This soccer player scored a goal so rude the ref gave him a yellow card

Even ESPN’s Jay Bilas thinks this is all so stupid
December 9, 2020
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December 9, 2020

It’s not unheard of for soccer players to get in trouble with the referee after scoring. FIFA’s rules discourage ‘excessive’ celebration and specifically ban jumping into the crowd to celebrate, taking off one’s shirt and deliberately riling up opponents or fans, all of which are yellow card offenses. The rationale behind these rules is to both avoid timewasting and to prevent tensions getting out of hand, but given that it’s FIFA I suspect they’re mostly to banish fun and joy. You have to send in bribes if you want those.

There have been some famous incidents of goalscorers running afoul of these rules. Chelsea and Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben was once sent off after scoring at Sunderland and celebrating with the traveling supper; Hannover 96’s Szabolcs Huszti managed to pick up two bookable offenses with one goal (taking his shirt off and jumping into the crowd) after scoring a stoppage-time winner against Werder Bremen.

With all that said, these are all offenses of exuberance, committed while celebrating. Up until now, I’ve never seen a player get in trouble with the ref for what they did while scoring a goal. Here’s Silas Wamangituka to change that:

A couple of things here:

  1. This is wonderful. Sure, Wamangituka is being a bit of a jerk and showing up poor Bremen, but if you don’t want someone to stunt on you by scoring, it’s probably best not to make basic defensive screwups and take the game seriously. The best way not to be embarrassed while playing soccer is to play soccer well. (This is why I stopped playing soccer.) Getting angry about this is like being upset over a hitter bat flipping: it marks you as, at very best, terminally boring.
  2. The yellow card was for “unsporting behavior”, which is a phrase that fascinates me, and one I want to get to grips with. So let’s dig in.

According to the FIFA Laws of the Game, there are a number of offences which are covered by the ‘unsporting behavior’ clause. For instance, if that was all the information you had on Wamangituka’s caution, you might plausibly believe that he had ‘change[d] places with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee’s permission’ or ‘made an unauthorized mark on the field of play’. But since we know what happened, we know that the yellow card was for ‘show[ing] a lack of respect for the game.’

Is this absurd? I think it’s absurd. Sure, Wamangituka is deliberately and gloriously disrespecting Werder Bremen, in particular the comedy duo of Jiří Pavlenka and Ömer Toprak. But conflating Werder Bremen and ‘the game’ is bizarre to the point of absurdity. It is in fact the Bremen players who stop playing first, instead preferring to have a brief spat over responsibility for their error rather than doing the responsible thing and chasing the Stuttgart man down. If they didn’t give Wamangituka the time and space to slow-walk the ball into the goal, he wouldn’t have been able to be quite so rude about his goal.

[Quick aside!]

Curious about the development of ‘unsporting’ and its application here, I went looking through old newspapers to see what I could unearth. The earliest references I could find were from the 1820s, and use it as a very literal adjective:

  • The unsporting reader is a reader who does not participate in sport (i.e. hunting).
  • Unsporting behavior is behavior that impedes sport from proceeding (a boxing match, for instance, or the annoying people attempting to outlaw cock-fighting).
  • An unsporting fish might be a fish that isn’t interested in getting caught; presumably these are all issued yellow cards.
  • In a 1860 article in the Birmingham Daily Post, we hear of an ‘a particularly quiet and un-sporting looking gentleman’ acting as a referee, which I think is olde journaliste way of them calling the poor man a nerd.

We also see no mention of ‘unsporting’ in the Cambridge Rules of 1863, which are considered to be the first real laws of soccer. These explicitly prohibit only ‘holding, pushing with the hands, tripping up, and shinning,’ and now I have a mighty curiosity as to the nature of ‘shinning,’ which sounds painful. In fact, ‘unsporting behavior’ was only added to the Laws in 1997, when it replaced ‘ungentlemanly conduct.’

[End aside]

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Wamungituka’s crime was doing something so rude that the referee thought he had to intervene. Bremen, certainly, were furious — witness Selke steaming in like a bellicose truck. But Bremen being mad at screwing things up and being clowned upon as a result is their own damn fault, so sanctioning the player who did the clowning is a little bit harsh.

On the other hand, it’s given us a fun little piece of trivia, so, uh, thank you referee?

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