There has been much furore this week about diving, which is a phenomenon we have been seeing increasingly often over the past few years in the English games. Once the ploy of foreign flair players as a way to cope with the physical nature of the game in this country, this method of conning referees is now widespread throughout the game, with all types of players indulging in it.
Blackburn fans were quick to abuse Cristiano Ronaldo for his diving antics at the weekend, and yet were screaming for a penalty when Morten Gamst Pedersen went down rather too easily at the other end. It seems that in many ways football fans have come to regard diving with a sort of biased eye – it’s fine for your team, but as soon as anyone else does it, they are the scum of the earth.
I must admit that I fall into the same trap myself. When Jo made his Everton debut a few weeks ago against Bolton, he dived horrendously to earn us our first penalty (there was contact, but he certainly needn’t have gone down in such fashion). I said at the time that he was justified in doing so because “everyone else does it often enough”, but I see now that that sort of attitude is one that will lead to diving becoming completely accepted in the game.
If that happens it will be a very sad day for football, because to dive is essentially to cheat. It is to attain an advantage by breaking the rules. Free kicks are given when a player is fouled, not when he falls voluntarily, and dramatically, to the floor. If we let this trend increase to the point at which it is accepted as a part of the game, it will infect the integrity of the sport as a whole.
More than that though, I feel that diving is in stark contrast with the established ideals of football. It has for so long been a game that signifies the working class, the proletariat, the working masses. It is a game of honesty, of good sport and gentlemanly conduct, that epitomised the ‘good honest hard work’ ethic that has gripped the majority of the British nation for hundreds of years, but especially since the industrial revolution.
Football though is changing. It has become a sport of wealth, glamour and power. It is now a sport that is fashionable for the ‘upper classes’ for the rich and the famous, and we, the traditional fans, are slowly losing our part in the game. Be it because we are being priced out of going to the matches, or that our club has become a faceless machine with which we can no longer identify, or that the players aren’t actually living in the real world anymore, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to truly stay in touch with the modern game.
And the increase in diving is in many ways, a prefect signifier of this unwelcome progression. In our society, the rich are profiting while the hard working masses struggle on. There is talk of global panic as the recession kicks in but it is us who will truly be hit by it. The people with power and money, they’ll be OK. And it is the same in football to a degree.
Diving was brought into English football, as I said earlier, by foreign players. Perhaps occasionally in the past an Englishman had gone down lightly, but it was a rare occurrence. However, when the bigger, richer clubs turned to investing in foreign players, they brought a lot of skill and flair and excitement to the league, but they also brought diving with them.
It is this that grates too. Because the clubs that could first afford to invest in these foreigners were the successful ones. They were doing well, making money and so they branched out in the transfer market, and rightly so. But it seems wrong that it is they, the successful ones, are the clubs that first benefited from bending the rules. Why should top class players need to dive? They are players of great ability playing for top clubs against mostly inferior opposition. So why dive? Why not just use your greater talent to win?
Cristiano Ronaldo, for me, is the perfect example of this. He is a supremely talented player, and was rightly voted World Player of the Year recently. But he is also perhaps the world’s leading exponent of the dive, which is incredibly frustrating. With his skill and pace he can beat most players in the world most of the time, and therefore get into good positions from which to shoot or cross. So why, instead of going past these players, does he knock the ball past them and fling himself to the floor to win a free kick? Yes, a free kick is easier to hit than a moving ball, but why not take the decent option, the honourable option, given that he is good enough to deliver good crosses even while the ball is moving?
In essence, this trend, whereby the already successful clubs are the ones to gain the most advantage from these dirty tactics are reminiscent of how society operates in the real world. Those with the power and money to live comfortably are the ones who are able to influence the system in such a way as to further benefit themselves, usually at the eventual cost of the consumer, or the working classes. It might not be illegal, but it is certainly not honest and it is above all, plain greedy.
That’s what ultimately makes diving so abhorrent. We know and accept that clubs like Man Utd and Arsenal are better than teams like Blackburn and Wigan. And we will not complain if sides like that lose to the big glamour clubs, We recognise that they have superior players, and if they outplay our team, then we will accept it. We won;t be happy, but we will respect that the superior team won on the day. What is more difficult to accept is when a superior team still feels the necessity to resort to cheating to beat an inferior team. That we cannot accept. They have all the means necessary to beat us, and if they cannot, through their own poor performance or for our punching above our weight then we should not be denied a fair victory because they have cheated.
Now that diving has begun to infiltrate all levels of football though, it poses worrying questions about how we have changed as a society. Have we become so desperate to match those we see as ‘above’ us that we are happy to sink to their levels? Because if so, then instead of striving to better ourselves, we are in fact devaluing ourselves, by joining the dishonest ranks of those who we regard as our moral inferiors.
I for one then, would rather see Everton struggle than see us resort to dishonourable behaviour like diving and cheating. I think that there is more to be gained from retaining the integrity of the sport as a whole than from allowing ourselves to sink to a lower level for a tiny bit more ‘individual’ success. Football has long been the representation of British society, but I hope now that that is changing, and that we refuse to follow it to the levels of dishonesty and greed that is becoming more and more apparent in what is known as the beautiful game. It is sometimes beautiful, but every time I see a player dive, it gets a little bit more ugly in my eyes.