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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Fans are back, and so are football’s wind-up kings

The glorious return of supporters to football stadiums has resurrected one football’s most spontaneous and often confrontational sights: the goal scorer’s celebration in front of opposition fans is back.

Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (right) celebrates scoring
Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (right) celebrates scoring

After a fortnight of Premier League football, with all its accompanying footage, it is comforting to know that our footballers still retain that ability to send thousands of fans into apoplexy at any given time.

One moment stood out last weekend. As Dominic Calvert-Lewin prepared to take a penalty in front of Leeds United’s supporters in the Don Revie Stand, he was confronted with an array of distractions behind the goal, including a portly gentleman bearing his sizeable stomach in an attempt to put off the Everton striker.

Calvert-Lewin expertly dispatched the penalty and then pulled off three of the most familiar moves of the celebration genre: putting his lips to his mouth as he ran past the home support, then turning round to point to the name on the back of his shirt before finishing with a knee slide by the corner flag.

To borrow from Alan Partridge, needless to say he had the last laugh.

Nobody likes seeing a goal go in against their team but, deep down, football fans know the rules. If you dish out, you have to take it back. It is in these moments that the stills camera can capture priceless images. Frozen in time, that contrast between the glee of the goal scorer and rage of the opposing supporters.

Occasionally, in amongst the anger and gesticulating fury in the stands there will be a smiling fan, acknowledging the chutzpah of the goalscorer.

Jamie Vardy has taken on the mantle of wind-up merchant supreme in today’s Premier League. His modus operandi is the cupped ear. There is nothing particularly imaginative about this. It is very much the stock gesture, alongside the finger to the lips. But in terms of effectiveness it does the job.

Every now and then, though, as Wolves fans discovered a fortnight ago, the Leicester City forward will tailor-make his routine. After scoring the only goal of the game at the King Power Stadium, he headed over to the visiting Wanderers fans and imitated a howling wolf. It was nearly up there with his flapping eagle routine in front of Crystal Palace fans a few years ago. Only a sourpuss could fail to admire the humour.

Vardy has this uncanny knack of finding the opposition’s fans without obviously appearing to detour from his celebration run. There is a cunning skill in all this. As if scoring in the Premier League was not hard enough, Vardy manages to arrive in front of the other team’s fans with unerring precision.

If the scorer clearly deviates from his expected celebratory route, then that definitely crosses into the territory of unnecessary goading. Back in September 2009, after swapping Arsenal for Manchester City in a £25million move, Emmanuel Adebayor faced his former club for the first time at his new home.

The visiting Arsenal fans baited their former forward mercilessly throughout so when he inevitably scored, in the 80th minute, the opportunity surely presented itself for a dig back.

Only it didn’t, as the goal went in at the opposite end from the Arsenal fans. But like a man possessed, Adebayor set off on a hundred-yard dash to the visitors’ section, before knee-sliding in front of the Gunners faithful.

“I should have not done that, but the emotions took over me,” said an apologetic Adebayor in his post-match interview, clearly seeking to get his retaliation in first before the Football Association stepped in with a disrepute charge. “The frustration is out of me and I feel sorry for what I have done,” he continued. “But as a player I am free.”

The FA did not share such a spiritual view, whacking him with a suspended two-match ban and a £25,000 fine for “improper conduct”.

Adebayor was certainly a victim of the modern Premier League era. We are in the age where there is forensic analysis of every step a footballer takes.

It was not always so. When European football’s two great teams of the mid-Eighties, Liverpool and Everton, went tooth and nail for the 1986/87 league title, the two teams met at Anfield with five games of the season remaining. With Everton trailing 1-0, their free-kick wizard Kevin Sheedy launched a thunderbolt from 25 yards into the top corner at the Kop end. The Irishman was one of the Toffees’ more mild-mannered individuals, so what happened next was perhaps more eye-opening.

Without breaking stride he continued on an arcing run, saluting the Kop with a wave and then a flick of the Vs before repeating the gesture to an equally aghast home support in the Kemlyn Road Stand on his way back to the halfway line. Search it out on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed. The game’s authorities did not bat an eyelid.

Context is everything during a goal celebration. Sheedy’s phenomenal strike came during the inferno of a title run-in between two great city rivals. Some goals just don’t justify a nod to the opposing fans. When Jack Grealish got off the mark for his new club, Manchester City, last weekend right in front of the visiting Norwich City fans, he was simply too embarrassed to acknowledge them. After all, a goal scored via an accidental ricochet off the knee during a 5-0 rout is one to forget.

All players will tell you that nothing beats celebrating goals with their own supporters. But there are undoubtedly some who enjoy the less welcome attention of their foes in the stands.

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