Cheating in football, what to do?

Today (5th November, 2009), there were 3 incidents, in 3 separate games in the English Premier League, with 3 different, all incorrect outcomes, in my view.

  • In the game of Portsmouth vs. Burnley, Herman Hreidarsson cheated by diving in the box, after no contact was made from a defending player, winning his team a penalty, which they subsequently miss.
  • Soon after that, in the game between Blackburn Rovers vs. Liverpool, Steven Gerrard cheated by diving in the box, after a tiny amount of contact was made from a defending player, but he does not win his team a penalty, the referee just waved all shouts for one away.
  • The evening kick-off game was Manchester City vs. Chelsea and late in the game, with City leading Chelsea 2-1, Didier Drogba is brought down by a defending player, but after contact was made, he theatrically dives to the ground, winning a penalty, which they subsequently miss.

Each one of these incidents were clear cheating incidents and each perpetrator should have been given a yellow card, warned about their conduct. Yet, in these 3 incidents, how many players were booked? 0. 3 incidents of clear cheating, seen by hundreds of thousands of people, from all corners of the world, yet not one of them is in any way punished. The Drogba dive was a penalty, but in that incident, it should have been a penalty for Chelsea, but a yellow card for Drogba, for the dive. This case is similar to how I saw the penalty given to Manchester United against Arsenal, earlier in the season, the penalty should indeed have been given, but Rooney should have yellow carded also, for a dive.

Why did this not happen? The main reason is because referees are the people in the middle who are ultimately and consistently damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. The referees involved in the games I mention above could well be pilloried by the media for the decisions they gave and the ones they didn’t. The problem is that for each of the dives of today, next week, from where the referees are standing, they could see the 3 incidents again and book the 3 players for diving, yet next week, Hreidarsson could well be brought down, Gerrard the same and Drogba may get a touch from a defender. While that could possibly happen, a lot of modern day players are so good at cheating that the incidents could look exactly the same to a referee. This is the biggest problem the game currently faces, without a doubt, in my view.

I play snooker and pool with friends and I’ve called myself on fouls I’ve made where my opponent either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t fully know or understand the rules. My father plays golf and has called himself about touching the ball by accident, when in the rough. Why do we do that?

Why?

Because it is in the ‘spirit of the game’. The spirit of the game, that’s an interesting phrase. It’s supposed to represent the overall stance the sport has. In business terms, it would probably be akin to a company’s Mission Statement. When you think about that, as a football fan, I feel ashamed. In these other games, it is more important to admit that you have fouled, rather than profit through illegal means. That ‘spirit’ is the type of spirit you’d like to live your life in and one you might teach your children, if you have any. That’s good for sports like golf and like snooker… but obviously not for football. In football, as we see week in, week out, you are good to cheat and actually should do, so long as you’re good enough at it and you don’t get caught.

We hear about how a 30 year old defender is ‘using his experience’, when he blocks off a strikers run or tugs at a players shirt. That’s not experience, that’s cheating. You’re not allowed to do it and doing it deliberately and a foul. A deliberate foul in fact. You watch nearly any top class game at international or club level and analyse any corner or wide free-kick, in a dangerous area and you will be able to count countless cheats, where defenders are tugging on attackers and attackers are tugging on defenders. Each and every one of those incidents are deliberate incidents of cheating and deserve to be punished. Just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it should be ignored or as it seems, allowed. Just because it is ‘6 of one, half a dozen of the other’ doesn’t mean they aren’t individual fouls that should be cut out of the game and punished.

So, why aren’t they punished, why is this incessant cheating still prevalent in the game? My main thought is fear. The referees are just terrified of getting these decisions wrong. They go out on the pitch and there are potentially 22 players who will spend 90 minutes plus trying to deceive him and if he has the audacity to call them on it, those same players will then criticise and insult him. I actually don’t know how or why referees bother becoming referees any more, no way, no how. Why would they bother? It’s worse than looking after toddlers, they don’t know what they’re doing when they do something wrong, professional millionaires nearly practise how to deceive the referees on a daily basis.

People who watch football on a regular basis see the other disgrace regularly too, the utter dishonesty in the game as well. A defender or midfielder will slide in and completely hammer an opposing player and not touch the ball, yet when a free-kick is given against them? They come out with even more acting, the hands come together, praying to the referee and it being Panto season, we can all shout along “I didn’t touch him” like we would do “He’s behind you” if we were in the theatre. In my view this, like diving, shirt tugging, deliberately blocking a players run, is a cheat and a cancer to the game that we should be working hard to eradicate from the game.

The big question, which so many people have asked is ‘How?’. Well, for me, the root of all of these problems is the same, the dishonesty of the players. No matter what else, if the participants of a sport are going to willing cheat and lie, no matter what measures you put in place, you’re probably going to lose out in one way or another.

Apparently the golfer Vijay Singh is not the most popular golfer in the professional golf circuit. The reason? In 1985, it was rumoured that he doctored his scorecard to make the cut. Singh always denied that this happened, but the other golfers felt that this was such a disgrace that many of them never warmed to him as a player and were never truly behind him in his successes. 24 years ago, he was alleged to have cheated and a lot of his fellow professionals were so outraged that this has tainted his entire career. That’s how big a deal that was.

In football? Thierry Henry’s handball has created a bit of a storm, but it’s going to be forgotten about at latest after the World Cup, at earliest, although probably a lot sooner than that.
Football is a game full of liars and cheaters, of every team and every club. They lie and they cheat because it’s part and parcel of the game. You ask a true fan of other sports like Rugby, American Football, GAA Sports, Snooker, Golf along with many other sports who don’t like football why they don’t like football and they’ll say because it’s a game full of divers and cheats and dishonest players.

Again, how do you tackle this?

In my view, it’s easy. You ask the players themselves. Imagine that, for the infamous Thierry Henry handball, the referee ignores all the drama and calmly goes over to Henry and asks him “Did you handball the ball and did it give you control of the ball?”. Today, imagine the referee going to Gerrard, Hreidarsson and Drogba and asked them “Were you touched, and did you dive?”. Imagine a time when maybe, just maybe Gerrard says “No ref, sorry I wasn’t touched, I dived.” and he gets a yellow and no penalty, same with Hreidarsson, then with Drogba, he replies “Yes ref, he caught me, but I did dive, I’m sorry.” and Chelsea get the penalty, but he also get a yellow card.

Imagine a footballing world where that would have been today’s events. Imagine then that instead of these incidents happening, that not one of those players made any effort to cheat. Can any of us football fans imagine a game when players didn’t make the efforts they do to cheat? For me, I barely can.

How do we force this honesty on the players? Make the alternative absolutely unthinkable. My idea to force honesty onto modern day players is to turn every single cheat they make into a penalty goal for the opposite team and a suspension for the cheating player.

Before you turn away from this article claiming that I’m crazy, please read it fully through.

From start to finish, this is what I propose should happen.

54th minute of any game. An incident happens and a free-kick is given, but there is some controversy about it. The referee then calls all players who were involved in the incident to him, along with both teams’ captains. The referee then proceeds to ask the involved players what happened, then if he’s still unconvinced, he instructs the captains of the teams to ask the players. At that point, he takes the overall view of what the players say, if they are in agreement, otherwise he goes with what he thinks happened and the play continues. The referee also takes note of the incident, the time of it and what each player has said.

After the game, the referee then sits and watches the game again with all the replays and angles that we now have. The club captains and an official from each club are also invited to re-watch the game, though they do not have to. In each incident of controversy, if it is proven, without a shadow of doubt that a player has knowingly, willingly lied to the referee and his club captain, “I didn’t touch him”, “The ball hit my face, not my hand”, “He pulled my shirt” a penalty goal is given to the opposite team. Also with that, if a goal resulted from the cheat, it is struck off.

To give a practical implementation of this, after the full whistle had been blown, the scores are 1-0 from a penalty scored, after a controversial decision. After the referee, club captains and club officials re-watch the game, it is shown that a player dived in the box to get the penalty, then continued to lie to the referee and his club captain. The goal scored from the penalty is struck off and a penalty goal is given to the opposition. The illegally gained 1-0 result is now reversed and it is 0-1 and the player who has lied and cheated is given a suspension based on the severity of his lie and cheat.

While this, for a period, would make the game very strange and some results at 5 o’clock would be completely different at 6 or 7 o’clock, after a short period, the repercussions of lying and cheating would be so severe that we may actually see a game of football where no player cheats. Or, if they do, as soon as the referee asks them about it, they answer the referee honestly, or the punishment will not be worth the illegally gained advantage.

That’s the main point. At the moment, players lie and cheat because they nearly always get away with it and even if they’re caught, the punishment is so light and forgettable, that there’s no point in even considering it.

I love football, I’ve loved it for years and I love watching my team, Manchester United. What I hate is Manchester United gaining any points in the Premiership, or progressing in any of the cup competitions in controversy. Manchester United, along with every other club should only be able to win a game legally, no other option should be allowed, nor even worse, sought. What I hate is the whole wide world see Thierry Henry cheat and rule the Republic of Ireland’s best performances for years irrelevant. The whole footballing and sporting world sees that a cheat has cheated his team into the World Cup. Football’s best response? “These things happen in football”. Absolutely and utterly pathetic. It’s horrible, pathetic and utterly worthless

I never believed, nor wanted a replay, because at the end of the day, the exact same thing could have happened in the replay. No, what I want is a game without cheating. Without liars.
Domenech’s response to the FAI’s request for a replay, other than being totally and utterly derogatory to an entire nation, was correct. If we were to replay this match, we would have to replay the match against Georgia, where we won a controversial penalty along with replay every other match a controversial incident occurred. No, I don’t want a replay, I want something done so that nothing like that ever happens again.

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How incorrect and pathetic a logo. FIFA, UEFA, the English FA and every other football association that displays this logo during their league’s games, yet do nothing to stem the tide of cheating are pathetic.

In football, the recession is being felt, as much as nearly every other business Portsmouth players have had their wages delayed for the second time this season, I hear it’s much the same situation in Crystal Palace and probably a lot of other clubs there in England and here in Ireland, as well as other leagues all around the world. I see other top clubs with the sponsorship logo on their shirts blacked out, because payments haven’t been made, or worse, the sponsor has gone bust. While this is a totally different subject, because as I mentioned above, the main reason why a lot of other sports fans have no time for football is because of the cheating. You cut that out, you bring more fans to the game. One of the other popular gripes with smaller clubs is the claim that bigger teams get more of the big decisions. With my idea, that will no longer be possible. If fans think that their team will be given a fair crack of the whip, which they don’t feel they currently do, I think more will come and watch the game.

While monetary reasons are probably the main reason for sponsorships being cancelled, if I had a business that had the money to sponsor a team or a player, why would I sponsor a cheater, in a cheating game? In the case of Gillette, why would I have Thierry Henry standing beside Tiger Woods and Roger Federer? Why would I want a cheater from a cheating sport representing my brand? I would want nothing to do with players like him, clubs or nations they play for, nor the sport itself.

While some who read this (thank you for your time, by the way!) may think this is too drastic a measure, I ask you to imagine the effect of it. There is a possibility, if this is ever implemented that we could watch games of football where defenders defend honestly and truthfully, no more shirt-tugging, no more wrestling, strikers trying to stay on their feet, despite tackles coming in from all sides and you might possibly have captains talking, with respect to the referee, not arguing, not lying and working with him to ensure a fair game.

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