Italy – Home of the Celebration

by Joel Sked

Football is painful. Players constantly misplacing the simplest of passes, defenders incapable of defending, managers to obdurate to see what thousands of fans see. And then there is defeat.

Some fans are blessed however. They who witness good players playing good football getting good results. But for most we are left questioning why? Why are we putting ourselves through 90 minutes of torture each week? Why are we paying hundreds, thousands even, of pounds each year to do so?

Then something strange happens. Your team score a goal. Yes. A goal. And for a short time you lose the plot. You forget about all the feebleness you have witnessed. You are out of your seat, bounding up and down as if on an imaginary pogo stick; hugging the stranger next to you as your eyes meet in a split second of unbridled joy. If only you could see yourself. That is what a goal can do to you.

For players, celebrating a goal is different. For some it is personal joy, others it is about the team while a few look to convey a message. Then there are those that look like they don’t seem to really care.

Despite unnecessary guidelines by those in power to curb ‘over exuberant’ celebrations such as the removal of the strip or leaving the field of play to exult with the fans, the celebration is still a part of football that should be cherished and mocked, copied and forgotten.

And one country does celebrations better than anyone. Italy.

Going back almost 30 years to the World Cup of 1982 where a Paolo Rossi inspired Azzurri lifted the trophy.

The scene was the Bernabeu. The player Marco Tardelli.

The ball fell to the Italian on the edge of the West Germany box, with two German opponents bearing down on him it looked as if he had lost his opportunity, only to unleash and unstoppable left-footed shot past the stationary Harold Schumacher, who had taken time out from knocking players unconscious to watch the ball fly into the far corner.

However it was what would come next that would be most revered. It seemed to take Tardelli two seconds to realise just what he had just achieved. A goal in the World Cup final. A goal to all but secure the World Cup for the Italians. Emotion then took over. Shock turned into amazement, clinching his fists, mouth agape he set off on a celebration of elation. No practice, no pre-planning just emotion. His face had it all. Bewilderment, astonishment, ecstasy and even a release of anger and frustration. And as he ran towards the Italy fans behind the goal he had breached, happiness.

World Cups were just as effective as youtube is today at reaching a worldwide audience as fans got to witness players they had only heard about; goals, skills AND celebrations.

At Italia ’90 Roger Mila brought the dance routine to the eyes of football fans as he celebrated each goal shimmying and shaking around the corner flag. Then in 1994 a celebration still used today was pioneered as the Brazilian Bebeto and teammates rocked their arms from side to side as if holding a baby to commemorate the recent birth of Bebeto’s child.

Now ‘special’ celebrations are happening most weeks throughout world football and through increased exposure, thanks to the internet and television coverage, more are being plagiarised in parks up and down the country.

Do Icelandic team Stajrnan FC sound similar? If not how about the team that compose elaborate celebrations including the human toilet, giving birth and most famously gone fishing. To use that familiar phrase ‘a youtube sensation’. Ingenuity, originality and humour. Kudos.

There has also been the recent phenomenon of African and South American players passing of rubbish, uncoordinated dancing as a way to celebrate. Step forward the worst culprit of them all, Asamoah Gyan. That kind of dancing in your local or a club would be rightfully derided. Lomana Lua Lua had it right every time. Flips. And lots of them.

But we go back to the Italian Peninsula. The Italian game has been tarnished in the last decade and then kicked while it has been down. But one thing they do better than anyone is celebrate. They keep it simple and they keep it passionate.

Is it a plane? No it’s Vincenzo Montella.

Montella was one of the most successful Italian goalscorers during the ‘90’s and into the millennium – whether it was with Empoli, Genoa, Sampdoria or his renowned spell with Roma. Goal after goal would see Montella spread his arms out like wings ‘flying’ his plane. It became so accustomed that he we would be nicknamed L’Aeroplanino (the Little Airplane).

Sadly L’Aeroplanino did not ‘fly’ down the touchline once he took over from Claudio Ranieri at Roma in February. Even when i Giallorossi defeated arch-rivals Lazio. Barry Fry would have.

Is it a bird? No it’s Andrea Caracciolo.

The awkward and gangly Caracciolo, currently playing with Brescia, has had a less fruitful career than Montella. However his goals have brought him two Italy caps and moves to Sampdoria and Palermo. His goals have also brought out his ‘bird’ celebration.

Most commonly in the blue and white shirt of Brescia; after a goal, usually with his head, Andrea will jog away from goal flapping his arms. There is something not quite right seeing a 6 foot plus striker doing so but that makes it all the more amusing – especially when in the shirt of Palermo where he would resemble a flamingo.

It’s Super Pippo.

Filippo Inzaghi. The most passionate of them all. Over the years Kaka, Rui Costa, Clarence Seedorf et al have mesmerised Milan fans at the San Siro as the Rossoneri has taken on all comers, beating the best; setting up tap-ins for serial poacher Inzaghi to score from all of three yards.

As he wheels away you’d think he had done it all himself – arms outstretched, mouth contorted, off into the distance as if a 12-year-old boy scoring a last minute wonder-goal to win his local cup final. He wants the adulation. And who can blame him, he’s a goal scorer. And a very good one at that. It doesn’t matter if Milan is up by three goals if he scores he’ll let you know that he scored. So refreshing. So Tardelli like.

He has his critics, some of who are the biggest names in the game, but labelling him as only a poacher does him great disservice. He is ‘Super Pippo’ with a super celebration.

It would not be right when talking about Italian goalscorers and celebrations if we left out Il Capitano, Francesco Totti.

His celebrations over the years have been less about personal or team glory and more about getting a message across to fans, press or his wife. A favourite of his is to unveil a message on a t-shirt underneath his battle attire. His most recent ‘invention’ was ‘The King of Rome is not dead’ after appreciating that very slogan which commentator Richard Whittle announced as the estimable Totti celebrated his second in a 2-0 win over Lazio.

However Il Capitano is most commonly found pointing skywards with one hand and sucking his thumb on the other cutting an iconic shape having pierced the opposition backline; socks down past his shinguards, captains armband glowing from his Roman shirt.

The last two players are both personal favourites and both former Fiorentina team mates. Luca Toni and Giampaolo Pazzini. Toni’s goals propelled Palermo into Serie A and then Fiorentina into Europe before a big move to Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. Big, strong and a goal scorer. A familiar site in Italy, Europe and even Germany saw Toni with a beaming smile cupping his hand to his ear as if to say ‘can you hear me?’

And that was the inspiration for Giampaolo Pazzini’s two finger point into his eyes. It is not a rude gesture. It is simply, ‘did you see what I just did’?

Having fallen behind Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino Il Pazzo moved from his boyhood heroes La Viola to the port City of Genoa where he and Antonio Cassano struck up a partnership that propelled Sampdoria to within minutes of the 2010/2011 Champions League group stage. He impressed to the point Internazionale parted with 12m Euros to bring him to the Giuseppe Meazza where he is now rubbing shoulders with Samuel Eto’o at the top of the game. He will continue to ask ‘did you see that’ and more than ever before then answer will be yes.

Even the general celebrations are passionate and memorable. Many stadiums in Italy are stuck with an athletics track separating the pitch from the Tifosi and Ultras. There is a positive to it all however. Without a trademark celebration players can embark on a treacherous course to rejoice with the fans. Hopping over the hoarding onto the running track, dodging photographers, over another advertisement board, round yet another then up onto the end of the stand to be met by delirious fans that have scaled the fencing to share the moment, the passion, the glory.

Then there is the team celebration. You know the one. The one you would very rarely see on these shores but are a common occurrence in Italy.

You have just snuck in at the back post to meet a cross which had evaded all team mates and opposition and squeezed it past the goalkeeper. You pick yourself up off the ground and head to the corner flag, team mates in tow. You look to your right and you are met and confronted by an army of substitutes, coaches and other hangers-on as they enter the pitch and charge at you. You are swallowed by their joy. Grown men piled on top of each other, screaming, pulling each others hair, cuddling and even sharing a kiss. While you are submerged under a pile of bodies you unfortunately fail to witness the last straggler waddling down from the bench, probably the doctor. Probably now needing a hip replacement.

Italian football may be currently stuck in a rut in comparison with La Liga and the English Premier League as those on the outside pour scorn on Serie A but no one can deny the country’s passion for their football and they way they celebrate their achievements. If it’s World Cup final goal or a tap-in to put their team 5-0 up. For me Italy is and will for some time be the home of the celebration. Simple, passionate and fun.

2 Responses

  1. Gaurav Dhar says:

    Great piece.

    A personal favorite of mine is Schillaci at Italia ’90.

    He didn’t run off in celebration. He literally sprinted. Sometimes teammates couldn’t even grab a hold of him as he was in such ecstasy, leaps and fistpumps abound.

    Can’t imagine what he would have brought out if Italy ended up winning.

  2. Saket Rao says:

    Another beautiful moment is the Germany – Italy semifinal in 2006.

    Fabio Grosso with his run into the wild with wagging head refusing to believe what he just did..

    And Del Pierro celebrating with the crowd after scoring at the end of extra time of the amazing game and ensuring a World Cup final berth!

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