Early Doors

In defence of diving: 11 reasons why there’s no shame in going down easy

Early Doors

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Arjen Robben dives

Arjen Robben's dive against Arsenal during the Champions League match on Tuesday provoked howls of outrage - not least from some of Early Doors' own colleagues.

But really. Oh, honestly. Come, come. Is it really as bad as all that?

Diving has been part and parcel of the game ever since Ebenezer Cobb Morley first jotted down the immortal words "neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed" in the first rules of the game 1863. 150 years later people are still grumbling about players hoodwinking referees in order to win free kicks and penalties.

But it's about time all that nonsensical whining stopped; diving is part of the sport, will always have to be tolerated, and indeed is often to be celebrated.

Here's why:

It’s no different from any other form of ‘cheating’

The ball brushes a defender’s shin as it goes out of play, but he raises his arm to appeal for a throw anyway. He’s attempting to con the officials in exactly the same way as a player who pretends he’s been fouled when he hasn’t. Strangely, only one act provokes fury.

Actually, it’s not even cheating

Diving is not ‘cheating’ any more than committing a foul or a handball. It’s not allowed, but the laws of the game make clear provision for what action the referee has to take when it occurs – just like any other form of foul play. Match-fixing is cheating. Diving is just a part of the game.

It’s a skill

In many countries a player who wins a penalty by diving is deemed ‘clever’ – in much the same way that John Terry might win plaudits in England for impeding the opposing striker with a crafty tug of his shirt on the referee’s blind side. The problem with Ashley Young isn’t that he dives – it’s that he’s crap at it, and routinely makes himself look like a fool.

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Ashley Young kindly demonstrates the art of the inept dive

It’s only ‘shameful’ when done badly

On a similar note, the only players who actually get condemned for diving are those who do it badly. Robben drew Wenger’s ire last night because he perpetrated a particularly hopeless effort – but tumble over in full flight following the merest brush on the shoulder and we would hear barely a murmur. I’m an England fan. I don’t want Danny Welbeck not to dive at the World Cup. I want him to dive more convincingly. Get better at winning penalties, Welbz!

Retrospective punishment already exists

‘Ban the divers!’ demand the bloviating pundits. The point being, of course, that diving can be identified and sanctioned after the game, even if the ref misses it. Fair enough, perhaps, but this retrospective punishment already exists in the form of damage to the player’s reputation. Luis Suarez would have to lose a limb to win a spot-kick these days, and it’s all because refs know about his antics. And what whistleblower won’t have a second or third thought the next time Robben tumbles inside the box?

Falling over is an important part of winning a foul

A player gets tripped in the box but manages to stay on his feet. He loses his chance to score but as long as he’s upright he’s got more chance of giving birth to a cow than he has of winning a penalty. So he has to ‘simulate’, even if it’s a bona fide foul. This is something that Gareth Bale became excruciatingly guilty of last season, become a master of the art of making a genuine foul look like a dive.

It's hard to be too harsh on Bale, though, because it quickly becomes a very grey area. Players might start to fall anticipating contact, they might mis-time their fall – or they might invent a foul altogether. But the only way you can really eliminate diving is by getting every player to stay on his feet in every circumstance, even when legitimately fouled. Good luck with that.

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Gareth Bale

Contact isn’t a necessary condition of a foul

In fact, it’s even more nuanced than above. If you lunge at me with a two-footed horror tackle I may well jump out of the way. Even if you don’t touch me it’s still a foul, because your filthy challenge has caused me to lose control of the ball.

So much witless debate of diving centres on contact, when it isn’t essential either to foul me or make me fall over. Remember Robbie Fowler's famous honesty in trying to stop the ref giving a penalty against David Seaman? The only reason he didn't get taken down is because he jumped over the keeper's arms; so it was a penalty after all.

The anti-diving movement is grossly hypocritical

As we’ve said, people who hate diving will condone many other forms of gamesmanship. Tony Pulis, who recently fined two players for it, is otherwise the epitome of ‘win at all costs’ - Pulis defended Ryan Shawcross’s reckless challenge that left Aaron Ramsey with a broken leg in 2010. Outside of football, he escaped a driving ban in 2012 after successfully arguing it would have caused the people of Stoke-on-Trent ‘exceptional hardship’. Win by any means necessary. Except diving.

Football is a moral cesspit – why worry about diving?

Surely nobody with a serious interest in the Corinthian values of sportsmanship and fair play would come within a private jet ride of modern football? Here are 22 overpaid, overprivileged, surly young men trying to screw each other over while 40,000 baying observers shout swear words – and that’s just what happens in the stadium. There is no moral virtue in football. It’s just a form of entertainment that is better sampled with your basic human decency left at the door. In such a world, why the hell would anyone care about diving?

It’s a weirdly macho hang-up

Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale, Ashley Young, Michael Owen… top British players have had no trouble adopting simulation into their games, but our wider football culture still abhors it. Why? One can only imagine it is because of an old-fashioned requirement that footballers be ‘real men’, into which pretending to be hurt does not really fit. Let’s have no time for such outmoded claptrap. Can any sport whose best player is an underpants-flogging creosoted adonis really claim to be macho any more?

It’s fun

Come on, be honest. Who doesn’t love these periodic explosions of outrage every time a sly forward buys a cheap penalty? Like penalty shoot-outs or Sepp Blatter, it might not seem very likeable but you’d miss it if it wasn’t there.

Alex Chick

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