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The Great Diving Menace: Finally -- from England! -- some straight talk
by Paul Gardner, April 24th, 2014 1:40AM

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TAGS:  england, referees

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By Paul Gardner

At last, we have some honest down-to-earth talk about diving. From England -- which is important because it is the English who have created the Great Diving Menace, who have managed to stifle any attempt at a serious discussion by clothing the subject in an aura of religious rectitude. We are supposed to understand that we are dealing here with a moral issue, that the players who dive are cheats and are therefore to be punished. And despised.

When such righteous indignation flares, you can be sure that zealotry -- in a good cause, of course -- will follow. And so we have a campaign against diving, a clamp-down against diving, all of it fueled by sanctimonious statements from soccer leaders, and comments of profound ignorance from people who should know better -- namely the TV commentators, nearly all of whom are ex-players.

What relentlessly follows is a witch hunt.

And, as far as diving is concerned, that is where we are now. Witch hunts, the product of ignorance and bigotry, benefit no one. The guilty are difficult to define, even more difficult to find. So the innocent become likely victims. I don’t think denying the charge of being a witch ever proved very successful, and it is the same for the alleged divers. Indeed, a player who denies that he has dived is usually seen as compounding his crime. He is a liar as well.

As the accusations fly, they create an unhealthy atmosphere of widespread suspicion. Who can be trusted? Trusted not to be a witch, or in the soccer case, not to be a diver?

Think back -- maybe 10 years, probably less. Who was talking about diving then? Barely a soul. But now, it is safe to say, the topic is mentioned and mulled over in every telecast. The phrase “he went down too easily” and its several variants clutter the comments of the experts. Especially is this true of the Brit commentators. But the Americans are not far behind.

Perhaps the American commentators -- not to mention American referees -- will have read about the recent discussion in England over a player who was clearly fouled in the opponent’s penalty area -- but stayed on his feet. With the result that the referee took no action. No penalty kick.

The player was West Ham’s Matt Jarvis. He was tackled by Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna. The comments of the opposing coaches are revealing. For Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was almost conciliatory, not willing to adopt the usual “of course it wasn’t a penalty” stance (which would have been difficult, given the clear evidence of the replays). I fact, he thanked Jarvis for staying on his feet: “I am grateful for that. I don't think it was a penalty, but he touched him yes.”

West Ham’s Sam Allardyce was decidedly less forgiving: “The fact is that when you stay on your feet referees don't give penalties. A foul is a foul, it doesn't matter whether you go down or stay on your feet. If there is contact, you should go down and make the referee's mind up for him.”

This is almost revolutionary in the debate in England over diving. A top coach acknowledging that his player should have gone to ground. But Allardyce has opened the way for some reality to replace all the moralizing that has surrounded the debate. His lead was quickly followed by former ManU and England defender Gary Neville, now a TV pundit: “He should have gone down. Well done, your team haven't won a game. You can either be an angel and do what Matt Jarvis did and get a pat on the back off his Nan when he goes home tonight, or he can win his team a penalty. The referee won't give it if you don't go down.”

What the comments from Allardyce and Neville underline is the way that the anti-diving zealots have managed to confuse the picture by insisting that there are only two causes for a player to go down -- either he is hit solidly and hard by a defender, or he is diving. Simple as that.

Here are two headlines on stories about the Jarvis incident:

“Jarvis honesty sparks dive row” and “Gary Neville criticizes West Ham's Matt Jarvis for not diving.” But neither Allardyce nor Neville mention diving. They are not saying that Jarvis should have dived. They are both saying that a player should “go down” when fouled. Which is a start at reigning in that absurdly wide definition of “diving,” getting it back to what it should be -- the act of a player going to ground -- or “throwing himself to the ground” is a popular way of putting it -- when he has not been fouled, when there has been no contact.

Even slight contact with the feet or legs of a fast moving, dribbling player (who, with his constant and sudden changes of direction, is always likely to be in a state of balance-recovery) will likely cause him to, at least, stumble. The foul must be called. The referee should not be allowed to transform that foul by a defender into a yellow card for the attacker.

Slight contact above the waist is more problematic. A hand lightly on the attacker’s shoulder will not be enough to bring him down. If he does fall, that is a dive and a yellow card.

But my greatly attenuated definition of diving does not suit the anti-diver zealots. To the crime of diving, they have added the ancillary offense of “embellishment”. OK -- in the example I just gave, of minimal contact, the fall is obviously exaggerated, an action that includes both diving and embellishment. But this attempt by the anti-divers to cast their net widely, to label as divers as many players as they can, is almost farcical.

In the Jarvis incident, Wenger did use the word diving. Still pondering whether West Ham should have had a penalty kick, he mused: “Maybe if he [Jarvis] made a theatrical dive he would have got it.” That seems quite wrong. These days, anything that looks even vaguely theatrical or melodramatic is more than likely to be judged as embellishment.

Unless the anti-divers are prepared to issue a instruction booklet on “How to Fall Down without Embellishment,” how can such a thing be accurately judged by a referee?

My sympathies in disputes between players and referees over the rules are usually with the referees. But not in this case. Because the referees have been one of the main instruments in the growth of the diving witch hunt.

Possibly they feel that diving is not just another foul, but is rather chicanery used to make a fool of the referee. Maybe. Whatever, they have been very quick to show solidarity with the witch hunt by issuing yellow cards -- most of them simply wrong, or highly dubious. There remains, too, the suspicion that referees may use a diving call to avoid giving a penalty kick.

But, thanks to Allardyce and Neville, the atmosphere of moralizing mystification that surrounds this greatly inflated matter of diving, that has created the myth of the Great Diving Menace, may at last be clearing, so that we can get a clearer look at what is really involved.

I don’t think anyone -- certainly not I -- is saying that diving does not happen. But we are saying that it is a much less frequent occurrence than the current -- mostly British -- alarmists would have us believe. And that the witch-hunt atmosphere that their alarm has created is doing far more harm than good.

Back to Gary Neville and his opinion that Matt Jarvis should have gone down: “I suppose in some ways people can say 'It's disappointing to hear you say that Gary' -- well then, be disappointed, because ultimately that's the game."


16 comments
  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 7:35 a.m.
    Cudos to Allardyce and Neville for telling the truth. If you don't do down you are not going to get a call. Reality descends. Thank you. Good piece by PG.

  1. feliks fuksman
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 8:04 a.m.
    I played, now coach and referee, and I think that diving is against the spirit of the game; nevertheless I have to say that I'll tell my players if you are fouled, especially in the penalty area, let the referee know, help him make a decision, if that means to go down (after you were fouled). I think there're still too many referees that will not give a penalty if there is no blood, like you used to say in the old days... On highest level instructions I remember being told that we (referees) must call a foul even if the player embellished it, as hard as it might be and as bad it might look; I follow that most of the time but I usually will let the player know that it is not necessary and that he or she is making it difficult for me to be fair, moreover it might work against him or her next time.

  1. Charles O'Cain
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 8:07 a.m.
    Whenever I watch one of the other European leagues, I am reminded just how well the EPL refs have got it just about right. Sure, mistakes are made, but their willingness to punish "simulation" (and yes, it IS cheating) certainly has reduced the absurd theatrics so evident elsewhere, where every "foul" is accompanied by at least three full rolls with two and a half twists, and often the two-handed face clutch even when no solid object has approached the head more closely than 12-18 inches. These are clearly unsporting efforts to have the opposing player cautioned or sent off. The "fast-moving, dribbling player" does in fact sometimes fail in his attempt at "balance control" all on his own, without actual contact, and this is not a foul. When the player then appeals for a foul, this constitutes embellishment, and should be seen as such. Why can Mr Gardner not see this?

  1. feliks fuksman
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 8:08 a.m.
    I meant to say, call the foul, if you feel there was a foul and even though the player embellished it. But I definitely try to discourage it .

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 9:17 a.m.
    Like hand balls, fouls should be called when contact clearly benefits the player initiating contact.......big Q in this case-did Jarvis still have a play on the ball?

  1. Greg Morris
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 11:01 a.m.
    Some good points made in the piece. As long as fouls are not called when players stay on their feet, players will go down. However, I do think that diving is a much bigger problem than the author. Until the powers that be crack down with extremely harsh sanctions on players that blatantly cheat, and that is what they are doing, the risk/reward ratio means it will continue.

  1. Albert Harris
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 1:12 p.m.
    Greg and Charles: Are the defenders who are pulling the shirts of every attacker in the penalty area on a corner kick also "cheats". I would say yes, but oddly enough most people seem to feel that "it's just part of the game". Perhaps we should focus on whether or not a foul has been committed (either by the defender by contact or the attacker by simulation)and leave the moralizing out of it. Attackers who go down in the box are no more cheats than defenders who foul; they are players who are trying to win and taking every advantage they can.

  1. Ginger Peeler
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.
    I absolutely agree, Albert. Or how about the defender who comes flying into the attacker, studs up, from behind? It was my understanding that such action may deserve a red card, according to The ROTG. the attacker is clipped from behind, falls face down and many referees ignore such dangerous play completely.

  1. Greg Morris
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.
    Albert: As I said, I agree with most of the points in the article. A player shouldn't have to throw themselves on the ground for a foul to be called a foul. Things such as shirt pulling are knowingly breaking the rules and trying to cheat. If moralizing makes you uncomfortable, so be it. My point was that the article stated that the problem was not as big as has been portrayed. I disagree strongly. I completely reject your statement "Attackers who go down in the box are no more cheats than defenders who foul." Not every foul, or even the majority, is a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules or deceive the referee. Many times it is a misjudgement, error or a miss. The same cannot be said for throwing yourself on the ground untouched. Finally, I was recently at an Earthquakes game where Wondo was run over off the ball. No foul was called and he got up yelling at the ref then turned and put his hand on the opponent who immediately acted as if he was punched and went to the ground. Question: can we call that cheating? Is that really the same as shirt pulling?

  1. Vince Leone
    commented on: April 24, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.
    I very much agree with Gardner. Referees in both England and the U.S. have created a situation in which defenders can often foul with impunity in the box. Defenders clearly try to foul just enough to disrupt the attack, knowing that refs are very unlikely to penalize them and also knowing that they will likely get the benefit of the doubt. An attacker has no response to this other than to go down. This is not the same as "throwing yourself" on the ground when you were not touched. Unrelated to "diving" but indicative of the same bias is this: Think of the scrum that happens an every corner kick. If a foul is called at all, it is never called on the defense. That defies logic.

  1. Zoe Willet
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 12:42 a.m.
    Personally I don't think it should be the ref who primarily has to provide the correction for diving. I think it is the coach/manager's job to make it clear that no unsportsmanlike behavior will be tolerated. The worst diver in the EPL, as far as I am concerned, is Louis Suarez, to the point that I don't even care to watch the Liverpool games because it is so disgusting and abhorrent to watch his constant lack of sportsmanship. I'll bet Brendan Rodgers could put an end to it in the time it takes to blink. Or am I naïve?

  1. Steve Greene
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 8:36 a.m.
    Oh - wow, just... wow. (part 1 of 3) From Mr. Gardner's article: "My sympathies in disputes between players and referees over the rules are usually with the referees. But not in this case. Because the referees have been one of the main instruments in the growth of the diving witch hunt." General (at best) observation I guess with NO basis in fact. "Possibly they feel that diving is not just another foul, but is rather chicanery used to make a fool of the referee." What else CAN it be? Diving is NOT a foul at all, it is misconduct and by definition it is an attempt to deceive the referee. I doubt there is near enough thought by anyone except Mr. Gardner that it is an attempt to make a fool of the referee but it is cheating, thus misconduct and the correct sanction is a yellow card for Unsporting Behavior "Maybe. Whatever, they have been very quick to show solidarity with the witch hunt by issuing yellow cards -- most of them simply wrong, or highly dubious." I am waiting with the HIGHEST level of interest for the statistics on this. For MOST of the issuance of yellow cards to be wrong and at the levels Mr. Gardner writes about, there is accumulation and further sanctions against players so I would truly like to see Mr. Gardner's facts and sources as I am sure he is not making this up and such stats exist. "There remains, too, the suspicion that referees may use a diving call to avoid giving a penalty kick." I can't even imagine what the thought process must be for anyone to write this. A referee would rather issue a yellow card which is recorded, reported, and reviewed than to correctly call a penalty which is reviewed if not also recorded and reported. I can certainly agree that "fouls" are judged differently in the penalty area than in other areas on the field but to suggest a referee in effect cheats is at best absurd. But, thanks to Allardyce and Neville, the atmosphere of moralizing mystification that surrounds this greatly inflated matter of diving, that has created the myth of the Great Diving Menace, may at last be clearing, so that we can get a clearer look at what is really involved." So 2 people are responsible for whatever a "moralizing mystification" is. And again waiting for statistics on "greatly inflated" as again I am sure Mr. Gardner isn't just basing his calling out of referees as cheating on pure anecdotal observation.

  1. Steve Greene
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.
    Mr Gardner continues (part 2 of 3) "I don’t think anyone -- certainly not I -- is saying that diving does not happen. But we are saying that it is a much less frequent occurrence than the current -- mostly British -- alarmists would have us believe. And that the witch-hunt atmosphere that their alarm has created is doing far more harm than good." Who is "we"? I don't see any co-authors or quotes from others to join Mr. Gardner's cause. As most have guessed I am a referee with my playing days WAY behind me. The witch-hunt referenced several times in this article is misnamed. Bear with me a bit for an example. Going back many years a throw in was taken from pretty much the exact spot the ball crossed the touch line. Soon players might take a step or two while throwing the ball in, then they started taking a few more. Now it is not uncommon to see throw ins taken from MUCH farther than the 1 yard allowed in the LOTG. Unless it is affording a huge advantage play is allowed to continue and no one even notices much less complains. Say that the powers that be decide that the LOTG on throw ins must be enforced - period. Referees will be stopping play or inserting themselves at every throw in to get it within 1 yard of where it crossed the touch line. The amount of involvement will be GREATLY increased and noticed and the "witch-hunt" of catching wayward throwers will be pointed out - no doubt by Mr. Gardner and his "we". So over time players continued to violate the LOTG until it gets to a point that it must be addressed. Enter embellishment or "diving". Going way back in time it was nearly unheard of to play in any manner other than completely sporting. In fact referees were at first not used, then not even on the field. Things change, games are more competitive, teams want to win and now more and more at almost any cost. A player sees that maybe they can entangle a defender in the penalty area, fall and get awarded a penalty kick. then a player looks for ways to entangle, fall and get a penalty so it spreads to the whole field. Now instead of playing through minor contact or even if initiated by the offender they fall and get a penalty. It evolves into falling without contact and a few get awarded as a penalty when they should not have. The powers that be now have to address something that did not even exist historically so how? They change the laws to include punishment for embellishment. Like the throw in hypothetical maybe the "diving" has spread so any attempt to now call something that years ago did not exist will be seen as Mr. Gardner writes - a witch-hunt.

  1. Steve Greene
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.
    (part 3 of 3) Referees have points of emphasis usually every season and they can be and sometimes are adjusted during seasons. Points of emphasis would be in my hypothetical example, referees would be clearly instructed to enforce the LOTG in respect to throw ins, specifically that the throw in must be within 1 yard of where the ball went into touch. With the rise of player embellishment to earn a penalty when there is not one (in effect cheating by tricking the referee) there was a raise in awareness to referees to look for and call this misconduct. What looks like a witch-hunt is a two fold issue, more players are "diving" and referees are more conscious of it so yes - there are more yellow cards for "diving" but that does NOT make it a witch-hunt. To address and hopefully correct this misconduct it may be necessary to "call it tight" so to speak to send a message to players that it is no longer tolerated. Having an article calling out referees with no more than flimsy opinion and mythical "we" is not going to help address this in any way what so ever.

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 1 p.m.
    There is however no doubt that some players simulate. Just yesterday in one of the Europa League semis Sevilla keeper Beto went down after catching a ball as if fouled by Valencia forward Paco Alcacer, who was nearby. Replays showed no contact, in fact Alcacer had pulled up rather than collide with the keeper. Replays also showed Beto sticking a leg back to try to make contact with Alcacer, then acting upset, as if he had been fouled. The clueless referee gave Alcacer a yellow and he is lost to the return leg. That sort of thing IS cheating, brings disrepute to the game (and makes the referee look stupid) and should be severely punished, even if after the fact via video evidence. I think that refs should call a foul a foul if it occurs, regardless of whether a player goes down or not; but with 5 pairs of official eyes, and TV cameras recording every moment, real cheating (as this case obviously was) should not be tolerated at all.

  1. Mark Konty
    commented on: April 25, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.
    If referees would call fouls that impeded the offensive player, even in the box, players wouldn't feel compelled to simply fall down and true simulation would be much easier to detect.


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