Soccer handshake divides fans but adds to fun factor for some players

Soccer handshake divides fans but adds to fun

When Tottenham star Harry Kane scored against Everton earlier this month in England’s Premier League, he and teammate Dele Alli celebrated the goal with an elaborate handshake.

Depending on your breakdown, it had at least 10 moves starting with a hand to the chest, graduating to a complex multi-level handshake before ending with another hand to the heart and pointing to the sky. 

Not everyone was impressed.

“Harry Kane’s hip handshake horrifies football fans,” read a headline on Fox Sports Asia’s website.

“Fans unimpressed with Harry Kane and Dele Alli handshake,” echoed ESPN’s soccer website.

“The new Kane/Alli handshake should be all the motivation our defence needs to stop Spurs scoring next week,” tweeted a Southampton supporter. 

Given soccer’s history of goal celebrations — think rocking babies, doing the Robot, kissing the badge, sniffing a white line, flexing muscles, sucking thumbs, performing a string of somersaults, punching corner flags, pretending to navigate a bobsled or knock down teammates like bowling pins, and using a soccer boot as a phone — it’s hard to understand why emotions run so high at a fancy handshake.

Especially in today’s sports landscape.

Mikhail Baryshnikov would have had a hard time replicating what your average NBA player does during game introductions. Comparing the Kane-Alli handshake to what LeBron James does on a nightly basis before tip-off is like comparing a horse and buggy to a Lamborghini.

And Kane and Alli don’t have the benefit of a bellowing PA announcer, gyrating cheerleaders, flashing light show and pounding musical soundtrack.

Centre Jonas Valanciunas, all seven feet of him, is literally the measuring stick for the Toronto Raptors intros. The lengthy Lithuanian sticks a hand the size of a dinner plate high in the air and invites teammates to try to touch it.

Six-foot guard Kyle Lowry needs a run-up to get there.

Kane-Alli haters would be well advised to avoid YouTube clips of the Oklahoma Thunder pre-game dance party pairing Russell Westbrook and (now Chicago Bull) Cameron Payne. It’s like America’s Got Talent on steroids. 

Hockey has also got into the fist-pounding, chest-thumping, stick-slashing act. While the NHL seems to have little time for exotic goal celebrations these days, what goes on at the locker-room door prior to taking the ice is becoming more complicated.

Chris Thorburn leads the pack when the Winnipeg Jets make their way down the tunnel at game time. The veteran forward first yells out a one-minute warning so his teammates can hear him in the locker-room area. That’s followed by another bellow with 10 seconds to go.

Players share handshakes with specific teammates, and even staff such as the massage therapist.

Thorburn leads the Jets out, followed by Mathieu Perrault. Dustin Byfuglien goes last with Toby Enstrom and Jacob Trouba in front of him.

You need a program to figure out the rituals, which are not exactly carved in stone.

“I am either going out third (from the front) or fourth last,” said Jets sophomore winger Nikolaj Ehlers. “It kind of just depends on what I feel like.”

Up until 2013, then-Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price used to celebrate wins with triple low fives, tapping their hands together at waist level. Then-coach Michel Therrien banned it because he wanted only team celebrations.

After that, the whole team would go to centre ice and raise their sticks, as European teams have done for ages.

Like basketball, baseball has its choreographed moves among players. Although Jose Bautista managed to speak volumes with a simple bat flip.

Goal celebrations aside, soccer seems slow to the uptake.

“I see more guys doing the handshakes and celebrations,” said Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund. “And I think it’s good for the game. I like it. I like to see guys are doing something off the field that shows a bit of chemistry and camaraderie.”

Veteran Toronto defender Drew Moor, Hagglund’s roommate on the road, hasn’t seen choreographed moves invade soccer but welcomes anything that adds to the fun factor.

Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco has tried to do just that, revving up a motorcycle or stirring an imaginary pot after scoring. Former forward Robert Earnshaw, who counts Toronto and Vancouver among his many clubs around the globe, strung moves together on his goal celebrations like figure skater Patrick Chan designs quadruple jumps.

No fan of less is more, Earnshaw would cap a somersault with a flamboyant matador-like flourish. If in the mood, he might also sheath an imaginary sword.

No complaints from Moor, who points to the NFL trying to curb elaborate celebrations.

“I understand what the (NFL) is trying to do with that but if you score a goal, you score a touchdown, if you win a big game, don’t be afraid to express yourself, don’t be afraid to be an individual,” said Moor.

“I haven’t seen the (Kane-Alli) handshake, but I guarantee you I would see it and smile and not think that there’s not a place for it. Go enjoy (it), have fun. The whole point of soccer is to score a goal, is to go put the ball in the back of the net and it’s the hardest thing to do. So go enjoy it when you do it.”

— With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal and Judy Owen in Winnipeg

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter



Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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