recall Rachel Yankey or Laura Bassett executing a suck and thud on the Wembley pitch. It simply wouldn’t be ladylike.
What’s more, they only spit when they’ve done something wrong – like missing an open goal or handling the ball in their penalty area. They don’t do it after they’ve scored a fantastic goal, which is frankly a good thing, since with ten other spitters jumping on top of them like a frog orgy, the resulting spawn could mean playing the rest of the half glued together, posing problems with substitutions and sendings-off.
I’d like to think there was an innocent explanation for this gooey behaviour, like self-loathing because it was their gran’s birthday and, damn, they’d forgotten to send her a card. They’re a sensitive lot. But I suspect the message is, ‘Pah, I spit in the face of failure!’ – a brave gesture but one that only draws attention to them. Macho, but actually – pratcho. Because they’re not spitting at failure, they’re fearing it. Sportsmen of true quality rise above this showmanship and let their ability speak for itself. When things don’t go right they swallow their pride, and saliva. And to acknowledge success, an old-fashioned handshake or pat on the back will do nicely.
That’s not to say that sputum doesn’t have practical value. I’m thinking of the corner-flag slide. You need plenty of moisture to execute an attractive yet painless full frontal or double kneed ten foot slide after scoring your first goal in eighteen games. On a dry pitch, the ‘Look at me!’ slide would really hurt.
And I realise what coaches are up to on the touchline with computers and notepads. It’s a sophisticated game, is soccer. When the pitch flob stat reaches a certain level, they can switch from a diamond formation to, say clubs or hearts, or to a rhombus or equilateral triangle. If your full back is a slide-tackle specialist, he can use the extra moisture to his advantage, while on the other hand, wetting the corners of the pitch puts opposition wingers and overlapping fullbacks at a slippery disadvantage.
Sadly, it’s the quality players that have to tolerate the oral excreta of the flobbing ones. Which raises another important point. In an era when sportsmen are swiftly carted off to the ‘blood bin’ the moment a pimple bursts on their backside (because Health and Safety say so), what’s the situation with gob-spread diseases? No surprise that with all that lying spittle, many players choose safer forms of celebration when they score. A shirt pulled up over the face is a dryer bet, though it does pose the problem of not being able to dodge mates who are about to bury you on the sodden ground. Perhaps this tactic is best when you’ve missed a sitter in front of goal; at least the shirt hides your blushes, though best not to spit at the same time.
Circling the corner flag like Kanu, with dainty steps like you were firming down soil before laying a gravel path, is popular; or executing a Viennese Waltz round the pole – a trustworthy dance partner, good backwards bend, ideal for Strictly.
Peering into the camera like Rooney or Suarez, or tapping the lens in a pratcho kind of way happens a lot, some players also using it to check their hair is okay – and of course, making a photo shape with your hands to encourage the crowd to take a picture. Then there’s the tried and tested running the perimeter of the pitch, cupping a hand to one ear and pointing forcefully to the name on the back of your shirt, or proudly smacking the anti-wage limit logo on the front.
Some players leap over the advertising hoarding and hold out their arms like a Messiah, little realising they too will be crucified ten minutes later for trying to score from a narrow angle when tapping the ball to a team mate would have meant an easy goal. I even saw a Juventus player slap his mate’s face in admiration after scoring. There really are no bounds. Inventiveness is the secret; make up anything you like, and call it trending. It comes natural to pratchoes.
And there’s a whole industry waiting out there. Whilst most working people settle for courses on, say First Aid or Manual Handling, soccer clubs could offer drama classes. Pratchoes could learn corner flag dancing or finger gesturing. The spitting brigade could take trajectory lessons, perfecting the angle of flight like in archery or shot-put, and with advanced technology the results could be played back in HD slo-mo for training those who haven’t quite got it right – the dribblers.
An entire team could be professionally choreographed for group charades after scoring – like digging, or baking a cake. The crowd may not know what the moves mean; for all they know it could be cleaning out a toilet or putting on socks, or watching a partial eclipse of the sun. It doesn’t matter; their team has scored! Join in, for heaven’s sake!
Yet it’s the crowd participation that’s most worrying. There are thirty thousand watching the pratchoes at work, and they all copy their heroes. It only takes one dodgy refereeing decision, or one player to remember his gran’s birthday, for thousands of tapioca globules to start flying round the stands. If the whole crowd released at the same time, the pureé on the smooth concrete floors – two hundred litres of spilt Bovril, half a ton of Pukka Pie droppings and thirty thousand phlegm balls – would be a Health and Safety nightmare. And if they all pulled shirts over their faces too, the surge of disorientated spectators down the slimy terracing doesn’t bear thinking about.
Fortunately this will never happen at the Amex Stadium.
Paul Costello © November 2012
Utterly Undiscovered – delightful Bed and Breakfast memoir. Spring2013.
Publisher: Fineleaf Editions. www.fineleaf.co.uk