If we ran a poll to determine what the number one thing you dislike about football is, and asked every fan across the globe, I’m certain diving would be the clear winner. It’s an aspect of the game that is universally hated, and something that I would even go so far as to say is embarrassing to watch.
Most football fans would also be fans of other sports, and when you take football out of its isolated vacuum and compare it to other sports it really stands out how pathetic the level of diving has gotten to. When you look at rugby, Gaelic football, Aussie Rules or Hurling and see the levels of physicality shown in these games, football (soccer) looks almost farcical in comparison. I know that the aforementioned games would have a greater allowance for contact – but football is still a semi, or at least limited contact sport.
You would think that the offenders themselves would look at the way athletes carry themselves in these other sports and be shamed into copping on to themselves, but they never do. And the problem is, its not even really just the players fault anymore. There is a whole list of components as to why the state of diving is as bad as it currently is, and the players are only a small fraction of that.
Firstly, the diving epidemic has reached such a scale, that about 90% of dives go unnoticed and unpunished throughout a game. It’s become so common place, that only the big ones warrant any attention. We only really care anymore if it’s a dive that results in a penalty and a subsequent goal or sending off. If someone dives to win a penalty, which is duly scored, there is uproar, but if someone dives to win a free kick 30 yards from goal, and subsequently sticks said free kick in the top corner, nobody ever seems to mention the dive that won it.
But there are dozens of incidents throughout the course of a game where two players will come together (giggity), there will be a slight contact and one of them will go down (double giggity), and the referee will blow for a free kick. This kind of incident occurs all the time in a game, and yet 9 out of 10 times, the contact between the two players would never knock someone over in any other environment other than a football pitch.
Referees allow this kind of behavior to fester for years and this is the end result. These incidents aren’t cases of someone conning the ref by intentionally leaving a trailing leg to purposely be tripped by another player, these are cases where referees are simply allowing themselves to be conned.
Referees need to be firmer with this silly carry on. It doesn’t have to be bookings and red cards for every little offence; merely allowing play to continue and telling players to get back on their feet would be a good start.
One of the best pieces of refereeing I have seen in recent years came at the tail end of last season, when Sunderland played hosts to Cardiff. Conor Wickham was through on goal, but got tugged back by Juan Cala. Wickham opted to stay on his feet and try and get a shot away, but the little tug was enough for the keeper to close down the angle and make the save. The referee then pulled the game back, sent off the defender and awarded a penalty. Written down in black and white, it’s hard to see what is so good about that piece of refereeing. Referee played the advantage until he saw there wasn’t any and then blew for the foul. Only, common sense very rarely raises its head like that in football.
Quite a lot of the time, if a player stays (or tries to) on his feet, he will rarely be rewarded with free kick or penalty. It is often the case that a player needs to go to ground in order to force a decision onto the referee; almost a situation of “I’ve been clipped, you saw it, the ball is in your court now ref.” If more referees where strong enough to apply the rules, especially when the offended party is showing the integrity and honesty to stay on his feet, then maybe we wouldn’t see so many cases of grown men throwing themselves to the floor like a bunch of children.
Referees aren’t the only ones to blame. There are a whole host of enablers out there who have created an environment where it’s ok to cheat. Micro-analysis and cowardly punditry often lead to people looking for any little excuse to justify a player cheating. You’ll see incidents being replayed from multiple angles, in super slow motion, zoomed in as far as their giant touch screen computers will let them, to show you that slightest bit of contact that “entitles” a player to go down. Have you ever heard such bullshit? I cringe every time I hear any variation of the sentence “He felt the contact, and is entitled to go down”. There is no entitlement. It’s a semi contact sport, other players are allowed to touch you, and nobody has the right to fall over just because someone brushes past you.
Managers and coaches also need to look at themselves. Openly, every manager will say that they don’t like, and won’t allow that kind of behavior in their teams, but they clearly aren’t doing much in trying to stamp it out either. It’s hard to be too critical of managers though, football’s cut throat nature means that winning is absolutely everything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some managers were actively encouraging some “gamesmanship” from their players, especially inside the penalty area.
There is no quick or easy fix for the diving issue in football, but more than just the players need to stand up and be counted.
by Andrew Furlong