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Scrapping the Pre Match Ritual: Let’s Shake On It

Of course, we can keep awesome handshakes like this one.
Of course, we can keep awesome handshakes like this one.

In February last year football fans were subject to what can only be labelled as surely the most thrilling event to occur in the sport of all time: the moment in which Anton Ferdinand and John Terry would be expected to shake hands, although only this time they might not actually do so.

If you believed every word the media wrote, you'd be under the impression that this was the most significant event to happen on the day: the unbearable tension that only a handshake showdown can provide clearly outweighing the game of football to be played afterwards. In fact, such was the hype I wouldn't have been surprised to hear if viewer numbers had plummeted after the handshakes. As it happened, the handshakes never took place, because the FA decided to ruin the media's idea of a good storyline by cutting the handshakes. The reality is, they made the right decision then, and it's just a pity they haven't made the right decision now and cut them entirely.

At this point, I will have to link you to Andi Thomas's superb piece from the SB Nation main page. It may have been published some six months ago, but it's still entirely appropriate, and it serves to establish many ideas which form my own opinion on the matter.

I don't want to run over too much of the ground that Andi writes about his piece, but I do feel like I have to write something on the matter as the issue is raised yet again ahead of this weekend's game against Queens Park Rangers.

Let's get this straight: the handshake ceremony is trivial. It was only introduced to the Premier League in 2004, and as far as I can tell they still managed to play proper, moral football in the years before 2004 without an observance of the bumping of wrists. It's an elongated piece of ceremony that serves no purpose other than to build dramatic tension ahead of the match to be played, and quite frankly, we don't need this.

I suppose one could run the argument that the handshake ritual stands for the values of fair play and sportsmanship, but I'd be willing to bet that if you polled any of the two hundred and twenty players who will be involved in the ceremony this weekend, not many of them would testify that they were, in the last few minutes before the match, be interested in, as Andre Villas-Boas put it, "promoting good values". Certainly, these good values of the game do exist (even if Luis Suarez occasionally suggests otherwise) but I'd be pretty willing to bet that at that point in time, the majority of players would be focused on the job that they get paid to; that is, play football, rather than propagating football's moral code.

Further to the point, there are not just twenty-two players who will be involved in the match: we're naturally going to be substitutes, and these players aren't involved in the ceremony. Does that mean that they're not promoting good values? No, of course not, but they don't need a handshake ceremony to prove that they are.

Rather, the handshake ceremony only highlights something we already take for granted. We only ever pay attention to it when there is some controversial meaning attached to it. All those other times in which it has no meaning: that's exactly why we need to abolish it, because we'd be scrapping something otherwise meaningless, and in those cases where a difficult situation can arise, as is the case this weekend, we can just get on with the football.

NB: Don't use this story as a forum to attack Rio and Anton Ferdinand.

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