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10 Shocking Facts about Shoe Throwing
For about as long as humans have been putting things on their feet, they have also been taking them off and throwing them. Often, they are aiming at each other, as many politicians have found out over the years. Still, while the act of shoe throwing is probably best known today as a form of protest, this has not always been the case. It has had a long and varied history in which it has been part of celebrations as well as sports, and several incidents of shoe throwing have become famous or significant. What follows are ten of the most shocking and surprising facts about this peculiar human pastime.
10 It Is Mentioned in the Bible
The roots of shoe throwing are ancient. So ancient, in fact, that it appears in the Bible, where it is used as a metaphor by God himself. Psalms 60:8 is usually translated into English as “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe”—”cast out” is sometimes replaced with “throw.” God must have really had it in for Edom, an ancient kingdom in the Middle East.
While the mention of throwing his shoe could have a few different meanings, they are all very negative. It was definitely meant as the kind of insult people still associate with shoe throwing today. One suggestion is that it refers to an ancient custom of throwing a shoe on the ground when taking possession of something. It could also be a reference to how a master might throw his dirty shoe to his slave, who would have to clean it.
9 It Happened to a Roman Emperor
Another ancient example of shoe throwing, and one that prompted a full-scale riot, actually happened to a Roman emperor. It was AD 359, and Constantius II was delivering what the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus described as a “most mild” speech to the Limigantes—armed slaves in central Europe. He was hoping to win them over and make them his subjects, but it seems from what happened next that they were not too keen on the idea.
One of them, who was said to have been “struck with savage madness,” yelled the Limigantes’ war cry of “marha, marha” and threw his shoe at the Romans. The crowd then rushed the emperor and his men, drawing their weapons and shouting. In the confusion, they could not tell the emperor from the rest of his men, so Constantius was able to make a quick exit on his horse.
8 It Used to be a Victorian Wedding Tradition
Shoes have not always been thrown in anger. For the British during Victorian times, it was quite the opposite. Bombarding newlyweds with old shoes was part of celebrating a wedding. In 1895, a Scottish writer called James Crombie published a treatise about matrimonial shoe throwing, which opened with the remark that “Pelting a bride and bridegroom with old shoes when they start on their honeymoon is a custom we are all familiar with.”
How exactly shoes came to be thrown at weddings is unclear, but he observed that grains like rice are thrown at newly married couples the world over to bring them good luck. He also noted that shoes were of symbolic importance at weddings in many places, too. In Germany, the bridegroom was once required by law to present his bride with a new pair of shoes, and in Finland, a pair had to be given to the bride’s mother.
7 It Created a Sport
Not content with confining shoe throwing to weddings, the Brits also turned it into a sport. “Welly Wanging” sees competitors fling—or “wang” in the local parlance of Yorkshire, where it was invented—a rubber boot as far as they possibly can. It has never quite achieved the fame or acceptance of its forerunners like the javelin, shot put, and discus. But it does have its own governing body in the World Welly Wanging Association, and the Welly Wanging World Championships are held each year in Upperthong, the village where it was reputedly invented.
Local legend says that a spat over some spilled ale in the village pub caused an angry farmer to chase another farmer outside and hurl his boot at him. In the weeks that followed, the story spread around the village, and villagers tried to see who could best imitate the angry farmer. From there, it just snowballed, and it is now a staple of many small festivals and fetes in the UK and elsewhere.
6 The Myth about Throwing Shoes over Powerlines
One place people might find shoes that have been thrown–but they are very unlikely to have seen the shoes being thrown—is on power lines. The fact that it is difficult to explain why exactly anyone would throw their shoes over power lines has led to the popular urban myth that the shoes are how gangs and drug dealers mark their territory. While some police sources have said this does happen, it is unclear whether it did before the theory gained popularity. Others have dismissed it as a myth, and gang members have naturally been less than willing to corroborate it.
The most likely reason for shoes being thrown over power lines is, according to one 20-year veteran of the police, mimicry. The shoes were thrown there simply because other shoes were already there. Other proposed explanations include memorializing people who have died, representing milestones like graduating high school or losing one’s virginity, or kids just being kids.
5 It Is the Ultimate Insult in Middle-Eastern Cultures
While in the West, shoe throwing has sometimes been performed in protest, it has also formed parts of celebrations and sports. In other cultures, such as the Middle East, it is extremely insulting and is reserved for times when the thrower really wants to make their point. In cultures where even showing the soles of your shoes or feet to another person can be offensive, throwing or hitting someone with a shoe is especially hostile.
It is considered to be essentially the same as throwing dirt on a person because of the shoe’s direct contact with the ground. But there is a social aspect to the insult too, in that poor people from lower social classes often could not afford to wear shoes. Being able to throw a shoe away could elevate the thrower’s status while diminishing the target’s because tossing them a shoe is like saying that they do not have their own.
4 It Was Used in the Iraq War
Being such a powerful insult, it is no surprise that notable shoe-throwing incidents often happen during hostile and controversial times in the Middle East. Perhaps the most famous shoe-throwing incident of all happened during the Iraq War. At a 2008 news conference in Baghdad, an irate Iraqi journalist called Muntazer al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at then-U.S. president George W. Bush, yelling at him: “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!”
Bush deftly ducked from the shoes and brushed off the incident, but al-Zaidi was tortured and sentenced to three years in jail. Fortunately, he only had to serve nine months and became something of a national hero in his native Iraq. He had been waiting for his opportunity since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 after Bush had suggested that the American occupiers would be welcomed with flowers. Al-Zaidi chose what he thought would be the opposite of flowers instead. Twenty years later, he said his only regret about the incident was not having enough shoes.
3 Shoe-Throwing Culprit Gets His Own Shoe
The most famous shoe-throwing incident did not end there. President Bush barely had time to poke his head back up from behind the podium before the incident had been turned into an online game played by more than one million people. Sock and Awe saw players take on the role of al-Zaidi and hurl virtual shoes at a bobbing President Bush. Those who were not satisfied by joining in with the action virtually could have headed to the White House instead, where if they did not get a chance to chuck their footwear at the real president, they could have joined protestors in pelting an effigy of him instead.
Even in 2009, after he had retired, a giant poster of President Bush was bombarded by around a hundred protestors in Toronto, Canada. And to cap it all off, Muntazer al-Zaidi got a taste of his own medicine in Paris in 2009. A fellow Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at al-Zaidi during a press conference, which al-Zaidi, just like his own target a year earlier, dodged before responding, “He stole my technique.” His brother then threw a shoe at the attacker.
2 Some Politicians Have Had to Protect Themselves
George W. Bush is far from the only politician to have been the target of a shoe-throwing in modern times. Al-Zaidi turned out to be something of a trendsetter. It was reported only a few months later that in India, throwing shoes had become “the new hunger strike,” and a wave of shoe-throwing protests was kicked off by a New Delhi journalist called Jarnail Singh. He threw his shoe at the home minister during a news conference after becoming frustrated with the minister’s replies to his question.
In the aftermath, he became a national celebrity and reportedly received money, candies, and marriage proposals, all of which he politely refused. Some politicians, including Narendra Modi, made efforts to protect themselves. Modi used volleyball nets when he appeared in public. Something similar was seen in 2013 when the Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was facing protests. Police had to stump up around $17,000 on giant nets to protect him from flying shoes whenever he made a public appearance.
1 The Famous David Beckham “Flying Boot”
It was February 15, 2003, and Manchester United had just lost 2-0 to Arsenal, dashing their hopes of winning one of English football’s top competitions that season. Sir Alex Ferguson—arguably the greatest soccer manager of all time—was furious. He headed into the changing rooms to make his feelings about their failure known to the Manchester team.
What happened next and how it really went down is something only those present can really know. But the legendary soccer player David Beckham would emerge from that meeting with a cut above his left eye, and rumor had it that it was the result of a fellow player’s boot that Ferguson had hurled at him. Both Beckham and Ferguson later clarified that Ferguson had kicked the boot, not thrown it, and stated that it was a freak accident.
Nonetheless, the story predictably made front-page news in the following days, and the whole event made it clear Beckham’s days at the club were numbered. He transferred to Real Madrid at the end of that season.