OPINION – Why spitting is still a key issue in modern football

Hailed as a cult hero of Liverpool Football Club and a figurehead of Sky Sports footballing coverage, Jamie Carragher found himself a villain of not only the road, but the sport as a whole on Sunday night.

The 40-year-old ex-defender, who amassed a sum total of 737 competitive appearances in the famous red shirt has subsequently been suspended from his position at Sky for at least two weeks.

The popular pundit was the subject of a tirade of abuse from a motorist as he made his way back from Old Trafford following Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to North-West rivals Manchester United.

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The incident, however turned sour as upon receiving the verbal abuse, Carragher appeared to spit at the driver, who as it turned out, was a United fan with his 14-year-old daughter in the passenger seat.

His actions have lead to a widespread out-pour of disgust, repute and even calls for his expulsion from his post at Sky Sports.

Carragher has subsequently apologised to the family in question and was quick to respond to the breaking news on social media.

History/Culture of ‘spitting’ in the game:

Many will remember the first real case of spitting entering the field of play as a volatile action, Dutchman Frank Rijkaard did so to opponent Rudi Voller in their second round clash with Germany at Italia ’90.

Ultimately, this has set a precedent of sorts, in which players (on occasion) actually feel obliged to spit at opposition fans or players when taunted and embarrassed.

The most famous cases of spitting in modern football, come from former Senegalese international El-Hadji Diouf. Diouf made his name in England, turning out for Liverpool in what was a £10 million pound signing during Gerard Houllier’s reign. This, prior to the player participating at the 2002 World Cup, as Senegal upset the likes of Sweden and 1998 winners France to reach the quarter-finals in what was a monumental performance from all involved.

Following a mixed three-year spell he signed for fellow Premier League side Bolton, initially on loan before finding his way to some form, netting 31 times in his four-season stint. The spell was sadly overshadowed by a number of sordid spitting accusations and incidents.

Some noteworthy spates include: spitting at West Ham fans whilst warming-up on the sidelines in 2002, confronting Celtic fans during a first-leg UEFA Cup tie at Celtic Park and diminishing his status at Bolton by spitting directly at an opponent and ignoring requests from stewards not to do so.

His behaviour incensed Liverpool fans and the status of the club to the extent of which he was dubbed ‘The most hated player’ in Kop folklore and then had to become accustomed to consistent boos from all sections of Anfield each time he turned out for them. Diouf then failed to score in any of his 33 appearances during the 2002-03 campaign.

Since ending their player and managerial careers, Diouf’s former teammate Steven Gerrard and manager Houllier have shamed his actions in their post-career autobiographies, with the latter professing that the spitting fracases “summed him up”.

These weren’t the first incidents of spitting in his career though, having made a habit of it over in France before making the switch to England.

The 37-year-old was infamously labelled “a sewer rat” by then Leeds manager Neil Warnock a few years prior to him signing Diouf for the club, a nickname more than worthy as a compliment for his on-pitch actions.

Diouf has since passed it off as a “normal” act in France and has never publicly or personally apologised for the misdemeanours he committed during his playing career, instead citing a language and cultural barrier as to why he felt it normal and acceptable to do.

He then went onto continue his appalling behaviour in Scotland, once more responding to being antagonised by Celtic fans whilst playing for Rangers in the ‘Old Firm’ derby in 2011.

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Moral stance on ‘spitting’:

These incidents have lessened exceptionally well in recent years, but this flare-up of the atrocities that can limit football’s worldwide appeal, have seemingly remained integrated in the sport, and for players to try and pass it off as “normal” behaviour, could set a dangerous precedent in the sport.

Now with the assistance of a wide range of technology, football must ensure that ‘spitting’ culture remains a past discrepancy and therefore, must clamp down harder on any similar types of abhorrent behaviour in the future, or otherwise risk more irresponsible instances.

Despite the legacy Diouf left at Liverpool, the club continued to extraordinarily defend the forward, denying all allegations submitted for FA consideration, as well as paying multiple fines in the process.

Had there been failure to punish the pundit, the moral high-ground and ‘Fair-play’ stance so prominently valued in the modern era would have been subject to further interrogation from the more general public.

Plus, the fact that the 14-year-old girl was hit by Carragher’s spit during the motorway altercation, shows signs of a progressive decline in the modern standards of those associated with the sport.

In his defence however, the driver was acting irresponsibly himself, attempting a desperate crusade to garner a reaction no doubt. All while filming the incident on his mobile phone, something which itself is one of the most dangerous and inconceivable things a driver can do whilst on the road at such high speed.

This is a damning reflection of modern societal desperation for social media numbers.

His actions also place a cautious warrant on all current professionals, consequently dragging down the reputation of footballers and the game they love to play.


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