When Lee Tomlin was sent off in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time, you would be hard pushed to find an Argyle fan complaining. Peterborough? Not quite the same boat, with many unpleasant slurs and distasteful comments left online aimed at Ryan Edwards whom many felt had made the most of the contact from Tomlin in order to get the latter his second yellow card. It worked, and a late Rúben Lameiras goal gave Argyle the win. In what is unlikely to be considered one of the great footballing performances of the 21st Century, it is not unreasonable to say that the result might have been different had Peterborough ended the game with 11 men.
So then, a valuable three points for Plymouth Argyle. Did Ryan Edwards dive to get Tomlin sent off? It’s difficult to say for certain. Many seem to have said that ‘you just can’t put your hands there’ which is perhaps a valid response but for me, there’s not an awful lot in it. Ultimately, there’s minimal force and Edwards makes a meal of it. In a quest for survival that involves picking up points wherever and however we can, who really cares?
It frustrates me to see the double standards on diving. It’s so easy to watch a game of football as a neutral and get frustrated because you deem a player to be simulating or exaggerating contact in order to benefit his team. It’s even worse when it happens against the team you support. But when your boys do it? Absolutely fine. No problem. We need the points. Glad the lads are ready to win however they have to.
It is, I think, time to bring the English game up to date with the modern day. Ultimately, the children of today are going to watch their favourite footballers acting in such a way and they will copy them – have no doubt about that. But what, in essence, is wrong with it? There’s a huge sense of pride that British people seem to take in losing but doing so in the right manner as if that’s somehow on par with being genuinely successful. Oh yes, you lost the Champions League final but at least none of your players went down too easily for a penalty that could have won you the game, so well done.
That ignores the fact that on a general consensus, the armchair fan doesn’t seem to understand what does and doesn’t constitute diving. The out-of-date pundits and the slow-motion replays don’t help things either. A player bursting into the box with the ball at full speed is only going to need the slightest nudge to be sent catapulting, but slow it down to a few frames a second and suddenly everyone is baffled as to how someone has won a penalty. Just having to step out of the way of an outstretched foot can be enough to put you off balance! Certainly, they are not things you are ever likely to hear middle aged South American football fans complaining about.
When Burnley lost 3-1 to Arsenal in December 2018, Sean Dyche (English, surprise surprise) had something of a meltdown in the media, where he claimed simulation had ‘gone too far’ and that he felt that nobody but him wanted to do anything about it. Now, at this moment in time, Burnley sit 17th in the Premier League and one spot above the relegation zone and it is going to be a very tight battle in the seemingly endless relegation battle that now incorporates virtually everyone outside of about 10th place. Imagine in their final game, going down on the cards, Ashley Barnes steps into the box, looks for a body part to bump into, slumps to the ground and wins a penalty that keeps Burnley up (and all the riches that goes with continued Premier League status). Reckon Sean Dyche is going to be so unhappy after that? I imagine probably not.
He actually made a fairly interesting point, mid-meltdown. That is, with some of the first players to bring ‘diving’ to England in Jürgen Klinsmann and Didier Drogba, that there was a huge outcry against what they were doing. It was highlighted on Match of the Day each week and all over the news but nowadays people at the top seem to be caring less and less. Not ‘less enough’ for me, but certainly it is the case that you’re not so likely to hear about it: which is great. It’s part of the game. Mauricio Pochettino, when Dele Alli ‘dived’ to win Tottenham a penalty a win over Swansea, effectively said he didn’t know what had happened. And who can blame him? Everyone knows that he knew exactly what happened but at this point Spurs were in the thick of a title race – was he likely to try and void the result because of one player’s simulation? Of course not, although by now I shouldn’t have to tell you that.
It applies to every team at every level in football be that international, the Premier League, in foreign countries of whatever. Literally everybody is doing it. Get off your high horse and accept it’s part of modern football and it’s not going anywhere. No Argyle fan is ever going to tell me convincingly that they would give two hoots if a dive on the final day was to keep the club in League 1 for next season. It is time, I believe, to ditch the pride and embrace one of the things I love so much about the foreign game. Let’s start focusing on the winning first, think about the ethics of the whole thing second.
It’s one way or the other. You accept it and join everyone else, or you make the punishments so hard in order to try and put any player off even attempting it. Join in and embrace how the rest of the world plays the game, or attempt to do things our own way in order to reinstall that sense of proper English pride. If Brexit has taught me anything at all, then I reckon I could take a pretty good guess at how that question would go down.