x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Football celebrations are a thing of the past

The imaginary baby, the Elvis, the dentist's chair - great goal celebrations are a lost art in football these days.

The invisible baby, the dentist's chair and the golf club - spontaneous acts of delight are now consigned to history

I am getting old. Every day brings further proof of my inexorable slide towards death. My barber spends longer on my nostrils than my head. My musical tastes have become nostalgically conservative (sample quote: "Turn that rubbish off and play some early 90s hardcore techno. Now that's music you can dance to.")

As for the cliche of police officers looking young? Well, let's just say they do not like it when you ruffle their hair and offer them a lollipop. Believe me.

But nothing made me feel quite as old as reading that a professional footballer called Matheus Oliveira started for the Brazilian club Flamengo last week, in a 6-2 win over Cortiba.

You know Matheus. Everyone does. He was, in the summer of 1994, the world's most famous invisible baby. In the World Cup quarter-final between Holland and Brazil, Jose Roberto Gama de Oliveira, the striker more commonly known as Bebeto, celebrated scoring by rocking his arms as if cradling a baby. That imaginary infant was his son, Matheus, who was born just days earlier.

It was a heart-warming moment in a poor tournament otherwise notable for its subdued atmosphere, scorching temperatures, bad discipline, lacklustre football and the shocking murder of Andres Escobar, the Colombian defender.

I remember watching all this, as an 18-year-old, like it was yesterday. In fact, I am fairly sure it was yesterday. It has certainly not been long enough for a baby to mature into a professional footballer. He would have to be at least 16 years old, which would make me 34. Impossible.

Still, if Bebeto's invisible baby is now playing professional football, it makes me wonder what happened to all those other iconic goal celebrations?

The Roger Milla dance. An instant hit in 1990, this Cameroonian corner flag jig involves raising the right arm in classic ballroom pose, placing the left hand on the stomach and waggling the posterior. The dance retired from international football in the mid-90s but is still regularly performed by older men at family weddings, often in a deliberate ploy to embarrass their teenage daughters. The Dentist's Chair. The infamous 1996 Paul Gascoigne celebration involved lying on the floor while teammates poured drinks into his mouth, in reference to a similar incident during a team night out. The chair in question later checked itself into a rehabilitation clinic, along with Robbie Fowler's snorted goalline. It now lives a quiet life as a rocking chair in a respite home.

The golf club. Craig Bellamy swung an imaginary golf club after scoring for Liverpool against Barcelona, in reference to allegedly striking teammate John Arne Riise just days earlier with a seven-iron. The imaginary golf club is now stored in Anfield's imaginary loft, alongside Emile Heskey's imaginary headphones and DJ turntables.

The Elvis. Lee Sharpe treated Manchester United fans to an Elvis Presley impression after scoring, using the corner flag pole as a microphone stand. Sadly, this celebration died on a Las Vegas lavatory some years ago. Or did it?

The dive. Jurgen Klinsmann's running dive celebration was introduced as a parody of his antics against Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final.

Since then, it has remained in top-flight football, where it is no longer a parody but an integral part of the game (see Rivaldo, Michael Owen, Theo Walcott, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Ngog, Eduardo, Alberto Gilardino, and so many more.)