Violet Beauregarde had her finger in her nose when she spluttered at Willy Wonka: “Spitting’s a nasty habit!” The magical chocolateeer was calm in his response: “I know a worse one.”
But there are few worse on a sporting field.
Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Patrick Vieira, Christophe Dugarry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Francesco Totti, Stephane Henchoz and the usual suspects John Terry, El Hadji Diouf and Frank Rijkaard - sport’s great spitters.
Although to be fair to Ronaldo and Henchoz their targets were Robbie Savage and Neil Warnock. And to be fair to Woods he was merely aiming at a putting green.
What Wolves fan could forget Graham Taylor being approached by a fan following a 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane in 1995: “I was spat at in the face. And with dribble on my face I made a citizen’s arrest. There were police and stewards who saw it happen and no one did anything,” he later recalled.
Spitting used to be seen as ‘the done thing’, although I’m going back a few hundred years.
“A lady spit backward upon me by a mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all” - so said the noted diarist Samuel Pepys who might have thought differently had he been sitting in the Billy Wright Stand at the time.
We all accept that footballers spit. But why?
Until 1990 it was a criminal offence carrying a £5 fine. Enfield Council are in the process of trying to get the ban reintroduced.
Footballers can no longer use racist remarks to intimidate opponents, in just the same way they can no longer use an elbow or a sly fist behind the referee’s back.
So incidents of a player pretending to spit into the ground, or into a shirt... but missing and hitting some poor unsuspecting fellow are never far away.
Did Cesc Fabregas spit at former Hull boss Phil Brown’s feet in the Arsenal tunnel? Without a jury being shown the loafers, and a DNA profile of the former Arsenal player, it was always one word against another.
Which is why it was ever more puzzling to wonder how Antolin Alcaraz thought he could get away with it?
I missed it. But the televised audience didn’t... and how could they possibly? Sky’s Christmasses all came at once when the Paraguayan aimed his phlegm towards Richard Stearman.
Mick McCarthy was only ever spat at once on a football field: “It was in an international and he was playing for Bulgaria,” he recalled this week. “I remembered his name for years but I can’t at the moment,” he said.
“Liam Brady had been sent off anyway. He spat in my face and I laughed at him – I think my face at the time was like something from ‘The Shining’.
“I had a wicked smile on my face as if to say ‘come on pal, back up here, we’ve got something to sort out!’. And it was worse for him because I think he was expecting me to react – because he would have liked me to react.
“I think he found it more disconcerting that I didn’t, and instead had that silly, shining look on my face. I didn’t react but we beat them, which was the main thing.”
The Bulgarian may have gotten away with it, but Rijkaard never did for his two moutfuls into Rudi Voller’s hair some 21 years ago, although the pair did reunite for an amusing commercial years later. Nice to know that crime sometimes pays.
McCarthy was rather pleased that Alcaraz didn’t get his way by inciting Stearman to react. “It’s nice to show restraint,” he said.
“It’s just sad and interesting that an incident can mar a whole club. But it shouldn’t because Roberto Martinez and that club are fantastic; they’re lovely, fabulous people.”
The other part to this story is that without the bogey, folk may well have given Wolves a bit more credit for digging deep when they needed it most. McCarthy adds: “It took the gloss off our win a bit. It was like when we played Newcastle last season – we were still defending ourselves for weeks afterwards and you shouldn’t have to do that because they’re nice people at Wigan.”