Having seen two very different instances of what the FA would describe as ‘violent conduct’ on Saturday, I started thinking. I touched on both of these moments in my ‘Saturday Review’ piece, but after some reflection I thought that the subject required further analysis.
The two moments that I’m talking about are DJ Campbell’s push to the face of Richard Stearman and Wayne Rooney’s elbow on James McCarthy.
What was interesting, and rather refreshing to see, was that in neither incident did the player on the receiving end of the foul take to amateur dramatics in order to get an opponent sent-off. Dudley Junior Campbell of course got a punishment to match his crime but Rooney did not, and due to FA rules neither shall he. But it got me asking myself the rather uneasy question; had McCarthy performed the familiar routine of going to ground and clutching his face, would Rooney have been sent off and would justice have been done? Would two wrongs have made a right?
Obviously Mark Clattenburg saw the moment in question since he awarded a free-kick, gave Rooney a friendly ticking off and allowed the game to continue. But it seemed to me that McCarthy’s underwhelming reaction played a large part in Clattenburg deciding that the incident was a mere accidental coming together of two players rather than the elbow-led change of direction that it really was. I would like to think that the reaction of the crowd and players doesn’t influence a referee, but had McCarthy gone down then the crowd would have been alerted to the altercation and made their voices heard, and equally Wigan players would have had time to remonstrate with the referee. These two things would have suddenly turned the ‘accident’ into an ‘incident’ and perhaps would have made Clattenburg think twice about what he saw.
It is depressing that I am even thinking this way, nothing irks me more than embarrassing instances of ‘simulation’ and acts of that kind – it is the reason why I am no longer able to watch Spanish football. It speaks volumes that my lasting memory of the last World Cup in South Africa wasn’t a particular game, great goal or admirable performance; it was Kaka’s red card in Brazil’s game against the Ivory Coast (In case you can’t remember the moment, watch this). It was a cowardly act of deception which robbed the tournament of one of its most exciting players, and it left me thinking: ‘So… it’s come to this’.
So after looking at examples of a player making something out of nothing, and a player making nothing from something, are there times when over-reaction to contact is acceptable?
I suppose it all comes down to what side of the fence you find yourself on. Are you a modernist or a traditionalist?
I don’t think that winning through gamesmanship over sportsmanship would bother many people nowadays since the culture of professional football has changed, but those who cling to the morals and attitudes of the days gone by when ‘men were men’ die a little inside every time a player goes down after the smallest of touches. But with all of this taken into account would you moan if a player from your team dived to win a last minute penalty in a cup final?
In this modern age of sport where money rules everything the fine line between success and failure can equate to million of pounds, so it is unheard of that a manager or team-mate would condemn a player for a dive or undesirable act that would help garner an advantage or aid a victory. So in terms of finance a ‘win at all costs’ mentality is not only acceptable, it is positively encouraged.
So I suppose I should finish this piece by coming to the conclusion that, in my opinion, simulation is never acceptable but is regrettably understandable. I consider myself to be one of the aforementioned footballing traditionalists, and having played years of contact sport in England I think that pretending to be injured when you’re not is, well, a bit embarrassing. But that is the nature of the game we watch and I suppose the fact I was surprised to see Richard Stearman stand his ground on Saturday afternoon says it all – but at least the masculine spirit is still alive in football somewhere.