Goal Celebrations and Jersey Stripping

 What feels better than scoring?

Andreas Iniesta’s celebrates his World Cup-winning goal. 


Clint, are you a fan of wrestling and in particularly John Cena? I’ve seen you celebrate using the same trademarks he uses!?

-It’s in reference to ‘you can’t see me’. I wasn’t doing it because the wrestlers were doing it, just ‘you can’t see me’ because I scored. -From an interview with Clint Dempsey

Stripping off the jersey after scoring a goal has been noted by many stodgy old commentators as one of the more foolish or brainless patterns of behavior. The automatic caution for the unnecessary excessive celebration could become costly for the team if the player picks up a second later in the match, or when the caution contributes to the accumulation of five yellow cards, triggering an automatic suspension for a season-defining match somewhere down the line. But the same foolishness and unfavorable outcome can be said of a player booked for an unnecessary foul.Managers have not banned jersey stripping, since it continues throughout the leagues year after year. The partial disrobing has only the occasional public critic compared to the far more common criticism of a brainless foul of equal punishment. The booked offense could be blatant, premeditated, and thoroughly avoidable, but it could also be accidental, a miscalculation, or the product of too much enthusiasm, and while certainly brainless, may not have been completely avoidable. Tearing off the jersey as quickly as possible like one who is about to have sex for the first time can’t be excused in the same way.Why do footballers do it? Is the moment’s magnetic pull of collective attention an opportunity to show off a chiseled, often hairless torso to fawning women and envious men? It is safe to say that such a display has now and again been driven by the motive. Yet this falls short of a comprehensive explanation even for the ego of these physical specimens, since many who strip off the jersey often wear an undershirt, even if it’s a tightly fitted one.

The undershirt provides some explanation. The rule does not state that one has to reveal skin to receive a yellow card. The stripping itself is the offense, not what is revealed. If necessary, the message will be taken up by governing bodies not referees.

Tamir Cohen celebrates his game winner against Arsenal.

The undershirt can carry a message. Sometimes it’s political, but more often it’s a harmless shout-out or a tribute, an in memoriam. Andreas Inietsa’s World Cup-winning goal celebration and jersey strip was a tribute to his friend Dani Jarque, who died of a heart attack at age 26 the previous year. More recently, Tamir Cohen’s game-winning goal celebration against Arsenal revealed a silk-screened image of his late father. In the case of Iniesta, had he been wearing the “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros,” undershirt every game, unable to reveal his message, unable to realize it, during a game in which he didn’t score? Is the half ecstatic-half sober celebration initiated by the opportunity finally presenting itself after so many games and weeks as withheld private emotion, as “siempre conmigo”?

What about those who weren’t wearing an undershirt? What about those who wear an undershirt without a message? Where it’s not about admiring the classical form or communicating anything?

Jersey stripping most often occurs when scoring a goal or after a match. It can correspond to the two greatest moments in a match, although the losers, to a lesser degree, also go shirtless postmatch, bartering for an opponents sweat-soaked shirt in the even exchange of sportsmanship. Winning is euphoric, but it’s also a resolution that ushers in fatigue, aches, and recognition of opponent and fans. It’s a physical and earthly moment.

But scoring a goal is a densely packed euphoria, an exuberant brainlessness, a loss of self, and too overwhelming to be contained within the body and mind. The goal scorer is swept away in the sublime freedom and transcendent joy of the moment. Consumed by it, there’s nothing left of him to see, except for the sprinting peel along the touchline toward the corner flag as the head splits open, the mouth goes agape, and the first article of clothing comes off. How could a manager suppress or punish that?


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