By June 27, 2014

Body Language in Football – Triumph Displays


If you are a football fan, and are asked to guess the intention of Neymar in this picture, you might feel slightly insulted. Anybody who sees this picture, be it an ardent fan or otherwise, will in all surety guess that this man is celebrating a hard earned goal in the game of football.  If understanding intentions of various gestures through your favorite game interests you, look at the pictures below and see if you can guess the reason behind these footballers’ non verbal displays. All the stars here are celebrating victory one way or the other. You will need to watch the eyes, hands, feet, body posture and the rest carefully in order to differentiate one from the other.


Here is John Brookes (US team) after scoring a header against Ghana in FIFA 2014. He is displaying all gestures typically displayed by most footballers after a difficult goal. His face is red with the victorious rush of adrenalin that his shouting gives him. Brookes is seen here to be running around in the field with arms and fingers open wide, calling out to his team mates to hug and congratulate him. Given that games today are pseudo replacements to the hunting activity of our ancestors, the shout of the scorers can be seen to be mimicking a victorious holler sounded out by the hunter after a difficult kill.


We see Brazil forward Neymar in this picture but in a more collected frame of mind. The open arm posture seen in this picture is normally is more a sign of superiority and power, rather than a reckoning to the team to hug. The open arms display makes the person take up more “space” than he normally does, making him look and feel larger than life.


In this victory of Columbia over Ivory Coast, the footballer is displaying an all powerful posture, letting out all his energy and tension. The clenched fists and teeth and the narrowed eyelids are normally suggestive of anger, maybe because the opponent was putting up a tough fight and it took all the efforts on the part of the scorer to make that win.


This is again an alpha triumphant display, where the scorer is not only opening out his arms to make himself appear bigger and thus superior, but is also opening up his entire body, feeling even more powerful than otherwise. The sitting down position gives this opportunity to open up the body below the shoulders, to include an “open crotch” position, which a standing up triumph does not allow.


Hugging and embracing in sports games are what are called “Tie-Signs”, the display of which relies heavily on audiences. It is aimed primarily to display victory in front of the club supporters.


Brazil defender David Luiz in this picture is being made to look larger than life by his team mates, by lifting him together off the floor. Luiz himself can be seen in an emotionally charged state with the aggressive shouting face.


Unlike the picture above, Messi here is not trying to display any emotion to the public. He appears truly engaged in the embrace by his team mate, which is signified by his closed eyes. The celebration of this goal is for him and his team. He is feeling the moment by shutting out the visual sense. Under more ordinary relaxed social conditions this could be considered positively effimate but the masculine nature of the game “releases the footballers from usual social inhibitions” as Morris puts it.

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In this victory display, the scorer has flung himself on the ground, allowing his team mates to pile onto him so they will not get knocked over. At first sight this may appear contradictory to the usual “increased height display” as describes Desmond Morris, but that is not the case since the display of victory simply transforms from being horizontal to vertical.

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Clothing is a necessity demanded by society. Thus any display of deliberately removing clothes in a public place would be a sign of rebellion. Yellow cards have been issued to footballers who remove their tshirts during the game. This footballer from Nigeria is displaying his toned body in a symbolic rebellious triumph, which appears to be rather rehearsed.

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Contrast the previous picture to the one displayed above. Oscar here is showing a more realistic emotion by displaying a “symbolic” removal of his clothes, signifying a very triumphant feeling. Or maybe he just wants to avoid being fined?

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This is more of an insulting gesture than a triumphant one, but is used in the context of scoring a point above the opponent anyway. Luis Nani here is giving a typical thumbs down to the opponent, showing defeat. The Thumbs down was originally used in the Roman times when the audience indicated to the winning gladiator to slay his opponent. Luis’ tongue jut is displayed in this context to show deliberate bad behavior. You cannot miss out the slight smile on his face, indicating all is in good sport.

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Kissing is normally an act displaying attachment or caring. Kissing in public is generally intended to display possession of the object in question. Cafu is showing his joy by kissing the cup, symbolizing he owns the trophy, or that he remembers and cares for his country. A lot of these victory gestures have been made popular by historic footballers or other sportspersons and are now being imitated by the present scorers in their moment of triumph. However, what every separate act of triumph signifies cannot be missed.   References:

  1. People watching by Desmond Morris
  2. Unmasking the face by Paul Ekman

Written by

Khyati Bhatt

Posted in: How To's

About the Author:

Khyati Bhatt has trained for mastery in Nonverbal Communication with retired FBI special agent Joe Navarro. She founded Simply Body Talk in 2013 to help individuals and corporates fine tune their nonverbal behavior and nonverbal communication. Khyati believes in taking a scientific approach to body language. Her experience as a wealth manager, currency trader, and family entrepreneur has helped sharpen her nonverbal instincts. She is a fervent reader and has explored the work of many psychologists and anthropologists in her field of work.

1 Comment on "Body Language in Football – Triumph Displays"

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  1. All aren’t triumphant displays only!