Yet again English refs land themselves in trouble with silly simulation calls

By Paul Gardner

This past Saturday gave us a sharply well-defined view of just how big a mess the English EPL referees have got themselves into. Simulation is the problem -- or rather, their problem. That is to say, the English referees have created this problem.

We’ll start with the Sunderland-West Ham United game. Final score 1-1. But did Sunderland’s Adam Johnson take a dive to secure the PK that Jordi Gomez converted?

Johnson went down under challenge from West Ham’s James Tomkins. We saw the replays, several of them, and, as is often the case, they’re not conclusive. My view was that there was contact, and that referee Phil Dowd made the correct call. The game commentators, not to mention West Ham coach Sam Allardyce, made it known, vehemently, that they thought otherwise.

Dowd gave the PK. For him, there was contact and no dive. But the moaning about Dowd’s call -- the accusation that he had been conned by Johnson -- rumbled on.

For me, the worst aspect of this incident came back in the USA, during the post-game comments of panelist pundit Robbie Mustoe. Mustoe can usually be relied on to give a measured, if over-elaborated, view of EPL games. Not this time.

Right away, Mustoe mounted the moral high horse that the English like to ride during these discussions. “No contact,” he pronounced immediately, followed by the usual display of shock and horror that the righteous adopt when confronted by suspected simulation. “We’ve got to put a stop to this ...” and all that stuff.

This was very disappointing from Mustoe. I’d suggest he takes another look at the replays and lets us know just how he can be so certain there was no contact. And just why he is so ready to convict Johnson of diving on such flimsy evidence?

Well, we know the answer to my second question: Mustoe has bought into the English diving witch hunt. But for once, in Phil Dowd, we saw a referee who dared to swim against that tide.

Just two hours later, in the Chelsea-Hull game, things reverted to normal, with referee Chris Foy dishing out two yellow cards for simulation ... but that was a display of anti-simulation bravado that landed Foy in a dilemma.

This is how things developed: in the 30th minute, Chelsea’s Willian pushed the ball past Curtis Davies of Hull. As Willian chased the ball, Davies clearly stepped into his path. There was at least glancing contact. Willian went down. Yellow card, decided Foy. In the 58th minute Chelsea forward Diego Costa was tripped just outside the Hull area. No trip said Foy -- yellow to Costa for diving.

Both those calls were questionable. But it was a decision that Foy made in between them that caused a good deal of trouble. Chelsea was on the attack in the 53rd minute, and their central defender Gary Cahill was in the Hull penalty area. He chased a loose ball and took a tumble ... involving an obvious, clumsy, theatrical dive. Not much doubt about this one, the only unarguable “dive” of the day. Yet Foy did not call it.

How so? Well, as he’d already yellow-carded Cahill, to call the dive would have meant ejecting him, so Foy chickened out on the call. That’s one explanation. There is another, even less acceptable possibility. Cahill is English. The other two players whom Foy did nail for diving, Willian and Costa, are both Brazilian. (Costa, you may recall, was yellow-carded for diving in his very first game for Chelsea, a call that replays showed was flat-out incorrect. More recently, we’ve seen Sergio Aguero -- an Argentine -- the victim of a horrendously wrong diving call by referee Mike Jones).

It is easy to blame Foy for this mess. But ultimately the blame lies with the referee leaders, the people at the Professional Game Match Officials group that oversees referees, and its manager, Mike Riley.

They are the ones who encourage their referees to be on a constant watch for even the slenderest of evidence of diving. The result is a slew of awful calls that punish the wrong players. These calls also seriously damage the standing and integrity of the referees themselves.

There are not many diving calls as indisputable as Cahill’s. Most are either obviously wrong or highly doubtful. In short, there are not nearly as many incidents of simulation as the English referees would have us believe. This is a crime that they have created, and it is now their problem to find a way out of what looks like a classic tiger-by-the-tale situation.

Unfortunately, the problem has been exported ... to the USA, where MLS referee boss Peter Walton is determined to mold American referees in the English image. An image that, while ruthlessly demanding yellow cards for anything that even looks like simulation, also includes a policy of avoiding the issue of cards for much more serious offences.

The Chelsea-Hull game provides evidence for that: The tackle that resulted in Cahill’s yellow card was bad enough to warrant a red, while a week back we had the astonishing sight of Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez being held in a choke-hold for several seconds by Stoke’s Charlie Adam. For which Adam received only a yellow card.

Somebody at MLS should be asking himself whether that’s the sort of refereeing we want here. The trouble is, I cannot fathom who that somebody -- it needs to be a respected and authoritative soccer voice -- might be.

10 comments about "Yet again English refs land themselves in trouble with silly simulation calls".
  1. R2 Dad, December 14, 2014 at 2:56 a.m.

    There are a few ex-FIFA refs out of CONCACAF that would be suitable replacements for Walton. Also note the cleat in the chest of Alexis Sanchez care of Tiote--should have been marching orders there.

  2. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, December 14, 2014 at 9:20 a.m.

    For perhaps the first time, I almost agree with columnist ... until I got to the libelous speculation that the EPL referee acted out of racist motives in not carding Cahill a second time. What horrendous tragedy in Gardner's childhood was perpetrated against him by the English, to continuously provoke this constant attribution of evil motive to Englishmen, on the basis of their ethnicity and apparently nothing more?

  3. Kent James, December 14, 2014 at 9:46 a.m.

    While PG's analysis is usually good, one thing he said makes it suspect; Just because there is contact and a player goes down, does not mean a foul has been committed. Soccer is a game in which inevitably there is contact (though that should never be the goal). The question for the referee, is was there enough contact to impact the play, and was the contact illegal? If you step in front of the ball to shield it as I'm approaching it, there is going to be contact. If I try to avoid contact but still bump you, but not enough to knock you down, that's not a foul. If I bump you too hard and do knock you down, that's a foul. If I bump you but not hard enough to knock you down, but you fall down anyway, that is embellishment (no foul, but no card either, since there was contact). If I don't touch you, and you throw yourself to the ground, that's a dive, and worthy of a card.

  4. Kent James, December 14, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

    Diving can be a problem, but it is worse to give cards for diving to people who were really fouled than it is to miss the occasional dive (so PG is right about that). Players need not be expected to take extraordinary measures to stay up if they've been in a collision, but neither should they use contact as an excuse to go down and try to get a call. If a player exaggerates the contact and goes down, they should be ignored (and maybe even if there was a little foul if they try to make a meal of it), but should not get a card. If a player tries to create a foul when there was none there, they should be given a card for diving. So I would differentiate between players who are passively trying to get a call (no card, and if there was a real foul, they should get the call even if they exaggerated it a bit, thought that is a gray area) and those who are actively trying to get a call (card for diving). Diving makes the refs job harder because it's harder to know what is real and what is simulated, but as PG points out, it's dangerous for refs to work too hard to eliminate it during the game. Refs should be conservative about calling it during the game, but the authorities should come down hard on it in post game analysis via video evidence (imposing bans on players who dive; maybe one game for the first offense, and moving up from there).

  5. John Heath, December 14, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.

    While Paul can write some sensible articles, may of them have a racial overtone whether it relates to the British, German, Latinos or others. This is a shame, as his writing does not need it and soccer in the US and Soccer America certainly do not need it.

  6. Amos Annan, December 15, 2014 at 8:19 a.m.

    wrong again

  7. Chris Sapien , December 15, 2014 at 1:17 p.m.

    @ Kent, great comments again sir.....I can summarize a part of your post, I call it "reasonable expectation" of ability to continue. (not go down). The problem is, we see too many players that are accepting of contact that constitutes a foul by definition, at all areas of the field, except it seems, when they are in the opponent's penalty area! So as a ref, I have to balance "reasonable expectation" that the player had every opportunity to stay upright and continue with a promising attack, vs. a willingness to go down in an effort to draw the call. (IMO because the attacker lacked enough confidence that he would successfully score. Most times there's still a GK in front of him after all...) Lastly, "embellishing", and a foul being awarded, are not mutually exclusive, and although you might have some questions asked of you later, you can always caution a player for embellishing while still calling a foul on his opponent's challenge. Sometimes that's what's best for a particular match.

  8. Mats Wichmann, December 15, 2014 at 1:32 p.m.

    The stakes are so high there's no surprise there's an amount of conning going on. Egregious cases should be punished. But I agree with Kent there's no way we can draw things so black and white that if someone falls down, there's either a foul or a card for simulation. Sometimes there's contact but not enough for a foul, sometimes there's no contact but evading a tackle may still leave you feeling safer falling down than gyrating to stay up and maybe tweaking a knee or ankle.

  9. Kent James, December 15, 2014 at 5:05 p.m.

    Chris, I agree that attackers often make the calculation whether or not to go down based on what they think they can do if they stay up, and you hate to reward people who would rather the ref give them a PK than take their chances with the GK; on the other hand, you also hate to see forwards punished for trying to stay up when they really were fouled. I think this is probably the toughest type of call you ever have to make. I also like the idea of giving a foul but cautioning the player for embellishment (I never had something I thought was blatant enough to justify it, but it is certainly possible, and would be an educational moment for the players). Mats, you bring up another tough call; the blatant attempt to foul that the attacker avoids by leaping out of the way (which often ruins the attack). That should be a PK (since the law does have "attempts to" in front of some of the penal fouls), but that's REALLY hard to sell when there is no contact (and because there is no contact, the defenders would claim the forward was diving). I've seen those at the highest level and usually it's a no-call (neither PK or card), which maybe the only acceptable thing (for match control), even though its wrong. Anybody that thinks refereeing is easy hasn't ever done it....

  10. beautiful game, December 16, 2014 at 10:01 p.m.

    Replay by the league kahunas should be mandatory when it comes to diving. Any violation should place the player on a two game ban and suspension without pay. money talks, nothing else does.

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