Not so many moons ago the FA introduced a campaign entitled Respect. This was primarily designed to target the unfair abuse and criticism of football referees. It an admirable attempt to highlight and get rid of unsavoury player and coach conduct, and it has had some impact too: unless you’re watching El Classico you will now rarely see a referee surrounded by a team’s worth of angry faces and remonstrative gestures. However, its remit should perhaps have been extended to ask players to respect each other.
In light of the handshake that wasn’t I kept a keen eye out for sporting gestures of respect in the weekend’s games. And I came across, with a suitable dose of irony, a handshake.
Whilst watching the African Cup of Nations Final penalty shoot out (which, by the way, contained 15 of the best penalties you’re likely to ever see) a handshake took place between the goalkeepers. It was a mark of respect shown from the Ivory Coast’s stopper Boubacar Barry (who incidentally went into to the shoot-out having not conceded in the entire tournament) towards his opposite number Mweene. Mweene stepped up to calmly put away the important 5th Zambian penalty and Barry respected the nerve shown with a handshake.
It was a simple sporting gesture that showed great respect towards an opponent. It demonstrated that, although teams and players are ultimately trying to beat each other, they can transcend the horrible feeling of defeat and show a bit of honour.
Grander gestures are few and far between, not always necessary and can even been seen as attention seeking, but one grand gesture of football sportsmanship that I always remember was when Di Canio stopped the game by catching the ball instead of scoring. He chose to catch the ball because he could see his opponent’s goalkeeper had been seriously injured in the build-up (a thought that, rightly or wrongly, clearly didn’t occur to Sunderland’s McClean at the Stadium of light on Saturday). In doing so Di Canio displayed a human quality sometimes lacking in the modern game.
I also remember Robbie Fowler disagreeing with a penalty the referee had awarded him against Arsenal. He told David Seaman where he would put the resulting spot kick. Seaman took the advice and saved the shot.
These examples of sportsmanship have an impact on those who watch them. The players are praised (maybe more could be made of their contributions to fairness and respect) and the idea of doing the same in a similar situation is seeded in the minds of amateur footballers like myself.
Working in education I see everyday how children learn not only through what they are told, what they read, what they see and what they do, but also indirectly through the actions of those around them. This transmission of values through actions has a much greater impact on the development of those values in children than lecturing about them. “Do as I say and not as I do” simply doesn’t work. That is why, as sad as it was to see, it was almost inevitable after Saturday’s incident that this would happen next:
I wonder if the young Manchester City mascot partook in over-the-top celebration at the end of the match? I hope not.
There is a code of conduct for all footballers and perhaps it is time that all footballers were implored to follow it. Hopefully, there were parents out there who let their sons and daughters stay up late on a Sunday night to witness the handshake that was, but I fear that millions more would have been watching on Saturday lunchtime to see the handshake that wasn’t.