Keeping a lid on goal celebrations - The Rules


This weekend saw a number of instances that saw players booked for their goal celebrations and even Mourinho criticising Conte for celebrating his team's winning performances. I take a look at the FIFA rules that govern goal celebrations and the possible drawbacks for the game, as a result.

What are FIFA's rules on goal celebrations?

The rules concerning goal celebrations can be found under Rule 12 of FIFA's Laws of the Game which state that a player can be cautioned for unsporting behaviour which can include the following:-
  • A player removing his jersey or pulling his shirt to cover his head, when celebrating a goal
  • If, in the opinion of the referee, a player makes gestures which are provocative, derisory or inflammatory when celebrating a goal
  • A player climbs onto a perimeter fence to celebrate a goal being scored

Recent examples & potential issues

In the Betfred Cup Semi-Final, Rangers and Celtic went head to head at Hampden Stadium, in Glasgow. Both teams have a fierce rivalry and know what it means to score against the other and ultimately, win the tie. The match had been locked at 0-0 for most of the game but Celtic had been knocking heavily at Rangers' door for much of the second half. The Rangers keeper was pulling off some great saves which was leaving Celtic and their fans increasingly frustrated, at not being able to find the net. Then in the 88th minute, Moussa Dembele hit the net (as a result of an assist from Leigh Griffiths). One half of the stadium erupted and Dembele & Griffiths flew towards the exuberant fans to share in the joy, embracing them in the moment. Everyone in the stadium was clear on what the goal could potentially mean with Rangers having very little time on the clock, to equalise. The Referee failed to see any merit or reason in the goal celebration and Dembele was showed a yellow card, for the manner in which he celebrated his goal.

Referees, in Scotland, are under particular pressure from Police Scotland to keep a lid on any goal celebrations that could potentially stir crowd trouble. The Scottish game is well known for it's bitter sectarian history, involving some of the biggest clubs in the country. Referees are therefore able to use their discretion to assess the situation and determine whether goal celebrations are likely to incite fan trouble and they ultimately strive to prevent any tension bubbling to the surface, by using cautions to deter over-the-top and exuberant goal celebrations. 

Yet one can't help think that they often get this wrong and are over-cautious and harsh when punishing players for celebrations, especially when engaging with their own fans. Yes, it is reasonably foreseeable that if a player scores a goal and immediately runs towards the opposition fans goading them, that that may incite fan violence. However, embracing your own fans and engaging with the support that travels everywhere to cheer you one? 

Curtailing certain goal celebrations can also be detrimental to the game as it risks sucking the enjoyment out of individual matches and reducing the level of fan engagement, for those attending live games. In smaller leagues like the SPFL, where broadcasting revenues cannot be solely relied upon by clubs, fan engagement is crucial to maintain the footfall through the turnstiles. The enjoyment is key to maintaining those revenues and keeping the game alive. If the fans switch off so will the game, eventually.


Another Scottish game that springs to mind with another mind-boggling decision from the referee, was a fixture in January 2016 between Rangers and Morton that saw Gers' midfielder Andy Halliday handed a red card (having received a second yellow card during the game) for celebrating a Rangers goal by raising his fist when turning from the Morton fans to the Gers fans. The explanation for the booking was that it was a gesture that could incite a riot or trouble with the Morton fans ... Seriously, a fist pump? If we are applying the rules as strictly as that then footballers will be getting booked and sent off, in every game, with some of the celebrations that you see across football leagues, all around the world. Passion in football must be nurtured, it cannot be allowed to die for the overall good of the game.


However it is not just the Scottish game that is feeling the pressure on goal celebrations - Chelsea forward, Pedro, scored the fastest goal in this Premier League season, thus far, after finding the net after just 30 seconds. The former Barcelona star immediately ran towards the Chelsea fans, following the goal, and embraced them. The Referee was obviously irked by this and Pedro was booked. Another example of inciting fan trouble or was it time-wasting or un-sportsmanlike? 


Over the pond, in the MLS, came my favourite celebration caution yet, thanks to none other than Kei Kamara. Kamara scored a goal in last weekend's fixture between New England Revolution and Montreal Impact. To show his joy, at scoring, Kamara treated the crowd to a twerking dance but the Referee was less than impressed and told him 'no more of that'. Kamara was shown a yellow card for the performance.

The above examples of goal celebrations and subsequent cautions seems unfairly harsh, given the circumstances. Although there is a lot of general discussion, on the freedom to celebrate a goal how a player chooses, there does not appear to be any movement on the FIFA rules, at this stage. 

Players, as circumstances currently stand, are having to be careful about how they celebrate a goal, especially if they have already received a booking, earlier in the game. A potential second yellow card would result in a red and possibly missing a big fixture. This can potentially be a disaster for Scottish players, and teams, as the current SFA structure does not allow appeals against yellow cards (unless in relation to simulation). There is, therefore, no protection in place for players who are sent off due to two yellow cards, as a result of poor referee decisions.

Football has always been a passionate sport, for both players and fans. What we need in modern day football, with all its money and perks, is more emotion ... not less! Cautioning players and advising them that they need to be more careful when celebrating goals, especially with their own fans, seems ludicrous and backwards. Fan engagement always has been and always will be very important in the game ... Maybe it's time for a change!

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

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