Last weekend’s Premier League football highlighted a case of two undershirts: Jermain Defoe’s and Tamir Cohen’s. For his previous two games, since last month’s brace at Wolves brought up his 99th Premier League goal, Jermain Defoe had been wearing a special T-shirt underneath his Tottenham colours emblazoned with ‘100 goals.’ The England striker finally achieved the milestone against West Brom on Saturday but his celebratory shirt was nowhere to be seen and had apparently been neglected in ‘the boot of the car.’
Cohen on the other hand, removed his Bolton jersey in a pre-meditated tribute to his late father having scored a 90th minute winner against Arsenal after being introduced as a substitute five minutes earlier. His father is Avi Cohen, a former Liverpool defender, and was killed in a motorcycle crash only four months ago, but the poignancy and emotion of the moment was not acknowledged by referee, Mike Jones, who booked the Israeli on his way back to the centre circle. Jones was perfectly within his rights to do so, and although he was probably suffering from an overwhelming sense of embarrassment by booking the midfielder, a significant level of consistency is expected of referees and unfortunately removal of a shirt, no matter what the occasion, is an offence worthy of caution under FIFA guidelines.
The law was implemented not long after the 2002 World Cup, but its inception has served only to confuse and irritate football players and fans alike since. It was my understanding that offence could be caused by baring naked torsos or promoting a particular political slogan, but in fact the rule was devised simply as a reaction to the growing popularity of such a celebration, with the thinly veiled excuse that time is wasted by players putting their shirts back on after a goal. This is the only published justification for the rule and is hard to swallow considering all goal celebrations take considerable time to complete, particular celebrations surface as fads (baby-rocking, corner-flag punching, finger-pointing to god etc.), and fans are expected to pay significant fees attending their teams’ performances and should at least be rewarded by players demonstrating a relative display of ecstasy in reaction to goals. Celebrations play a significant role in the entertainment of any sport, and should only be tempered as a reaction to particular ferocity or offence, the referee judging each example at the time.
I understand that particular content emblazoned on the undershirts of some players may cause offence to a section of supporters, but if political slogans are the problem then book players if they’ve got a slogan on their vest, if time-wasting is the problem then book players for delaying the restart, and if it’s apparently down to some religious objection then find a senior representative of that religion who will probably reveal the opposite.