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How to perform the perfect headbutt

Brandon Hamber

"Look South" Column published on Polity, 28 July 2006

Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt in the soccer World Cup final has become a global Rorschach test – in other words, a tool for people the world over to read anything they want into the incident.

There are those who see the headbutt as just deserts for excessive verbal abuse, while others see it as unacceptable. I have even read articles praising Zidane for his stand against racism. In another piece, the author felt the retaliation was analogous to a justified jihad against the West because Westerners are constantly provoking Muslims, forcing them to react even when they do not want to.

At the risk of starting an international incident, or simply dismissing such writing as codswallop, there are three major problems with this punditry. Firstly, no one knows what was said in the exchange between the two players. Based on lip readers’ interpretations, the UK Independent reported Zidane’s sister was called a prostitute, the Times claimed Zidane was called a “son of a terrorist whore”, and the BBC suggested that Zindane’s family was wished an “ugly death”. The only thing this proves is that lip reading is not an exact science.

Secondly, even if Materazzi unleashed the mother of all insults, we should not forget it is only a game. Sledging, for better or worse, is part of it. Racism, if this was the cause of the Zidane incident, should have no place on the pitch, but smashing someone to the ground is hardly going to stop it. A man of Zidane’s stature making a statement after the game or starting a campaign would have had much more impact.

Thirdly, I take exception to such a poorly executed headbutt getting such coverage. According to Wikipedia, a headbutt is a strike with the head, typically involving the use of robust parts of the cranium. An effective headbutt, it adds, involves striking a sensitive area with a less sensitive area, for example, landing one’s forehead on your opponent’s nose. Connoisseurs of the art of headbutting probably see Zidane’s striking of Materazzi’s chest as a lame attempt to do damage. The ideal headbutt is infinitely more devastating.

So this is my advice on how to perform the perfect headbutt. If you want to hit a sensitive area, bomb and kill a few hundred civilians in retaliation for two soldiers being taken hostage. Or, perhaps, Materazzi, in retaliation for the use of overwhelming force against him, could run into the crowd and kick a few spectators to death to even the score. To add fuel to the fire, the US and the UK, aka the self-appointed so-called neutral line judges, could raise their flags, complaining that Materazzi and Zidane had nothing to do with it anyway. Everyone knows, or so they claim while wiping the blood of Iraqi civilians from their hands, that it was the goalkeepers of Iranian and Syrian extraction who were offside. Fifa, the world watchdog, could, in turn, spend weeks discussing another resolution about headbutting, while the pitch erupts into anarchy.

That said, these global headbutters extraordinaire would do well to remember that Brad Parker, from Defend University, which specialises in self-defence, is no fan of the headbutt. He warns it can damage the offender as much as the victim.

Headbutting can result in the brain bouncing off the inside of the skull, causing a ‘coup contra coup’ injury as the brain hits the front of the skull, then rebounding off the back. How long will it take before the headbutters of this world realise this simple fact: what goes around comes around and pulverising your opponent hardly resolves differences. In an act of defiance to all this aggression, I am resorting to peaceful protest. I have printed a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Headbutt racism out of football!’ on it and am going to chant ‘Fight fire with fire’ at the next match I attend. I’m sure that will change everything.

For more information on Foundations for Peace Network, see

Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity, see

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