It seems somewhat ironic that several days after wading into the ever-topical diving row himself, it was the man who has become the very epicenter of the debate, who took it upon himself to openly mock David Moyes.
Indeed, the timing of the Toffees’ manager’s remarks seemed somewhat conveniently times, before his side came up against the controversial figure of Luis Suarez. But wit provocative celebrations aside, there was something very poignant in what Moyes had to say last week.
Ahead of Everton’s meeting with Liverpool, Moyes called for strong refereeing, before a fixture that had produces an astonishing 20 red cards since 1999. But the comments that held slightly more gravitas in his interview with Mark Lawrenson, was his take on the wider effects of diving.
For Moyes, those indulging in simulation could provoke fans in turning their back on the beautiful game. He said:
“People are going to turn away if they continue to watch people throw themselves on the ground,” before bemoaning his side’s luck in the same fixture during the course of last season.
To some, that may not appear like a comment of any particular significance, but the gloomy sincerity in which one of the league’s most respected managers delivered such sentiments, felt like it spoke volumes. It’s important to not take comments like this quite so literally, but the notion that divers could in fact turn people away from grounds and away from football, seemed like an enormously bold statement.
Because of course, the cloud that diving has currently cast upon the Premier League, isn’t a pretty one by any means. Suarez may be public enemy number one in the simulation stakes, but we’ve seen a whole raft of unsavoury incidents that have left most of English football dismayed. The more worrying suggestion that referees are perhaps struggling to police a game without the hovering suspicions of past reputation, is certainly a depressing school of thought.
But as unethical and unsporting as diving may be, would it really turn fans away from football?
Although it feels impossible to open the debate upon diving without mentioning Suarez’s name, there feels like there has been a tendency to almost unnervingly focus the debate around the Liverpool forward, and that’s dangerous. It is easy to malign one player and cultivate something of a pantomime villain, but the dark arts of simulation have been nothing new.
We’ve seen in the past everyone from Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney to Gareth Bale and Ashley Young, trying their hands at a spot of footballing thespianism. This is not to make direct comparisons between the aforementioned players and Suarez, but the moral panic that is stemming around him is nothing new. Yet so many seem to be treating it that way.
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So for Moyes to suggest that fans would turn their back on perhaps willing to shell out on a season ticket or something similar of the like because of diving, when they’ve already been exposed to it for years on end already, seems alarmist.
Furthermore, if you were to create a list of potential factors that might put off a football fan, you’d imagine diving would be pretty far down. How about the unrelenting ascent of ticket prices, the hideous over inflation of footballers wages in a dreadful economic climate or a certain subject of racism within the game? This isn’t to say that diving has any place in the game and that it hasn’t perhaps put people off already. But let’s get some perspective.
Again, when the media cling on to a figurehead in another of their moral crusades, it’s easy to forget the greater context of diving. Fans don’t want to see it within their own team and it’s not something anyone wants to associate with their club. But had Manchester United won the title last season, would celebrations have been muted as fans took the time to remember Ashley Young’s point winning tumbles against QPR and Aston Villa?
Likewise, many Spurs fans seemed quick to condemn Gareth Bale’s dive against Aston Villa at White Hart Lane this season. But such similar critique wasn’t quite so forthcoming when he wheeled the trick out last season to win a penalty against Arsenal. This isn’t a direct critique against either Spurs fans, United fans or any set of fans – indeed, you could pick a whole catalogue of incidents from almost all Premier League clubs last season.
But when the press cultivate a sinister villain in the guise of a Suarez, it’s easy to sweep the issues of our own clubs under the carpet. It’s more intrinsic nature, than calculated convenience. But diving has existed prominently in the past, without driving crowds away. Rightly or wrongly, it exists and no one wants to see it. Although Moyes is perhaps overzealous in his claims that it could have any form of palpable affect upon those who watch the game- either in grounds or in the armchair.
Fans endure issues of far more impending moral consequence than players throwing themselves onto the deck. It’s wrong, it’s not right and it has no place in the game. But if those watching football are happy to continue shelling out hundreds of pounds each year for television subscriptions and season tickets after far bigger and more pressing ignominies – which statistics suggest they are – than it’s hard to see how diving can have a seriously detrimental effect in turning fans away.
This is not in any way condoning the likes of Suarez et al and it’s not suggesting that some might be turned off by the playacting to a point they do finally turn their back on the game. Moyes is quite right in voicing his disdain for diving, But there is a distinct difference between condemning something and despising it to the point where it becomes intolerable.
For diving, it’s something that taints the beautiful game. But is it really enough to put us off it?
Would the prominence of diving be enough to make you turn your back on the beautiful game? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and get involved in the debate.