Body Talk

The Angle... usually concerns itself with the spoken clichés of football's protagonists but the 2010/11 season's rabid obsession with Fernando Torres's body language has turned attention to the non-verbal collection of textbook footballer mannerisms.

The Grimace
Other than genuine physical pain, there are two opportunities to grimace for the modern footballer. The first, and most common, grimace-inducer is a squandered goalscoring opening. Be it a gilt-edged opportunity or simply a real chance - but not an absolute sitter - the miss is often accompanied by something like this (hands-on-head optional):

Lee McCulloch: Walter Smith the reason for Rangers success

The grimace in this situation is likely to be an expression of ruefulness, pre-empting the co-commentator's pondering over whether the chance-misser will "rue" the missed chance "later on". No other misdemeanour in football can be rued, it should be added. Non-goalscoring errors may cause the player/manager to "live to regret" them, though.

The second grimace in football is even more apologetic in nature. When a selfish striker opts to shoot from an impossible angle, with a teammate in a better position, his penance is expressed with a grimace similar to that above, plus a guilty palm of acceptance in the direction of the angry, snubbed colleague.

The Beleaguered Manager Clap
Time is running out for a team to save themselves in an important game, and the manager has run out of ideas. Having stood forlorn on the edge of his technical area, he remembers he has one more in his locker - the encouraging clap. Barrel successfully scraped, he crosses his arms once again, resigned to defeat. Let's call it The Avram.

When players are sent off, they seem unable to leave the pitch without slightly undressing themselves. This can range from the mere untucking of the shirt, via ripping off the captain's armband in disgust, to full (and unexplainable) upper-body nudity:

Real Concern
Despite the plague of playacting that is creeping into the modern game, it is still very clear when a player has suffered a serious injury. Assuming his leg hasn't suffered a very obvious Busst-esque redesign, the injured player must first signal his desperate plight - while cheating fakers roll, writh and perform triple Salchows, genuinely injured players lie prostrate except for a desperate arm in the air. At this point, no medical attention is allowed onto the field until at least half-a-dozen players display real concern (the more opposition players involved, the more real the concern) by waggling both wrists in the air in a frenzied come-hither gesture:

Checking For Blood
After a clash of heads, one or both of the victims are likely to be seen to pat the affected area and check their hand for any signs of blood. A reasonable enough act of self-preservation. Except, for some reason, it's always done about twelve times in quick succession. You're OK mate, honest. Stop checking.

Goal Kick Perfectionists
To the casual onlooker, a goal-kick remains one of the most rudimentary aspects of the modern game - a straightforward punt to get the ball back in play. Goalkeepers, possibly because they are so mad, are very much their own worst critics though. Just as TV prepares to cut away from the close-up shot of the 'keeper hoofing it down the pitch, every now and then you see a custodian chastise himself for a poor kick. No-one else seems to give a shit.

The Medium of Mime
The saturation of television football coverage is perhaps the reason for many of these mannerisms, none more so than appeals to the referee.

First up is a classic of the genre - claiming not to have heard the whistle when penalised for kicking the ball away. First, the player will nonchalantly point to his ear, confident that the referee will take no action. If the official takes action, more zealous pointing to the ear (or both ears, in extreme cases) may be necessary.

Cue video of a mystified Robin van Persie appealing to not just one referee, but around 90,000:

In its defence, this appeal often takes place in the roaring cauldrons of European football, where language barriers further warrant the need for visual aids.

A more comical, frivolous act of mime we see each week in our Anglophone domestic leagues is the ball-shape. To support his claim that he got at least some of the ball, the tackler will make a circular shape with both hands (more than once, if he really means it). As a general rule, the bigger the ball-shape he makes, the more convinced he is that he got the ball. Rather belatedly, this spectacle is being replaced by the rather more understandable grabbing of the actual ball, held out in a desperate plea to the referee to change his mind.

It's not clear why, where possible, the players cannot communicate these appeals verbally. It has even reached the point where the ridiculous, pantomime act of waving an imaginary card (which has now achieved an absurd level of taboo) is seemingly more of an offence than actually asking the referee to book a player.

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