As if our beautiful game has not been denuded of many of its more pleasurable aspects in recent years (eg 'studs up' tackles, shoulder charging goalkeepers into the net, pushing referees, swearing at the linesman etc etc), the Health Protection Agency is now treading on very sensitive ground by suggesting that spitting should be outlawed in football to lessen the likelihood of spreading the swine flu virus.
Anyone who has played the game at any level will realise how important and satisfying the discharge of phlegm at regular intervals is.
Without it, surely, the mouth would gradually fill up with the stuff and the player would end up choking on his own sputum?
Similarly, 'snotting', the procedure equally as important as 'gobbing', involving placing a finger against one nostril whilst simultaneously clearing the other with a brief but energetic snort, would also appear to be under imminent threat from the bureaucrats at the HPA.
The facile counter argument is that people working out in the gym don't engage in these 'clearing out' practices.
This contention is one devoid of a clear understanding of the rituals and conventions that are so deeply ingrained in our national sport.
Just as the Eskimos have many different words for snow, so the cognoscenti of spitting will tell you that their art takes on many different forms.
There is the 'spray gob' where the sputum is discharged over 180 degrees over a short distance. This is achieved with a wide mouthed action creating a fine spray. Directional control is a problem here, however, and the initiator, who is very often still 'learning his trade, can sometimes literally 'get his own back' on a windy day and look a trifle bit amateurish in 'gobbing' circles.
The 'water bottle gob' has come to the fore in recent years, since players appear to take every opportunity, during a break in play, or at half time, to take a swig of water and immediately blow the whole lot back out again.
This pointless exercise is a form of the 'spray gob', but with the potential to cover a wider distance as the liquid is more plentiful and less gloopy than your conventional phlegm.
However, the 'creme de la creme' of spitting (to use a rather inappropriate analogy) is the 'tongue rolled gob', during which process the player takes time to roll up a ball of sputum under his tongue and then discharge it, sometimes over considerable distances, with the accuracy of an Eric Bristow dart.
This can take years of practice.
Allegedly, Zinedan Zidane, a true artist of the gobbing world, regularly stayed behind after training to perfect his 'tongue rolled gob', and was capable, even in his twilight years, of hitting a previously poleaxed Italian from 10 metres.
It is my contention that to eradicate spitting from football completely would be an impossible task.
How would it be policed? The referee cannot be expected (or is that expectorated?) to watch all 22 players all the time for evidence of 'oral excretion', so, presumably we would need a fifth official to carry out the task.
No lack of volunteers for that job then! Of course, spitting does not only happen on the pitch. Many of our elite Premier League managers participate , having honed their skills during their playing days.
It is one area where the manager can score over his younger, fitter players during the training ground 'kickabout'.
After all, like a good wine, gobbing ability improves with age.
So, is it possible to contain spitting or harness it to a greater good? I suppose you could have a spittoon stationed somewhere near the halfway line, that a player could run over to and utilise when he felt the urge to spit.
This would contain and localise the problem but could, possibly, cause congestion (sorry again!) if several players got the urge at the same time.
Players could carry handkerchiefs to spit into. This would also solve the 'snotting' dilemma, but would either involve kit manufacturers building pockets into the shorts or the players having them dangling out of their shirt sleeves like a 19th century 'dandy' (pity Steve McManaman has retired).
On the 'plus' side it would gives clubs another item to merchandise and a soiled handkerchief full of Wayne Rooney's cranial discharges could fetch a handsome sum at the local football club's auction evening.
No.spitting is here to stay as far as I am concerned. It is, after all, unlikely to transmit nasty bugs unless the player spits directly into an opponents mouth, an art which only a handful of Argentinians have ever truly mastered.
In fact, I would go further. Why not incorporate it legitimately into the game by using the specific skills it demands to decide crucial games.
Let's have 'spit offs' instead of penalties at the end of extra time. Each team would nominate five players who, in turn, spit at their opponents standing five metres or so away.
Five points for a head hit, three for the body and one for the legs. Direct strike into the mouth would be 'game over' and hospitalisation for the unlucky opponent. Daft idea? It takes one to know one HPA!
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