The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Zidane and the tradition of the forehead punch

I've come close to being head-butted once, in London, and I can truthfully report it is not a nice feeling. The man who wanted to slam his nut into my face kept swaying back and forward like one of those Roman boulder-throwing machines. I was in no position to run because of various factors, not the least of them being my two small sons who were in the next room. That day I got lucky, because the psycho had other priorities and his deranged mind managed to notice that there was another, adult, witness to the scene. The guy didn't head-butt me but I did suffer other, quite painful, damage and the maniac eventually got convicted for minor assault. My friend ' a psychiatrist specializing in working with violent criminals ' later told me that watching the whole thing he'd been very scared for his own life and mine.

Among the things that didn't happen to me that day (but easily could have) were a jabbed finger in my eye and serious bodily harm from extremely hard fists. All of this was of a far lower order in my mind, however, than imagining the front of a loaded skull landing on my face. I mentioned this to another friend, a New Zealander, who was far more jovial about the prospect of humans drawing blood from each other without the help of instruments. 'Ah,' he said, with the smile of a true connoisseur, 'he was about to give you a Glasgow Kiss. Don't know why it's called that. Probably bloody Glaswegians claiming they invented it, though I'm pretty sure it was invented by a Kiwi trying to communicate with an Aussie'the thing is, mate, we are essentially not a boastful people.' He contemplated New Zealand's anonymous national hero for a moment, before explaining to me the bio-mechanics.

'See, first you have the wind-up. As in any ball game, the bat, racquet or leg has to go into a back-lift or a back-swing.' My friend swayed back from his waist like a master batsman avoiding a bouncer. 'And then you swing in!' He swung in, his thick, large, blonde crew-cutted head stopping millimetres from my baffled and paralysed nose. 'Now you,' he took my head in his hands, 'have made a mistake. Any experienced street-fighter would know what was coming and he would,' he jerked my head sideways, 'elegantly avoid contact at the last moment while' ' he brought the fingers of my right arm up towards his eyes ' 'taking out the other bastard's headlights.' My friend stepped back again. 'Now, how do you avoid someone doing that, i.e, the intended victim escaping your head-butt' He grabbed me by the shoulders, 'You grab them by the shoulders so they can't move too much, and then you lean back, not quite as much as in the first one and'boom!' He moved away again. 'When this happens to you, remember! The face is the soft bit and the guy is trying to hit his hard bit, the top of his forehead, into your soft bit! So, what do you do' My friend brings down my chin like a barber adjusting his angle. 'You do not present the guy with the target he wants! You tuck in your chin, thereby countering the hard part of his nut with the hard part of your own nut!' The Kiwi gently slammed his forehead into my forehead. My eyes went into a hard spin, but I managed to catch my spectacles before they hit the ground.

When we were kids, occasionally getting into real scraps, or fantasizing about destroying another child-enemy, teacher or filmi villain, the head-butt was not part of our imagination. Back then, the main menu of mayhem consisted of the sock into the teeth, jaw or stomach, the decapitating Bruce Lee kick, the finely judged back-elbow into the solar plexus, or, as a final nuclear option, the knee into the privates; the whole body came into play in wrestling and judo moves, of which the most satisfying to fantasize about was when you flipped the other fellow across your shoulders a la Dara Singh and sent him flying through the plate glass window of the 20th floor, out into the netherworld where the pox of WWF wrestling had not yet been conceived.

I suppose the great Bruce Lee did a fair share of head-butting, but then he used every part of his body, save perhaps his eyelashes, as a lethal weapon, so that went unremarked. My own first memory of observing a Glasgow Kiss, possibly erroneous, was in the gritty British gangster thriller Get Carter. Next, my mind jumps to the only moment in The Godfather series that Al Pacino's Michael Corleone indulges in bodily violence: the time in TGF2 when he viciously hammers his brother Freddie for some gross misdemeanour in Cuba. It is that nasty snake-strike of a forehead punch when his controlled temper boils over, rather than all the later overblown nautankis of the Stallones, Schwarzegropers and Seamans, that fits best as a model for Zidane's final bow in international football.

It is the unexpectedness of it, the complete out-of-character-ness of it, that will continue to shock. As has been repeatedly pointed out, Le Roi Zizou collected his fair share of red cards across his international career, but he was never known for having crass thuggery as part of his arsenal. Unlike a Roy Keane, who mixed great talent with a bruiser's mentality, or a Vinnie Jones, whose best-known image before the start of his film career is the one where, unnoticed by the referee, his right hand is squeezing hard on Paul Gascoigne's squeezables, Zidane will always be remembered for his sublime skill and his super-cool demeanour. And, as to his head-hit being an unnecessary kalanka on an otherwise wonderful career, I must say I have mixed feelings.

I am a non-martial race of one. I have not hit anyone in earnest since I was thirteen and I have never fancied the idea of being hit myself. While I do appreciate a finely tuned bit of cinematic violence, I dislike watching choreographed reality-violence such as boxing or even fake wrestling. In short, I am certainly not the kind of person who stands on the sidelines of a fight urging one or the other party to greater blooding. Despite this, despite having no particular anti-Italian feelings, despite having no lip-reading skills in French or Italian, a part of me went 'Bravo Zizou!!' when Zidane slammed Materazzi. Why' Because it was Zidane, simple as that. Head-butting may not be part of my core culture, it may or may not be intrinsic to the working-class areas of Marseilles, but if the great Z was forced into it, well, il must have had raison. Simultaneously, another part of me, the one that tries to stay one step ahead of the many poisonous provocations of life, went 'Ah, non! Cretin! You fell for it!'

At the end of it, I tangentially tend to agree with the denizen of Zidane's old para in Marseilles who thought Zidane had done wrong ' 'He should have hit him in the face!' said the old Algerian codger. Now, while I'm not sure I wanted to see Materazzi's face blasted into bits, I do remember thinking that the spot where Zidane hit him on the chest is almost exactly where he would have felt the weight of the winner's medal. Come the real World Cup in the West Indies next year, I hope the hothead Dravid keeps his cool. Even if that means hurting a bit while lifting the Cup.

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