One commentator – without apparent irony – said it was the most eagerly anticipated handshake in history. That may have been a little overblown, but in the world of sport and its attendant soap opera, all eyes were on Stamford Bridge yesterday. The usually perfunctory pre-match greeting ritual overshadowed the football as fans waited to see whether the Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge would stick with tradition and shake hands with Chelsea's captain, John Terry.
It was the first time the former team-mates had met since allegations surfaced that Terry had had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, Bridge's ex-girlfriend and mother of his son.
The bookmakers Coral suspended bets on a possible handshake at 9.30am yesterday after a surge of wagers that the players would not shake. The pair had previously been odds-on to touch palms. William Hill said the non-shake would cost the company "a five-figure sum".
Bridge shook hands with the rest of the Chelsea players before kick-off but rejected Terry's proffered salutation. Terry, for his part, did not look him in the eye. Bridge's public snub of the sacked England captain came after his decision 48 hours earlier to rule himself out of the country's summer World Cup campaign, which would have involved playing alongside Terry. Bridge had the double satisfaction of being part of his side's shock 4-2 defeat of Chelsea.
Body language experts say the true origins of the handshake are lost in the passage of time. The gesture is taken as a sign of peace between warriors – to show that they were not carrying weapons.
Handshakes take on even greater significance on the world's political stage (see panel, below). President Bill Clinton famously brokered a handshake between the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. It was seen as highly symbolic and prompted hopes for a huge step forward in the Middle East peace process.
Patti Wood, an expert on human interaction, said Bridge's refusal to accept Terry's outstretched hand denied both the "hand of friendship" and the "greater ritual of the game". She explained: "In a game situation, the handshake says 'this is a game, and when we shake hands again we're going to be friends again'. So in this case, if you have somebody that you're competing with and you refuse to shake hands, you're symbolically saying: 'This is real. I'm going to really hurt you; we're not going to be friends afterwards'."
Ms Wood said snubbing a handshake was also "a way of saying 'I'm superior'. For instance, Donald Trump refuses to shake hands – he says because of germs, but there's also a power issue there. "If I'm doing a deal with you and I don't shake hands, you're below me."
Bridge's team were on the receiving end of the last high-profile handshake snub last December. The team's then manager Mark Hughes, having triumphed 3-0 over Arsenal, saw a fuming Arsène Wenger rebuff his gesture of sportsmanship. Hughes claimed Wenger "should be a little more gracious".
However, a survey last month revealed that the typically British handshake is going out of fashion, with youngsters preferring showbiz air kisses or fist bumps. Only 45 per cent of under 25s now use a handshake when they greet one another, compared to 69 per cent of those over the age of 25. A poll of 1,000 people found 74 per cent of adults shake hands less than they used to.
Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens
August 1936, Berlin
The Führer famously refused to shake hands after Owens won gold at the Olympics – although some have called this is a myth.
Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong
February 1972, Beijing
The picture of the Communist-hating Nixon grinning and gripping the Chairman's hand amazed the international community and ushered in a new phase of Sino-US relations.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
November 1985, Geneva
At the first meeting of American and Russian leaders for six years, Reagan and Gorbachev reached across the table and paved the way for the thaw of the Cold War.
Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk
February 1992, Davos
The former apartheid opponents shook hands at the World Economic Forum, appealing jointly for foreign investment in South Africa.
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat
September 1993, Washington DC
Bill Clinton stage-managed this historic shake between the old foes, a landmark moment for the Middle East peace process which was watched by cheering crowds.
Prince Charles and Robert Mugabe
April 2005, Vatican City
The prince was criticised for shaking hands with the Zimbabwean leader at the Pope's funeral. Clarence House said he had been "caught by surprise".
Edward RandellReuse content