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British football fans must learn that diving is a good thing

09:02 IST 30/04/2017
Fellaini United-City
There has been discussion around diving in the game this week but there is no question over whether or not it's an "imported" phenomenon

The name Myles Hippolyte might not mean a lot to you. He’s a winger for Falkirk in the Scottish Championship.

Last Saturday he won a penalty in a game against Dunfermline. The spot kick got Falkirk level and they went on to win the game 2-1.

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They could only manage a draw this week against Queen of the South. Hippolyte was not playing. He was serving the first of a two-match suspension after accepting a ban from the SPFL for committing an act of “simulation” in the winning of the 'foul' last week.

It was a dive but a dive which had everything. Hipployte chased the ball inside the Dunfermline area and got to it fractionally ahead of goalkeeper Sean Murdoch. From there he launched himself skyward, performing a passable somersault, before landing heavily on his back. 

Dunfermline were up in arms. The club abused Hippolyte with the swimming man emoji in their Twitter post detailing the match highlights and until last night the 22-year-old’s Wikipedia page gave his occupation as “professional Diver”.

This story is supposed to serve to illustrate the extent to which diving is prevalent within the British game.

So often portrayed as a foreign menace, the act is now so commonplace that it is being performed by an Englishman plying his trade in the Scottish second tier. That is as foreign-free as a league can get.

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This week there were two big examples of simulation in the English Premier League. Alexis Sanchez was widely ridiculed for posting on Instagram an image of the injury he sustained to his mouth after Christian Fuchs aimed a throw-in straight at his boxy frame. Sanchez took two seconds before going down like a ton of bricks when it dawned on him that Fuch’s act was probably unlawful.

Let’s clear one thing up: Sanchez should have been informed by the referee that he was standing at an insufficient distance from the throw-in in the first place. That situation requires a two-metre minimum and any controversy stemming from Sanchez’s subsequent theatrics and yellow card should start and end there.

A night later Marouane Fellaini committed the cardinal sin of putting his head too close to an opponent’s in a set-to after a challenge. Sergio Aguero duly hit the floor and Fellaini walked. He, too, felt the full force of British fans on social media.

What tied those two incidents together is that the deceptions were both performed by South Americans; 'foreigners' as they are frequently described.

It appears that it’s easier for diving to be explained in the Premier League as an affliction that was carried here like measles and smallpox were taken to the New World in the centuries after Columbus’ invasion.

Our players weren’t diving until these pesky foreigners arrived, the train of thought goes. Not so.

Diving is endemic in Britain just like it is everywhere else. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a means to an end and one that’s been prevalent here and everywhere else for generations.

Francis Lee – the Manchester City legend – was diving before many of us were born. Gary Lineker converted two dubious penalties that he won himself against Cameroon at the World Cup in 1990.

Teddy Sheringham dived for David Beckham to score a free kick at Old Trafford in 2001 to carry England to the 2002 finals in the Far East. Michael Owen did similar to permit a Beckham penalty against Argentina when they got there.

That second one stuck in the craw of Mauricio Pochettino – the Tottenham manager – as it was he who was deemed to have committed the foul.

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He drew attention to Owen’s deception after Dele Alli was widely criticised for winning a penalty against Bob Bradley’s hapless Swansea in the autumn. Pochettino was saying – rightly – that diving was not exclusive to foreigners. British people have always been well capable of diving all by themselves.

According to Opta data, 124 bookings for diving have been brandished since August 2012. Forty-nine of those have gone to players representing the Home Nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – as well as the Republic of Ireland.

Those players – by and large – were all born and raised in football terms in the British system. They comprise 45 percent of the total number of players in the Premier League across those five seasons and – as the numbers prove – as good as 40 percent of the divers.

The reward for diving in football by far outweighs risk. Until that ratio is reversed then players will always take their chance. Only the most draconian of punishments – red cards instead of yellows, point deductions for matches won or drawn due to simulation – will put eager divers off.

If FIFA is unwilling to go that far in its laws then examples of what Aguero or Sanchez or Hippolyte did last week will never stop.

Another reason for diving is self-preservation. If an opponent launches himself headlong into a challenge with eyes for the leg and not the ball then surely the player is entitled to hurdle it and avoid the contact.

There is nothing to be gained by standing and taking it. Jurgen Klinsmann’s famous dive in the 1990 World Cup final, which got Argentina’s Pedro Monzon sent off, is actually a really good example of this. So long as FIFA enables this kind of violence – or attempted violence at least – to be perpetuated then the more players are always going to take evasive action.

This is not a contact sport in the same way as gridiron or rugby. It’s a skill game first and foremost. Its most capable participants are entitled to take part without the risk of injury.

If something illegal transpires on a football field, which deprives a player of an advantage, then they are within their rights to alert the referee’s attention to it. It could be something as small as a shirt-pull but nothing is to be gained by enduring it silently. Indeed it could be construed as irresponsible for a player to fail to maximise his chances for a penalty or a free-kick with so little to be gained by staying up and so much to be gained by going down.

Those doing the fouling are the real cheats; the divers – long painted as the miscreants – are often the ones helping officials do their jobs.

As for the other kind of dive - when no foul is committed in any context and yet a foul is bought – consider that deception will always be attractive so long as reward outweighs risk.

That is true in Buenos Aires and the Scottish Championship alike.