This stiller world was embodied in players’ understated goal celebrations. Here were climactic moments responded to without choreography, ego or hands lifted to ears in front of the away end. A scoring player “could seem modest to the point of embarrassment. It was as if he did not want to take all of the glory and wished to silently convey that a goal belonged to everyone. There was poignancy in this reaction for those on the other side of the advertising hoardings. A scorer’s lack of self-congratulation tacitly acknowledged that a goal was a supporter’s moment. Here was the star actor, pointing to the audience during curtain-call applause.
His celebration was rarely more flamboyant than the raising of an arm. Perhaps he was taking time to drink in the roar of the crowd, even to look at those smiling faces. He would take the back pats and rigid hugs of teammates, the feeble handshakes and the cupped taps to the back of his head. Then, a jog back to the halfway line, where he could catch breath with hands rested above knees. He looked to the ball now moored on the centre-spot and gave inward thanks for what it had given him, and what it had given that crowd.
In truth, he deserved to be more exultant. None of us would have minded. Instead, he was left to revel in a goal in his own time, staring into space among the racket of the communal bath. There could now rise across his face the grin of a fulfilled man.
(Excerpt from the chapter, 'Understated Goal Celebrations'.)