x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No need for handshake pageantry in football

The pre-match handshake is another example of the contrived pageantry that simply isn't needed by the game of football.

Liverpool's Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Patrice Evra of Manchester United ahead of the Premier League match on Saturday at Old Trafford, which United won 2-1.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Patrice Evra of Manchester United ahead of the Premier League match on Saturday at Old Trafford, which United won 2-1.

As a show of rationale, all Premier League football players should refuse all contrived pre-match handshakes for all future matches.

This realisation for a better tomorrow came while reading a column by Richard Williams in The Guardian, and coming upon a passage unfamiliar to anyone who began following the league only this century.

"Once upon a time," he wrote, "players ran on to the field, took up their positions and waited for the whistle to blow. At the end of the game, they might shake an opponent's hand in acknowledgement of a satisfying contest."

Really? What changed?

Oh: some television network craved more pageantry, Williams wrote.

Apparently people will not watch enough television unless it contains enough pageantry, so a handshake revolt could lend a boon to all humankind, eventually weaning people all over the world from their addiction to pageantry.

Gather enough momentum, and eventually even Olympic Opening Ceremonies might distil to the athletes marching in and the torch quickly lit, improving the world in general.

Amid our current condition, we have football's manufactured minuet, which makes the ongoing three-day discussion of Luis Suarez and etiquette even more bizarre than it was already.

After all, enter an English football ground as an outsider, and the first impressions include the general ruggedness, even in these glitzier Premier League days still bemoaned by a waning crew of ageing rascals.

It is not just that some of the fans look as if you would not want to offend them in any unkempt pub, or even as if they previously have retributed offences in any unkempt pub. Plenty of the fans look as if they never form a fist.

No, it is that they stand there in merciless weather and barely seem to notice.

It's that they frown upon nonsense, refraining from idle chatter and sometimes leering at those who try it. It's that they chant creatively mean things at that scum from the other side, and that they utilise words in the presence of children that might get you kicked out of an American stadium.

These are tough, tough sorts, even without trying. It's probably the weather.

Then, you turn on a BBC football programme on a Sunday night, and you might think you happened upon a televised version of a Miss Manners column.

The talk centred on the very-very-very frightening implications of Suarez's refusal to shake Patrice Evra's hand before Saturday's match.

It combed through the apologies, dredging again that wretched PR mantra Suarez used about making "a mistake", reason enough to keep apologies private.

One panellist warned that London had an Olympics upcoming. Note: London and Britain have an entrenched history and reputation that will not hinge upon the London Olympics, and certainly will not hinge upon one striker's actions in Manchester in an unrelated sport five months before the London Olympics.

The talk, which included fan representatives from both Manchester United and Liverpool, reached the besmirching of the Liverpool "brand".

Note: in about a year's time, please do show the chart that shows the decline in the purchase of Liverpool merchandise after Saturday, February 11, 2012, and then I'll admit I was wrong to find this ludicrous.

A TV reporter yesterday described the non-handshake as "very, very embarrassing".

Note: is there even one of, say, the 1.4 billion Chinese, walking around deriding Liverpool and English football because one player did not shake another player's hand in a scripted pre-match sideshow?

Do you suppose Sir Alex Ferguson, in branding Suarez a "disgrace" whom Liverpool should jettison, might have found a bit of relish in flinging more chaos at a rival?

No, he would never, ever, ever do something like that.

Do you reckon United fans might have any interest, even one they might not recognise in themselves, in generating outrage, or that this impulse might prove identical were the situation reversed? Nah!

If Rio Ferdinand was so appalled that Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand, why did he show disdain by refusing to shake Suarez's hand?

If the handshake conveys important meaning that bridges differences, then they should convey important meaning that bridges differences?

Really, the whole hubbub almost gives the sense people might be bored in general, the same way they might be bored with a merely great sport and need it slathered with pageantry.

For that TV tendency, of course, any Premier League fans already weary of this discussion can always look to its decades-old origins and, you know, blame America.

cculpepper@thenational.ae