I seem to be in a small minority that isn’t massively irritated by Ashley Young and his so called “diving”, don’t hate the player, hate the game and blame UEFA. I’ve read countless tweets and Facebook status posts over the weekend talking about the shameful antics of Young and how their opinion of him as a player has suffered as a result. I’ve even read some people saying we should go as far as not taking him to the Euros’ because of his diving. Coupled with this the goal-line technology debate has reopened with a bang again, thanks largely to the ineptitude of Martin Atkinson, you might think these are separate issues but actually I think they are closely linked.
It’s all to do with referees, they are the conductors of the football orchestra and if their timing is off and they are having a bad day there is no way the band of musicians before them are going to play well. Diving represents a shift in the rules and the culture of football. Goal-line technology is the same, it’s about trying to change the rules and culture of football.
Managers and fans alike often talk after the game about how they wanted the referee to make the correct decision. Largely when they say this I think they are telling a little pork-pie. In fact I would go as far as to say they were flat out lying to themselves and those around them. We can all agree that it would be great for the referee to have got a decision right when it’s harmed your team, but few spout outrage when something has gone in your favour. “We were lucky” you might hear, “but we got an absolute shocker a few weeks ago so we were owed one”. This is how it tends to work in the mind of the football fan, one piece of bad luck offset by another which “balances out at the end of the season”.
Of course for the most part this is complete rubbish. Football is never that simple, things never balance out fairly at the end of the season. Some games are more important than others. Losing at home to Norwich could ultimately have very little effect on Spurs season, having a goal given against them that didn’t cross the line in an F.A cup semi-final however, represents a real kick in the particulars. Had that goal not been given would the final score have been different? Almost certainly yes, the result? Harder to say, but it was a massive error on the part of the referee Martin Atkinson.
Martin Atkinson has since apologised to Harry Redknapp, never I should imagine has an apology meant less to ‘Arry. The longer we resist goal-line technology, the more this will happen. The Key decisions in big games that directly lead to a goal being scored or not being scored need to be correct. This is the key word for me, directly, not some questionable nonsense, but the ball crossing the line fairly and a goal not being given because the ref didn’t see it. This should never happen in modern professional football.
The goal that never was or the “Lampard” as all England fans will attest too, is galling but it has nothing on the evil twin sister which is the goal given and scored that never was. This is worse, oh so much worse. It’s worse because it wasn’t a goal. It simply didn’t go in the goal. The most basic prerequisite of a goal being scored didn’t actually occur. So we can all feel some sympathy for Spurs… And the Germans in the 1966 World Cup, No? Really? OK then, well Spurs at least.
Except Chelsea won’t care, they are in the F.A cup final, you never care how you got to a cup final, the same way you never care how you win it. That’s what modern football is, perhaps that’s what football has always been but in these modern times with the money and the high-profile and the money and did I mention the money? Perhaps the spirit of the game has taken a bit of a hammering.
So this brings me back to diving. Spirit of the game you say? Well the referee who is already under enormous pressure, now has to deal with the game being played at a faster pace than it has even been played at before, in a culture where players will all seek to cheat outrageously in order to win the game. I’ve always maintained that in this country at least, some forms of cheating are more acceptable than others.
Diving is not acceptable. Not in England my friend. However, the idea that the other team has a tricky winger and in the first five minutes of a game (when the ref is unlikely to issue a red card, take it back a few years and he’s unlikely to produce a card at all) your full-back or tough tackling midfielder lays an impossibly violent challenge on the gifted young pro, the so called “early reducer” which smashes his legs to the extent that he isn’t really able to contribute to the game, that’s fine.
Fundamentally this is the culture of England football, it’s fine to kick people really hard, because at least that’s physical and plain to see, but it’s not fair to dive and suggest you’ve been fouled when you haven’t because that’s basically lying and lying is something that’s just not English. Honour, integrity, three lions etcetera.
The modern rules of the game are designed to aid the attacker, this is mostly down to the work of Michel Platini in his role as president of UEFA, he’s been tipped to replace the evil emperor Sepp Blatter so you can bet that this is the direction that football is going to be travelling in for as long as he is involved.
Offsides are now massively in favour of the attacking team. Fouls and the new buzz word “contact” are so stacked in the odds of the forward players that I’m always slightly surprised when a game ends 0-0. It’s no wonder when the game is so open, with referees clamping down on all the old defensive tricks that Messi is able to smash scoring records that have stood for generations. I’d like to say that this doesn’t detract from his scoring feats, but it obviously does. Marco van Basten for example scored an eye-watering number of goals during the late 80’s and early 90’s when scoring goals was to put it simply, harder. If he was playing now I dread to think about how many he would bag in a season at Barcelona, but between 80 and 100 doesn’t seem an overly unreasonable guess.
Today referees will give fouls for any kind of “contact”. Shirt pulling is my favourite of these. There is no law in football that says you can’t hold someone’s shirt or put a hand on their shoulder. Football is a contact sport. The key word here is pulling. You have to pull on the shirt, you have to impede or restrict the movement of the player. Personally I think you can hold a shirt for the most part, so you know where the person you’re marking is, without stopping them moving as long as you stay close to them. Shirts are often stretchy and have plenty of give in them and you holding the shirt makes almost no noticeable difference to their movement.
But the ref is looking for shirt holding, because judging if you’ve actually pulled someone or impeded them is far too difficult to judge in a crowded box. Often defenders get away with it, but often there isn’t actually a foul, there’s just a contest, a tussle, a challenge. Then when a foul is given, moron pundits say things like “they need to give more of these to stop it happening”. Fine, do that, make it so that whenever the ball is played into the box it’s next to impossible to mark a forward. That’s fair isn’t it? We’ll have even more goals scored, because that’s what we want, right?
Football has moved in this direction and diving is the price we pay for that. When the ref gives soft fouls, players are going to look to win soft penalties. When you see a soft foul given on the half way line, unless it is in the build up to a goal it will often go unnoticed, except for perhaps a few old punters moaning in the crowd about how it wasn’t like that in their day. Pundits love to say “a foul is a foul, it shouldn’t matter where it is on the pitch” almost always following that up with “but it was a soft penalty”.
You can’t have it both ways, you can’t create a culture which nullifies defending without allowing diving. To those who say banning the diver for three games will help, yes I’m looking at you Mr. Wenger, this will only add to the problem not help it. He would be the first to moan endlessly if one of his players was given such a ban for a debatable dive. We already have debate over red cards, which are rarely overturned, do we really want more of that? That’s the problem with diving, it’s not like “did all of the ball cross the line?” that’s emphatically yes or no, it’s a binary situation, it either did or it didn’t. Diving is endless shades of arguable grey.
So what have we learned?
- Ashley Young should go to the Euros because he’s really good and I’d like us to do well
- We need goal line technology
- Referees have a really hard job
- Managers and fans are only really interested in winning
- It wasn’t like this back in my day
- Diving is part of the modern game
- You can’t stop players diving easily, it’s part of a wider culture which is the result of making the laws of the game biased in favour of the attacker
- Bullet points are cool
- If any kind of contact results in a foul, is football really a contact sport?
I think we should have goal-line technology. There shouldn’t be a debate about whether the ball crossed the line. But that’s the only debate I want removed from football. Having said this, I really don’t think we need to add to the growing list of things that need an F.A hearing by banning so called “divers”. Diving is going to happen, we don’t like it in this country, but as long as it’s not done so in the style of Sergio Biscuits going down, holding your face and trying to get a player sent off I think I can live with it. We all want the correct decision to be made, as long as that means we win.
Football is heading in a direction where there will be less serious injuries, less tackles, more passing and more goals. It’s moving away from strength and towards technique at a rate faster than I think we’ve ever seen before. This means football is moving away from the traditional traits of English players and towards that of our European and South American counterparts, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise to see English players diving and it should be even less of a surprise to see English fans moaning about it.