England: 'We talk about diving all the time ...'

Reading the English press, listening to the British commentators, it’s quite impossible to escape the topic of diving. Even though examples are rare -- this is not an every-game occurrence, even when you include all the false accusations by coaches and TV commentators, and the incorrect referee calls (there are plenty in all categories).

An English obsession, then? I’d say so. And certainly not one that is limited to the Premier League. Here we have Neal Ardley, coach of AFC Wimbledon, a team in League One (not as good as it sounds -- League One is a euphemism for the third division). Ardley was lamenting the red card given to one of his players in a League Cup game against the Premier League’s West Ham United.

His target was Chicharito (a foreigner, be it noted), who, in the 18th minute, had gone to ground under a challenge from Wimbledon’s Rod McDonald. A foul, said referee Tim Robinson ... and a yellow card. That was McDonald’s second yellow, so off he went and Wimbledon was down to 10-men. It lost the game, 1-3.

Did Chicharito dive? “For the contact that there was between the two players, absolutely,” said Ardley “It’s not like a yank of the arm. It’s not like a pull of the shirt. It’s an arm on an arm.”

Ardley somehow forgot to use the phrase that constantly crops up in England -- “he went down too easily” -- but he continued with some revealing comments on diving: “We talk about diving all the time. We make comments about stopping diving in the game but you get nothing in the game if you don’t dive. Nowadays if you don’t go down, the ref won’t give you anything. So, they encourage diving.”

Which is pretty good summary of the pickle the English have created for themselves with their diving obsession. Now it is the referees who are to blame.

Ardley is quite right to zero in on the role referees play in fostering diving. But their contribution is worse than Ardley suggests. He feels that referees call fouls only when the player fouled goes down. Not so. There are far too many examples of referees not making calls even when a victim is virtually battered to the ground for that notion to be credible.

English referees now clearly work to an agenda in which the first thing question for them to answer when a player goes down under a challenge is not was there contact? -- but was there sufficient contact. A biased way of looking at an incident, this is merely “he went down too easily” in disguise.

A couple of weeks after Ardley’s comments, the damage to a referee’s judgment caused by that attitude was there for all to see in Wembley Stadium. Tottenham Hotspur, trailing Liverpool 2-1 in the final minute, should have been given a penalty kick.

Referee Michael Oliver bottled the call when Liverpool’s Sadio Mane obviously fouled Spurs’ forward Son Heung-min. I say “obviously” because that is what I saw. Either a penalty kick or a yellow to Son for the most prodigiously clever dive yet. The replay quickly confirmed the contact -- no doubt at all. Penalty.

Referee Oliver did not give the penalty, nor did he caution Son for diving. There can be only one explanation for such ineptitude from a top referee: he was looking for no-contact or minimal contact, couldn’t be sure that was what he was seeing, so waved play on.

The following day, the sports pages of The Mail On Sunday reflected the confusion. Ex-referee Chris Foy supported his referee colleague, claiming he [Foy] had to look at the replay three times (presumably on the third try he did notice the contact) so it was excusable that Oliver missed it. Yet, on the very same page, the Mail’s match report by Oliver Holt -- its chief sports writer -- said flatly that Spurs “should have had a penalty in the dying seconds when Mane kicked Son’s standing foot away from him.”

That same weekend, there was another penalty incident in the Bournemouth-Leicester game. As Leicester’s Jamie Vardy raced in on goal, Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic dived at his feet. Begovic did not touch the ball, but he did send Vardy flying through the air. There could hardly have been a more obvious penalty call. Referee Craig Pawson allowed play to continue.

Two shockingly bad calls -- both, I believe, resulting from a distorted refereeing attitude that favors inaction or diving calls over strict punishment of physical fouls.

Such a refereeing attitude must inevitably make life hard for skillful players -- particularly those who like to dribble. Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha knows the problem. He was one of the five most-fouled players in the Premier League last year, and is again in the top five this season.

Last weekend’s game against Huddersfield saw Zaha the victim of several crunching tackles -- Mathias Jorgensen's effort was duly yellow-carded by the referee, but Zaha was not happy with that decision: "I feel like before anyone gets a red card I’d have to get my leg broken,” he complained, adding that the lack of protection from referees made him reluctant “to go on a run because someone will come through the back of you.”

A sad reflection on English refereeing. And the coaches, too. Zaha’s coach at Crystal Palace is Roy Hodgson, widely respected as a gentleman among coaches, he is one of only five English managers in the EPL. Just listen to this: “Those players who are quick and good at running with the ball, they get fouled. They have to accept this will happen ... Wilf [Zaha] doesn’t think people should treat him unfairly, but he’s learning.”

So Zaha must learn to get kicked and mauled. In Hodgson’s (very English) view, that’s all part of the game. No mention of the referee’s role. Another of the EPL’s English coaches, Neil Warnock (Cardiff City) makes no effort to hide his primitive view of the game. Before Cardiff’s game against Arsenal earlier this season, he spoke of Aaron Ramsey as Arsenal’s big threat, adding “I hope we can rough him up a bit. . . Needs must.”

Warnock has his own view of players who get fouled a lot: it’s their own fault, as they’re too good. Eden Hazard, for instance: “The reason Hazard gets fouled a lot is because he’s so quick, so deceptive, so good. Some lads in the division will be late at times but it’s merely because they’re not at his level.”

Doesn’t look too promising for ball artists in England, does it? If they dribble too much, they’ll get fouled, which will be their own fault for ... dribbling too much. Anyway, the players doing the fouling don’t mean any harm, they’re just not quick enough -- or maybe, again, the victim has brought trouble on himself by being too quick. And if the dribbler gets knocked off his feet he’ll stand a pretty good chance of being accused of diving.

11 comments about "England: 'We talk about diving all the time ...'".
  1. Wooden Ships, September 18, 2018 at 5:38 p.m.

    Thanks Paul. No surprise to me, the EPL is probably my 5th most watched league because of style of play. The tragedy is that it’s the wealthiest league. 

  2. Kent James, September 18, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    I didn't see the fouls in question, so I'll assume PG is correct and concede that yes, referees sometimes miss fouls that should be called. But one reason they do so, is that sometimes players dive. One of the reason diving should be punished is its existence makes it much harder to call fouls (because the referee must always ask "is he faking it?"). Soccer is a contact sport, so if "contact" is the definition of a foul, the there will be too many fouls. I think the fair question is did the contact have a meaningful impact on the play? Does it matter? You trip me, I lose the ball because I'm tripped, obvious foul. I'm dribbling, you knock me off balance, I lose the ball clear foul. I see you coming to get the ball, I put my body in front of the ball to impede you (shielding the ball), you run through me, clear foul. Where it gets less obvious, and I think needs to consider the spirit of the game, is when, in the last scenario, you see me shielding the ball and attempt to go around (rather than through me), and I move to continue keeping my body in the way. If I feel you touch me, and fall down (not because of the force of your challenge, but because I think I can get a foul), that is not in the spirit of the game. That's trying to get the ref to help you out (you see this a lot with defenders trapped near there own endline). While I don't think that warrants a card, neither does it deserve a foul. We should both do our best to play soccer according to the rules of the game (as if there were no refs) rather than working the refs to our advantage. (1/2)

  3. Kent James, September 18, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    On PG's second point, about dribblers, crafty dribblers will get fouled more often than players who get rid of the ball whenever they are pressured (just as in basketball, if you drive the lane, you’re more likely to get fouled). That is not rocket science. And crafty dribblers fool defenders into clumsy tackles, which, by there very nature, will be more likely be a foul. While referees should call such fouls (unless there is an advantage), dribblers should not get "special protection". On the other hand, there will also be cases where players target crafty players, to try to take them out of the game. This is a very different animal, and should not be dealt with by calling soft fouls whenever the skillful dribbler has the ball, but by issuing cards whenever it is clear the player was a target, not just a victim of being too crafty. And even if a player is not targeting the skillful player, too many times being fooled (even if not actually targeting the player) should bring a card for persistent infringement, and the player will have to give the skillful player more space. The existing rules are fine, they just need to be enforced in the spirit of the game. You only see the beauty of skillful players if they are able to beat people trying to take the ball from them; if you force defenders to stop trying, there is less opportunity to see their skill. It is a balancing act, but as I am willing to concede that being too focused on diving can cause a problem, PG should recognize that diving does create problems, and is not good for the game, rather than pretending that no one ever does it. (2/2)

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 18, 2018 at 9:52 p.m.

    Dang good stuff Kent. 

  5. R2 Dad replied, September 19, 2018 at 1:01 a.m.

    Don't think I've ever seen Persistent Infringement given at a professional match--it's like they deleted it from the LOTG. RE: diving, I'm going to No-Call diving 9 times out of 10--it would have to be pretty swan-tacular to produce a card.

    I think the problem with the Son No-Call at the Tottenham match PG references is that the defender kicked the standing leg, which no one was expecting. It looked like a hip-check from a couple points of view. VAR can help, but not with a No-Call. The guys in the booth can't stop play for a missed call like that.

  6. Bill Riviere, September 18, 2018 at 7:51 p.m.

    More often than you might think referees actually have a fairly difficult time judging not only whether there was contact or if the contact is forceful enough to be considered a foul.  Despite a ref's best efforts to be near enough to the play, there are times when you  are suddenly screened by a player running between you and the "incident" or you simply get caught too far away to be sure what happened.  AR's might be close enough to see it better, but consider circumstances when the foul (or dive) happens on the far side of the field from the could be that neither the AR or the center is close enough to see what really happens, despite the best efforts of all.  And, diving players are smart enough to know where to attempt a dive with the best chance to get away with it.

    I submit that the issue is not a matter of referees encouraging diving.  I submit also that judging most "dive" circumstances is extremely difficult.  Then add to it that the result is a possible game changing PK and you'll find referees, like myself, hesitant to call a foul, thus allowing a dive to occur that perhaps should have been cautioned. 

  7. stan kull replied, September 21, 2018 at 10:19 a.m.

    This is similar to the movies.  An attacker swings at a "bad" guy.  The director knows if he films it at the correct angle, the viewer cannot see if contact was made.  But the "bad" guy simulates the strike and falls down.  The viewer believes contact was made.  The referee cannot always see the contact if the angle was not proper.  The ref may trust the player falling down and make a call; or not believe what happened.  I wish there was post video analysis to sanction the divers.  I would hope over a period of time diving would be reduced greatly.  Diving was creeping in the NHL, and it has been reduced through penalties and fines.

  8. Bill Riviere, September 18, 2018 at 7:56 p.m.

    I didn't say what I wanted too in my last paragraph above. I ask the court reporter and jury to strike my last sentence. strike

  9. Wooden Ships replied, September 18, 2018 at 9:55 p.m.

    Lol. Well done Bill.

  10. frank schoon, September 19, 2018 at 9:52 a.m.

    Kudos to Kent and Bill, who are the Refs-in-Chief in the commentary section. But  to me discussions about fouls called whether or it should have beem or not is a never ending discussion and can only be useful in pubs. I gave up long time ago questioning ref. calls becuase I come to the game with the mind set as coach or player  that refs will make mistakes, it's that Simple! That is why I tell my players don't criticize the ref for you guys make 10x as many mistakes during the game then the ref will ever make.
    Diving has been around forever. Germany has had a reputation for over 30years called "Schwalbing"'s virus there. That is also one of the reasons the Dutch"74 team lost WC to  Germany due to Holzenbein ,as he admitted, faking a dive in the penalty area and causing a goal. Hey, that's life!!!  PG, This is the second article in a row article about ref. calls that fall in the subjective category and can't do anything about and it has been around soccer for over a hundred years.
    Lets get back to talking soccer! How 'bout doing a story on the leadership of USSF as related to our MNT coach situation. I can't take another article on this referee garbage any longer....

  11. beautiful game, September 19, 2018 at 11 a.m.

    IMHO, for many reasons referees are not always derelict in not calling a "dive". But FIFA is derelict in not having global soccer examine each and every "dive" and punish the perp with a 3- game ban without pay. Let's see how many "divers" continue their big top flopping. FIFA continues to remain in a state of denial and inaction when it comes to the intergrity of the game.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications