Nobody wants to cause a terrible topsy turvy jumble, after all


“Mr Topsy Turvy was a funny sort of a fellow. Everything about him was either upside down, or inside out, or back to front – topsy turvy in fact. It was all very extraordinary!”

So begins Roger Hargreaves’ children’s classic. Mr Topsy Turvy causes consternation wherever he goes. He walks into a hotel. “I’d room a like!” he announces. You see, Mr Topsy Turvy sometimes gets things the wrong way round. He turns all the paintings in a gallery upside down. He goes to a shop, demands “a sock of pairs” and then puts them on his hands. He marches down an up escalator, causing everyone else to fall down it, all over themselves, into a great bundle of bruised humanity. “It was a terrible topsy turvy jumble!” The book was published in 1972, since when the children of Britain have thankfully, in their formative years, learned about the terrible dangers of doing things the wrong way round. Nobody wants to cause a terrible topsy turvy jumble, after all. But, it seems, some people might need an occasional reminder.

And so to St George’s Park, scene on Monday of what the FA called “a disturbance in a private team area” involving Joe Gomez and Raheem Sterling, as a result of which the Manchester City forward will play no part in England’s game against Montenegro. One report suggests Gomez “offered a handshake from behind leading to a verbal altercation”. Who offers a handshake from behind? Being in front of the intended handshakee is an important, some would say intrinsic, part of the offering.

Gomez has gone full Topsy Turvy here, with inevitable consequences. A handshake from behind isn’t a greeting. In some cultures the handshake has been replaced in recent years by the fist bump, which is an even clearer example. In fact, every popular non-verbal form of greeting The Fiver can think of becomes, at best, extremely suspicious when you attempt to do it to someone from behind – most remarkably that French favourite, the kiss on both cheeks.

So Gomez offers Sterling a handshake from behind, and what happens? A terrible topsy turvy jumble, that’s what. Sterling is reported to have asked Gomez if he was “still the big man” – possibly confusing him with another Hargreaves character, Mr Tall – before a brief tussle broke out. “It was a 5-10 second thing, it’s done, we move forward,” said Sterling, in a statement issued on Instachat a little later. It was no big thing. Another thing that isn’t big is the superficial scratch that recently appeared on Gomez’s cheek. Perhaps the FA will look at all this rumpus and consider that it might have waited a little before issuing sanctions and statements. Rio Ferdinand suggests it “could and should have been handled better to support the player and not hang him out to dry”, and maybe when the dust settles Gomez isn’t the only one who will look back at the incident and conclude they got things the wrong way round.