Fate has transpired in such a way that Liverpool will play their first match since being confirmed as champions, against the team they’ve taken the crown from. As has become the norm, Pep Guardiola this week confirmed his Manchester City squad will welcome Liverpool onto the Etihad pitch on Thursday night with a guard of honour.
So is the guard of honour an appropriate show of respect or simply a publicity stunt without genuine sincerity and where did it all begin?
Guard Of Honour: Token Gesture or Rightfully Respectful
Meaningless to many. The guard of honour has, however, become the done thing, once a league title is confirmed the remaining fixtures the champions play, they are welcomed onto the field through a tunnel of applause. This season will see the most in the Premier League era, the Reds can expect seven sets of players applauding their achievements, having wrapped up the title at the earliest point in a season.
Essentially, the gesture is meant as a mark of respect, a sign of recognition for another team’s work from fellow professionals.
It is not compulsory for any club to provide a guard of honour if they face the newly crowned champions, instead it is agreed between the two clubs beforehand and has become the standard within the Premier League. Players may be reluctant, but they cannot be forced to do it by any footballing authorities. One reluctant player might be Raheem Sterling. On Thursday we may see him clapping his former club onto the field, there’s bound to be more than a tinge of displeasure in that.
Guards of honour are not exclusively confined to the modern era, they occurred as far back as 1955 when Manchester United provided one for Chelsea. In fact, United have a history of respecting opponents. They also honoured Chelsea lifting the Premier League trophy in 2005, a moment that was instigated by then Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, reminding his players to remember how bad the moment felt in order that they wouldn’t wish to do it again in future.
To reciprocate, Chelsea did the same for United two seasons later. Everton also honoured United’s title success on the last day of the season in 2003 at Goodison Park.
Similarly to the potential situation that may arise on Thursday should Sterling take to the field. The Arsenal squad formed a tunnel and applauded on former star Robin Van Persie in 2013, the Dutchman having won the title with Man United in his first season after leaving the Gunners.
Not only an English tradition, Barcelona famously formed a guard of honour or a ‘Pasillo’ in 2008 for newly confirmed La Liga champions Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, although there have been many disputes between the El Classico rivals over the use of guard of honours since. Rangers have also bought into the tradition, giving arch enemies Celtic numerous guards of honours in the past.
From a fan’s perspective it’s easy to advocate of the guard of honour, watching the pain in some of the Manchester City players’ faces on Thursday night may be worth the subscription fee alone. From a player’s perspective you can be sure the champions enjoy the moment, however false and staged it may seem, you’re being applauded on by the team you are set to do battle with. A psychological edge before you’ve even kicked off.
Like a lot of things surrounding football now, there can be little argument the guard honour is somewhat fake and being done purely as a publicity stunt. Not dissimilar to the handshakes prior to kick off, players don’t want to do them but it makes for watchable TV.
Opposition would likely rather shake hands after the match and congratulate the champions personally, instead they are near forced to clap them on as they enter the field. From the opposition’s perspective you would have to surmise it’s merely a token gesture.
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