Footballers and FIFA Law 12

By Frederick Mordi


Winning an election, passing an examination, or scoring a goal in a football match, often creates an intense feeling of euphoria that makes people do things they would not do under normal circumstances. Some end up ‘over doing’ it, like Robin van Persie, one of the biggest stars in the English Premier League (EPL), did recently.

RVP                                                Ref

Returnee ace striker Didier Drogba, whom controversial coach Jose Mourinho now calls a ‘special one,’ had put Chelsea ahead in the 53rd minute with his header in the premiership game between the Blues, and RVP’s Manchester United.

But RVP pulled the chestnuts out of the fire in the 94th minute when he scored a brilliant goal, which denied Chelsea three points. The match eventually ended in a 1-1 draw. There is hardly any footballer in the world who would not celebrate after scoring this vital goal for his club. RVP is not an exception. He did not know when he pulled off his shirt and flung it in the air, out of sheer ecstasy. The referee promptly gave him a yellow card. This made his coach, Luis van Gaal, angry, not with the referee, but with RVP, whom he called ‘stupid,’ for earning an unnecessary yellow card.

“He did a stupid reaction after the goal,” the coach was quoted as saying after the match. “You can be excited but you don’t have to pull your shirt off because then you have a yellow card. It is not so smart.”

Even the usually quiet Super Eagles striker, Victor Moses, could not help showing fans his six packs when he scored a goal against Ethiopia in Calabar in 2013. He bagged a yellow card for this. This prompts a question: should footballers be given yellow cards when they pull off their shirts after scoring a goal?


FIFA, the highest decision-making organisation in world football, had ruminated over this issue for years before it finally came up with a verdict, famously known as the FIFA Law 12, which prescribes an automatic yellow card for a footballer that removes his shirt after scoring a goal in a match. The Law came into effect on 1 July, 2004.

“A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour,” the Law stated. “Removing one’s shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy.”

In justifying this decision, which did not go down well with critics, FIFA explained that billions of people of different cultural background and religious persuasion, watch football on television across the world. The habit of taking off one’s shirt after netting a goal, FIFA added, is considered offensive to some people. Although debates continue to rage over the merits and demerits of FIFA Law 12, there are several creative ways some footballers have learnt to celebrate their goals while still keeping their shirt on.

The sublime and the ridiculous

The most common form of goal celebration appears to be the scorer leaping and punching the air. But some footballers have added glamour to this. For instance, who would forget former Super Eagle’s striker, Julius Aghahowa’s famous backflips at the 2002 FIFA World Cup after he scored a goal against Sweden, or Finidi George’s bizarre behaviour that reminds one of a urinating dog, when he scored against Greece at the 1994 World Cup? How about the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon’s veteran, Roger Milla’s hip-wiggling Makossa dance at the Italia ‘90 FIFA World Cup, which he used to celebrate each of his four goals?

Julius                                                Roger



It is not only Africans that are given to excessive displays of emotions after scoring goals. Argentine legend and former Boca Juniors striker, Carlos Tevez, would have won an Oscar for mimicking a chicken after he scored against River Plate, during the 2004 Copa Libertadores. He received a red card for his ingenuity, despite not having been booked before. It was thought that his action offended the spectators’ sensibilities.

Bernardo Corradi’s case was even more dramatic. After scoring a goal for Manchester City in the match against Fulham in 2006, he dashed to the corner flag, hotly pursued by team mate Joey Barton. Corradi then uprooted the corner flag and proceeded to ‘knight’ the kneeling Barton.

However, not all goal celebrations end on a good note. Lomana LuaLua’s attempt at performing backflips met with disaster when he injured himself while celebrating a goal. His then club, Portsmouth, banned him from pulling off such stunts in future. These are some of the more extreme cases of goal celebration.

Memorable Styles

But there are surely some memorable styles that are worth mentioning. Jurgen Klinsmann’s graceful dive onto the grass with arms and legs outstretched whenever he scored, is one of them. Cristiano Ronaldo’s sliding on the knees is another popular style used by many footballers today. When a scorer kisses his ring finger after scoring, he is deemed to be greeting his wife with this celebration, while those who simply suck their thumb, are presumed to be recognising their children. Some celebrate by pointing towards the skies, as if to express gratitude to God.

Klinsmann                                                                Ronaldo



Another style involves the scorer himself scooping up the ball and running to the centre circle to place it on the spot. It is usually done by teams that require a goal to win or draw the game. Gbolahan Salami did it when he picked up the ball after scoring his first goal for the Super Eagles in his debut match against Congo in Calabar on September 6, 2014. The match ended 3-2 in Congo’s favour.

Emmanuel Adebayor, who moved from Arsenal to Manchester City then, endured the taunts of his old fans, while playing for his new club. When he scored against his former club, Adebayor celebrated by running the length of the field in front of Arsenal fans before he slid on his knees. He received a yellow card. These days, some footballers use goal celebration to make a political statement or to identify with a social cause. The sanctions prescribed for these offences are usually more severe.


Indeed, only few players can score goals and simply walk away without making a fuss. Eric Cantona is one of them. He had a casual style of celebrating his goals. Mario Balotelli, another footballer, famous for his tantrums on and off the pitch, hardly shows emotions when he scores. After scoring a goal against Manchester United in October 2011, he merely lifted up his jersey to expose an undershirt with the words: ‘Why Always Me.’ It is as if they were trying to say: ‘scoring goals is no big deal.’ Women footballers are not immune from exhibiting unsporting behaviour, as American striker, Brandi Chastain, proved when she scored the winning goal in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China.

While footballers have a right to celebrate when they score goals, what FIFA appears to be saying is that it must done with a modicum of dignity.

What is your take on this?



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2 responses to “Footballers and FIFA Law 12”

  1. MCO says :

    good one and your illustrations are succinct

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