So much for ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’; Christmas is the busiest time of year for professional footballers.
As well as having so many games to contend with (unless they’ve managed to book time off with a cunningly-timed red card), the poor things have a Christmas party to organise and keep out of the papers (unless the manager’s cancelled it because of recent performances) and of course there’s the obligatory visit to a local hospital.
Some of these visits are more worthwhile than others – this one in Liverpool last year wasn’t universally welcomed, by the look of it – but on the whole it’s good that the kids get a chance to meet their idols. Or at least people they’ve vaguely heard of, bearing gifts.
As it happens, I’ve been giving the whole idol/role model question a bit of thought lately because of some of the behaviour at our son’s Saturday morning football sessions. I’ve always been rather sceptical of the notion that kids copy what they see in televised games, but now I’m beginning to wonder.
It’s a small sample group, but let’s consider two boys in particular.
Boy A is forever falling over during practice matches without being touched, holding his leg and crying out in mock agony.
Boy B, playing in defence last week, told the referee that the award of a goal kick should in fact be a corner because the ball had deflected off his leg. (‘Never admit that!’ shouted one of the other dads present.)
Now, why should the boys’ attitudes be so different? It could be down to their individual natures. It could be down to parenting. It could be down to the shirts they were wearing (Boy A was wearing a Chelsea strip, albeit without ‘Drogba’ or ‘Ramires’ on the back, while Boy B – guess who – was in yellow and green).
But I think the main reason was identified by Boy A’s dad. ‘He’s got that off the telly,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘He thinks it’s part of the game.’
(Fortunately, he’s still unaware of other misdemeanours carried out by Chelsea players, so as yet he hasn’t brought an air rifle to training or parked his scooter in a disabled bay.)
Boy B, on the other hand – or Harry, as we call him at home – rarely watches football on TV and is therefore unaware of all the diving and play-acting that goes on. He still believes that the game has to be played with complete honesty and gets upset whenever he sees an unjust decision.
Proud as I am of his high moral standards, I’m wary of how he’ll react when he realises that many of the players on his precious Match Attax cards follow rather different codes.
It’s not just the cynical cheating that concerns me; it’s the evasion and sophistry used by certain players when discussing their actions.
Here’s serial turf-biter Ashley Young talking about his reputation in the Guardian recently:
“The referees are giving decisions and that is where I think it lies… I think it’s one to ask the referees – they’re the ones who are giving free-kicks and penalties… For me, the referees have made decisions and that’s it.”
A fine example of taking responsibility for your actions.
It’s not even as though I can tell Harry that no Norwich players ever go to ground easily. (And yes, in using the mealy-mouthed phrase ‘go to ground easily’, I realise that I’m guilty of a lack of candour myself.)
Henrik Mortensen made an appearance in front of the Barclay End at half-time last Sunday; it seemed odd to see him remain upright whilst in the penalty area.
And try Googling the names of our two biggest crowd favourites from the last ten years together with the word ‘diver’. Or rather, don’t – the results don’t make for pleasant reading. (I discovered after following one link that Crystal Palace fans view Darren Huckerby in the same way that we regard Andy Johnson.)
I guess the way to keep Harry honest is to impress on him that once you’re linked with fakery, the stink never entirely dissipates.
Is Rivaldo remembered for being a skilful player or for this bit of thespian work?
Similarly, Jurgen Klinsmann trips easily off the tongue (with no one near him).
Dishonesty can even tarnish the achievements of the whole team. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever Arsenal’s team of ‘Invincibles’ from 2003/04 is mentioned, I always think of Robert Pires’ blatant dive to win a penalty and a point against Portsmouth that season. (Arsene Wenger later admitted it was a dive – some eight years later.)
It’s a lesson that doesn’t just apply to football or even to sport in general. The man who faked his own death in a supposed canoeing accident in 2002 was back in the papers again this week. And will the fake sign language interpreter at the Mandela memorial service ever be able to live it down?
(I have my suspicions about one of the signers on the BBC News channel, by the way. When covering the anniversary of the JFK assassination recently, he appeared to be acting out the Gunfight at the OK Corral.)
For now, though, perhaps I should just be pleased that we’ve managed to instil in Harry the values of truthfulness and honesty by making it clear that lying and deception is always wrong. Well done us.
Anyway, I’d better go – it’s the last posting day for Christmas and he still hasn’t mailed his letter to Santa…
MyFootballWriter.com was very proud to learn that Kevin’s column has been nominated in the EDF Energy East of England Media Awards 2013. Very well deserved Kev and hopefully you won’t need to perfect the ‘gracious runner-up face’ for the awards ceremony.
Tom Daily says
Ashley Young is the biggest ‘simulator’ (now Gareth Bale has gone), and I thought Fergie is supposed to have ‘had a word’ with him last season! Moyes – get a grip. A word or a fine is useless – there has to be a more effective way of dealing with it ‘in-house’ i.e. toilet cleaning duties for a week.
It was always thought of as the ‘foreign disease’ but sadly we cannot make the claim anymore. One of the worst in recent memory was Holty’s felled tree impersonation against Southampton which somehow the ref bought.
“Did he jump or was he pushed?” – sadly generally the former. The onus is on the managers/coaches to make sure their houses are in order and stop fans/the media from blaming the officials for being conned.
Brilliant article – I am so pleased you raised this! No matter what diplomatic language one choses to use, cheating is cheating. Some people seem to think cheating on the field of play is OK – but happy to complain to the authorities if someone is cheating on benefits! Stealing a few yards here, a hand ball there, a penalty dive whenever, are all prime examples of CHEATS and the sooner they are branded as such, the sooner they will resent the stigma associated with it and start to PLAY the GAME as it is meant to be played.
Tell Harry to keep up the good work – he may yet be the role model of the future!
Stewart Lewis says
Nice points, nicely made. It’s (sadly) too much to ask pros to correct wrong decisions, but acting with a basic level of integrity shouldn’t be impossible.
As you imply, though, we fans aren’t immune from hypocrisy. I suspect Grant Holt – who we all loved dearly, of course – comes up quite a lot in the ‘diver’ category.
The Prof. says
Diving in football? This academic view should clear up any arguments!
Gary Gowers says
Prof – I do believe you took the words right out of Ashley Young’s mouth!
The Prof. says
Quite so Gary. I think Figure 2 is especially insightful on this thorny topic. I myself am currently writing a paper called ‘The trailing leg syndrome’.
Kevin – here’s one for you and your boy;
Let’s hope Gary ‘stay on your feet’ Hooper does the bizz again today.
Graeme Davies says
Kev mate, brilliant article as always. Unfortunately kids do pick up ‘values’ from role models and that includes parents as well as the pro players. But remember that one of the biggest rile models they have whilst developing is their coach! Which albeit reluctantly includes you now! Got a suggestion which I’ll put to you next game…