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Taking a dive?
5 April 2004
I've got a confession to make.
As a skinny, messy-haired youngster bombing down the right wing for my local side on a boggy and uneven pitch, I once dived to win a free kick. It was wrong and I shouldn't have done it, but like many others around around me I carried on, oblivious to the consequences.
So why did I do it? Was it because I tripped and made it look as if I'd been hurt? No. Was it because we'd entered stoppage time in a big relegation six-pointer and the opponents had just taken the lead through two goals in as many minutes (sounds familiar)? Again, no. Was it because I'd seen, like millions of other children around the world, my favourite football stars do exactly the same on the television? Yes. It felt right. It felt great.
"Yeah, they've all done this, it's cool," I thought. Maradona, Klinsmann, the list is endless. Even, I'm ashamed to admit, our own national stars such as Owen, Beckham and Chris Brandon dive. "If it's OK for the 'gods' of the game to do it then why can't I?" This is the question that runs through a child's mind before play-acting, and do the 'stars' of our once beautiful game consider how their actions will affect the young minds at home and in the stands? No. To them it's just another penalty, to earn another win to earn, of course, yet more money.
What's happened to the days when football was about eleven men kicking a ball round a field, trying to score more times than their opponents? The only time a player went down was if he'd been genuinely injured and still, in most cases, they stayed on their feet. Not any more. Now if there is even a hint of contact or a tap on the shin the player goes down as if he's been shot - somehow fooling the referee.
There's more to lose if you're cheated and everything to gain if you cheat. It's called money. Thousands or millions of pounds can rest on one match - a cup final, European qualifier or even a second division relegation six-pointer - and it can take only one incident, such as a dive and dodgy penalty decision, to turn the game.
Are our players simply trying to keep up with the antics of the many imports in today's English game? Some would say such players have ruined the game; others that they have added pace and skill that you and I could previously have only dreamt of. I'd like to say it was just foreign players but it isn't. I've been to many a league game when the above and injustice has occurred, some managers even encourage it.
Take for example, Town's trip to deepest darkest diving Derbyshire the other weekend. With the scores all level approaching the hour mark, Chris Brandon thought it was about time he showed the travelling supporters the true extent of his wizardry by diving over the unstretched leg of unfortunate victim Jason Crowe, inside the box. Then after winning the penalty, Brandon again marvelled the Mariners with another truly gymnastic party trick, performing a back-flip to return to his feet while seemingly injured. Wow.
Then, as if this were not enough, with literally seconds of the match reminding and his side now 4-3 down, Brandon strode towards his second victim... oh, it's Jason Crowe again. Chris, that's just not fair. Again he dived and again he won a penalty, denying Grimsby three vital points.
If your team is cheated, you're quick to act but what if it's a member of your side diving? On this occasion even Spireites fans hinted that their player might, just might, have tricked the ref. Let's be honest: it wasn't hard.
Another example? OK. In the World Cup, did Michael Owen dive to win that penalty against Argentina? He denies it but those wonderful inventions known as the television cameras, which have caught many before and will catch many again including our friend Chris Brandon, seemed to show otherwise.
So is it just me? Should I stop making a fuss and step back while one of the game's biggest crimes carries on around me? Or should we demand more strictness from referees and aids such as TV replays during matches? Rugby has got it sorted; why haven't we?
It's simple. The FA and FIFA have got to act now to stop our game becoming nothing more than a joke. If they don't then clubs such as ours will pay the price.