What do fans really want when a former player scores against them?

Adam Brown

Football fans love the drama of a player scoring against one of their former clubs – it creates controversy. But what do fans really want to happen when the footballing script writes the obvious scoring against a former club? 

Of course, there’s no right or wrong way of celebrating for every single goal against a former club; each case should be treated individually. The expected celebration of a player who was forced out of a club will differ from that of a player who was once a fan favourite.

While it may have been hilarious for the neutral if Lampard sprinted to the corner and shushed the Chelsea fans, it was never really going to happen. The English midfielder is a Chelsea legend – everyone can appreciate that this is the club where he made his name and consequently had built up a strong relationship with supporters – so why burn the (Stamford) bridge?

One man who knows a thing or two about burning bridges is Togolese striker, Emmanuel Adebayor. Following his move to Manchester City, the former African player of the year decided to run the full length the pitch before knee sliding. But to be fair, given how Arsenal fans booed the striker during his time at Arsenal, should they have expected any different?

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Effectively, the celebrations of Lampard and Adebayor create their own pH scale. When a former player scores, they have the opportunity to operate towards either end, but given that the majority of circumstances involve a player who was nowhere near associated with a club as much as a Lampard with Chelsea or Gerrard with Liverpool, why should they have to make this decision?

If a player isn’t tied to a club as a legend or boyhood fan, there’s no real reason for fans to expect some apologetic hand and casual jog back into position. Similarly, a former player isn’t going to expect an apology from the fans if their team loses when revisiting a former club.

Scoring a goal is the most exciting part of football for a player, so why should they not be allowed to enjoy it if they score against a former club? But not just that, there’s rarely any venom in celebrations – no intention to hurt fans who once sung the name of the scorer.

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Whilst Liverpool fans may have a point with their reaction to Sakho’s involvement in the handshake after Christian Benteke’s goal, it should never be surprising to see a former player celebrate when they score.

In most cases, the idea of a player scoring against a former club is one of football’s most exciting aspects. The games have something extra on the line, players can prove themselves to fans that never believed, while fans can hope that they aren’t haunted by a former striker who once had a woeful goal ratio. The anticipation is what creates the excitement, so why should football look to create behavioural norms to abide by?

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Effectively, expecting a player not to celebrate against you is overcomplicating the sport. It creates a politically correct standard which everyone is expected to play by – which spoils football’s culture and undermines rivalry. Fans are more than happy to see their own players invoke reactions from opposing supporters through celebrations, but want former players to behave in some morally acceptable way? Pointless.

If that’s how it was, football would be boring. The strong desire to win wouldn’t be there – the feeling when you’re up against a former player provides a much greater incentive to win, which consequently, elevates the fear of defeat. Arsenal and Liverpool fans will know all too well about coming up against a former player who was once destined to be a legend.

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