Lifting the lid on the world of football

The Secret Footballer
10 Nov, 2012

Humble pie not on Wenger’s menu

There are football upsets that end in acrimony as players trudge from the pitch complaining about the referee, the playing surface and the fact that the sun was in their eyes. While also going out of their way, at the same time, not to shake hands with their conquerors. That infuriates me.

And then there are upsets that end in one of the finest players the game has ever seen telling reporters that the atmosphere at Celtic Park on Wednesday evening was “a marvel and an example”. And Xavi, the captain of beaten Barcelona, was not alone in his praise of the Scottish champions. In the aftermath of defeat, Barcelona put out an official Tweet that read: ‘Congratulations to @celticfc for well-earned victory a day after their 125-year anniversary.’

Aside from the blue half of Glasgow, there aren’t many people that have a bad word to say where Celtic are concerned. And they are a player’s dream testimonial side because they always bring a huge following and there’s never any hint of trouble.

The same cannot be said for the players and fans of other sides, as we have seen all too recently. Whenever I am on the winning side against one of the biggest teams in world football, it is striking how little in the way of humility and grace is on offer as the final whistle blows. Arsenal, for my money, are the worst, epitomised by Arsene Wenger, who refused to have a drink with our manager afterwards – as is the custom in the Premier League. And not just the once, either.

But everyone and every team are different. I remember playing a leading continental side and being taught a lesson in how to play football. And each time we’d win the ball back, the dispossessed player taught us how to cheat – usually by rolling around holding his face.

Yet after the game, they could not have been more charming and friendly, with a lot of embracing and double-cheek kissing going on. Three of their players asked for my shirt and I had to ask “Paolo”, one of our foreign imports, to ask one of them why they were so desperate for my shirt, particularly as I was fairly certain that none of them had any idea who I was.

Paolo told me that, during the game, I had pulled off a step over followed by a back-heel that had put our striker clean through on goal. Apparently, this had impressed our opponents hugely.

And that’s the thing with football. It costs nothing to be gracious. There must be a reason why I remember that moment as vividly as any other in my career. In fact, it is one of the few shirts that I have kept hold of and every now and again I’ll wear it out and about.

There’s something not right about grown men wearing football shirts away from the stadium but I don’t really care because I feel very humble every time I put it on.

This is the main reason why I find it difficult to understand the hammering taken by Arsenal’s left back Andre Santos, after he asked Robin van Persie for his shirt as the pair were trudging from the Old Trafford turf.

For the record, shirt swapping at half time happens in every single Premier League game, but usually you inform the kit man to get him to trade your shirt with a specified player. He will then speak to his opposite number and the pair will do all the swapping at half time, and then once more after the match.

The reason for this is because, in modern football, every player gets two shirts; one for each half. So now there is double the opportunity to swap shirts with the player that you want.  Sometimes the players will swap directly in the tunnel at half time, and again in the tunnel after the match.  It is all very pre-planned, but with good cause.

There is a reason why players point to the tunnel when asked for their shirt. It stops the utter nonsense we have seen surrounding Santos in the media and on message boards up and down the country. Does anybody really think Andre Santos’ mind wasn’t on the game because he was too busy thinking, ‘I must get van Persie’s shirt’?  Come on, please.  He was just taken to the cleaners by an exceptional winger, that’s all.

Shirt swapping is a sign of the utmost respect amongst professionals, and on a personal level I am humbled each and every time a player asks for mine. Although it has been mentioned to me many times that the player probably just needed something to clean their car with.

Not that many years ago my agent approached Celtic about the possibility of signing me.  I made it onto their list, but lost out to one of their preferred targets. It was a shame because I had always wanted to play for them, and at that time in my career it would have been a perfect move.

But I don’t hold grudges and I don’t throw my toys out the pram, the better man won and everybody shakes hands and moves on. After all, being humble in defeat is a most admired trait to have. Just look at Barcelona.

About the author: The Secret Footballer


I’ve seen everything there is to see in football, and a lot more outside of it. My anonymity let’s me tell you how it is, from inside the game without the shackles of pre-conception or fan bias.

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  1. Alan

    It may be an English custom for manager’s to get together for a drink after a game but Wenger is not English. He may be a bad loser but to be a real winner you have to hate losing. Barcelona are not so humble in defeat when they get beaten by Real Madrid or knocked out of the latter stages of the Champions League.

  2. Joe Biggs

    Arsenal are without a shadow of a doubt the worst losers of the Premier league era! I have heard of selective hearing – But Wenger has created selective vision!!! He can see all the fouls, offsides and penalty decisions for his team only. It appears he is ALWAY’S distracted when it comes to what the opposition are doing. Their fall from grace / strain no trophies in seven years is there for all to see. I wonder if other players other than TSF would agree. My French is not that good, but I bet that Wenger in French means to moan!!!

  3. Benjamin

    Nice article – that’s all

  4. Secret football fan

    What are you on about? Celtic fans never cause trouble? They came to Newcastle a few years ago, smashed a huge plate glass window in Rosie’s bar, were stood in gangs urinating outside the Gate leisure complex infront of a restaurant window where families were inside eating and I saw several “big men” threaten women with children after the game because their team lost. Celtic may be a largely followed team but that night their fans behaved disgracefully.

  5. illya

    Good to hear some sense on the Santos thing, the outcry over it is ridiculous. So many idiots who would love to get their hands on the shirt angry because they never will. Sanctimonious Arsenal fans are a laugh, booing at any chance and leaving the ground when the team is in a little strife. What ever happened to ‘supporters’. It is sad what football is becoming.

  6. Gran

    Funny you should mention the Celtic/Arsenal connection. I few seasons back Arsenal played the same way as Celtic against Barcelona at home in the CL 2nd round – camped outside their penalty area while Barca wasted a hatful of chances! Arsenal also miraculously won 2-1 and Wenger gushed about it being a historic victory whilst strangely forgetting his usual “only one team were trying to play football” rhetoric. I wish Guardiola had said something along those lines but he was too gracious. Barca won the return leg and went through to the QFs.

  7. John

    I’m not a Rangers fan, but on account of their fondness for glorifying terrorism I’ve more than a few bad words to say about Celtic supporters.

  8. Pierre

    Well, you’re definitely not James Beattie given your plaudits towards Celtic. There’s no way you’d write that about Celtic having played 7 games for Rangers. Back to my original Dave Kitson guess.

    He was just taken to the cleaners by an exceptional winger, that’s all.

    Love the quote in your book about Toni blocking your clearance and you feeling as if you’d been hit by a car.
    What a winger – So unbelievably direct and one-footed but, Jesus, what a right foot it is.

  9. Dave Hanson

    Good read but the article doesn’t say who you are and which team you play for?

  10. CMOI1979

    Seems like you’re on a different page to The Secret Pundit. He says Santos was a disgrace.

    Arsenal have always been awful losers and Wenger a hypocrite. The week before Eduardo had his leg broken at Birmingham he was condoning Flamini on tv for trying to cut Nani in half after the latter juggled the ball and took the piss.

    Still I couldn’t shake hands with the likes of Diouf, Terry, Lee Hughes, Marlon King etc etc

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