There’s no law against ducking ahead in the queue in the canteen, but if you do it everyone thinks you’re a twat. That’s the power of convention in action, and it’s a force that’s seen just as much in sport as anywhere else.
Look at the USA women at the World Cup versus Thailand. They won 13-0 but you’d think they were wanted in the Hague for war crimes after they were deemed to have over-celebrated their double-digit thrashing of the minnows.
They just love scoring goals, nothing wrong with that.
It got us thinking about some of the other unstated rules where you’ll risk your reputation – though it might also give you the edge…
1 – Put it out
Knocking the ball out for a throw-in when an opposing player is down is a holdover from the days when GBH laws were suspended within the confines of a professional football pitch. It was meant to say “Look, we’re sorry Chopper’s amputated your foot, blinded you in an eye and may have cost you your spleen with a mistimed body check, but we’re not complete monsters, we will allow you to be carried from the pitch before you bleed out.”
Now, it’s expected that whenever some whingeing winger stumbles over the ball before knocking it out of play and wants to avoid the facing the embarrassment front on, everyone has to play along that he’s, I don’t know, ruptured his left gonad instead, and then they are obligated to pass the ball out before his imaginary ballache disables him for life.
2 – No look homer
There’s a lot to be mystified by in American sport – teams move cities, owners get the trophies, and kneeling for the national anthem is disrespectful – but surely one of the strangest of all conventions is the unspoken rule in baseball that a batter must not look at the ball too long when they hit a home run.
Yes, you read that right.
If your gaze lingers too longingly on a sweet strike as it sails towards the (ugh) “bleachers”, the opposition are within their rights to take it as an insult and larrup a bucketful of thumps into your nether regions with as much force as their bruised dignity can muster.
Which is usually quite a lot when there’s 25 players on a team.
3 – Gimme not, err, gimmen
The genteel game of golf pretty much exists only as a series of unmentioned standards and expectations that’d confuse the Queen’s mum. One of the simplest to understand is the gimme putt, but it’s all the more controversial because of that.
In head-to-head match-play, the convention is that, when the ball is within a foot or so of the hole, the putt is conceded. But that “or so” is often the problem, especially when the stakes are high and pressure is on, and sometimes your opponent is just that little bit too keen to pick up their ball. Just ask the notoriously generous Matt Kuchar.
4 – No crash advantage
Cycling’s a dangerous business. If you’re not switched on you’ll find your backside impaled on some road-hog’s Mercedes badge faster than Sir Bradley Wiggins’ delivery from the pharmacy lands on his doorstep, and that’s just when you’re flitting about town.
Out on the pro-racing circuit, the saddle-sore riders will reach incredible speeds thanks to their “marginal gains”, and while pumping human growth hormone and spun blood into your system might be just part of the game, speeding off down the road is regarded as the height of scandalous gamesmanship whenever there’s an accident.
It’s the one rule that even Lance Armstrong respected.
Well, that and snitches get stitches.
5 – Mankading around
Cricket’s generally stuffier than a turkey’s backside on Christmas morning, so when some on-field naughtiness goes down, the competition is stiff among those who can clutch their pearls with the most gusto.
While ball-tampering is always good to get the emotions of even the sternest-jawed Aussie going, it’s the mankad that really draws out the absurdity of the game.
Batsmen often tend to chance their arm for a few steps when they’re not at the striking end, and sometimes bowlers spot this, but if any bowler every actually runs out the cheeky batter when they step out of their crease, his name will be tarnished for life.
6 – “I went to fight and a hockey game broke out”
Though it’s going out of style, it’s long been the convention in ice hockey that you carry a player on your team whose sole role is to fight.
A team’s Enforcer only needs to skate to the extent that it allows him to launch as fierce a series of blows as possible on anyone who lands a late hit on his team’s skilled players. If only football was so enlightened, Robbie Savage might have got as many punches in the mouth as he deserved.
7 – Snooker’s two-hander
Maybe snooker rebels stand out more because everybody else is so square? Ronnie O’Sullivan’s been showing off his contrary streak for decades now, and sometimes it breaks the gentlemanly etiquette of the emerald baize.
None was more flagrant than his shameful switching between left and right-handed play against Alain Robideaux in 1996 when he was just 20-years-old. His Canadian opponent said it was disrespectful to change hands during a game, to which the ever-conciliatory O’Sullivan retorted: “I didn’t give him any respect because he didn’t deserve any. I am better playing left-handed than he is right-handed.”
Ronnie plays by his own rules, unwritten or not. Whether he’d choose to write them with his left or right hand is entirely up to him.