When turning my thoughts towards this month’s player ratings article, I encountered an unexpected dilemma.
When turning my thoughts towards this month’s player ratings article, I encountered an unexpected dilemma. My original plan was to consider the general standard of refereeing in the game, which many observers feel is in terminal decline. A series of acutely embarrassing Premier League matches on Sky and BT then persuaded me that the article should consider the issue of diving, and how skilful players at the top level have become at it. And then I realised that out of necessity the article had to address the two elements in tandem, for they are part of the same problem.
Doncaster manager Darren Ferguson hit the headlines recently when the FA fined him £1,000 for claiming that he would shoot League One’s ‘appalling’ referees. However, I cannot help feeling that he is missing something rather elemental. Referees have a hard time habitually. The abuse they are subjected to every single match day must be horrendous, especially at grass roots level where assaults from players and supporters have occasionally shifted from verbal to physical. Quite why anyone would submit themselves to that is open to debate. Perhaps the answer lies in a corrupted adage: those who can, play; those who can’t, referee. Whatever the reason, they appear to be on a hiding to nothing. When they are bad, they are pilloried; when they are good, no one really notices. That is the football dictionary definition of a thankless task.
From the earliest days of the game, the referee (or umpire, as they were called originally) has been there to impose the rules. They are there to ensure fair play and to preclude any possibility of cheating by players or teams as a whole. There have always been cheats in the game of course, but it has usually taken the form of relatively straightforward foul play, seeking to gain yardage at free kicks, and so on. Players knew what they could get away with, and referees knew what they were up to. On the whole, it was not a problem.
That situation has changed dramatically over the last five years in particular. Players have turned diving into an art form and are incredibly clever with it. Gone are the days when Francis Lee would fling himself spectacularly over the outstretched leg of a defender. That was as complicated as it got then, but there has been a seismic shift in the attitudes of the players in very recent times. One of the main problems is that the players appear to have no shame in their conduct. They seem to wear a successful dive as a badge of honour, and that is all part of the terrible disease of cheating that is rotting the game from the inside.
When I played football thirty-odd years ago, albeit at a lower level, players generally tried very hard to stay on their feet and to make the most of an opportunity. Not so today. Players are now looking for the dive rather than the shot, and that is completely and utterly ridiculous. They see the chance to earn a penalty and a red card for the unfortunate victim as far superior to actually scoring a goal, and that is something I simply cannot relate to.
It gets worse. To have developed such a wide and clinical set of cheating skills, the players must surely be practising their diving alongside ball and tactical skills. Extensive sessions must be taking place to have become so adept.
Therein lies the problem: no wonder referees are so prone to errors now. The degree of skill demonstrated by players in falling to the ground, leaving a leg trailing, inviting contact, stopping suddenly with a defender right behind them, and the Norman Wisdom two-stage tumble to the pitch is incredible. It has become almost impossible now to distinguish between a genuine foul and a dive during the heated rough and tumble of a professional football match. The game is played at such speed today that referees have no chance of making the right decision by any other process than sheer luck, and that is a state of affairs that cannot be permitted to continue for the good of the game.
As an afterthought, how much of the problem has been created by the introduction by FIFA of red and yellow cards, and proscribed ‘offences’ for which they must be applied? This is a topic I have touched upon previously, and there has to be some mileage in the argument. If players know in advance that an automatic yellow or red card will follow for an opponent if they can con the referee into awarding one, is that not a root cause of the issue?
And that leads us nicely on to the use of technology. City captain Luke Waterfall has said he is unsure about the delays it causes in the flow of the game, and the excessive delays created in the Tottenham v Rochdale FA Cup tie this week served to emphasise that in no uncertain terms. But the players at the top are leaving the football authorities with absolutely no choice. The use of VAR has become unavoidable, and its use must be extended from penalty and offside decisions to include any suspected incidence of diving. Every suspicion of the offence should be investigated immediately and summary action taken. And if the players do not like it, tough: they are entirely the architects of their own problem.
In the interim, how about some good old-fashioned Draconian measures? Here is a simple three-step plan to eradicate the practice from our game:
1. The spineless euphemism of ‘simulation’, which is used to cover everyone’s deep embarrassment at shameful player conduct, must be put out of currency immediately. Let’s rename it ‘cheating’, because that is exactly what it is.
2. Players found guilty of diving should be made to wear a luminous yellow shirt with ‘BEWARE – CHEAT’ emblazoned across it for the whole of their next game. They will also have ‘CHEAT’ written in capital letters against their name in the match programme. Then offenders will serve a six-game ban. An additional sanction should apply to Premier League players: they are to be fined 100% of their wages during the period of suspension, to be distributed to worthy clubs further down the pyramid.
3. Repeat offenders to be shot by Darren Ferguson.
As for the idiotic football media, pundits must be made to stop claiming that it is perfectly acceptable to ‘go down’ if there is any contact at all. In particular, Robbie Savage must be sent for medical analysis to establish whether or not he actually has a brain.
Although most of us know the answer to that already.
As if to emphasise the scale of the problem, the Carabao Cup Final is on television while I am writing this. In the first half alone there have been numerous examples of players flinging themselves high into the air with faces contorted in agony when there has been little or no contact to initiate it. In particular, you do not fall down naturally with your arms high above your head. It is one of the few blatant signs that the player has dived, yet referees appear not to have cottoned on to it yet.
Finally, a message to the players themselves: please stop all of this because you are ruining the game as a spectator sport. You wear silly little armbands with the word ‘RESPECT’ emblazoned across them, yet by cheating you show no respect for the game, for your fellow players, or for the supporters who pay their hard-earned money to watch you demonstrate your alleged skills. You are embarrassing to everyone, yet somehow you are unable to see it. Respect has to be earned and is a two-way street. Play fair, and we will respect you. Continue along this current path, do not come crying to me if you find yourself playing in a bright yellow shirt with the word ‘CHEAT’ written across it in capital letters.
Who did our members consider to be February’s star players?
The Player of the Month for the second month in a row is NEAL EARDLEY, who confirmed that extended contract talks are progressing well. His form has been outstanding, but can he win the coveted Vital Lincoln City Player of the Season award? Scroll down to find out whether he has overhauled the departed Sean Raggett yet.
Second place goes to MATT GREEN, who finishes in the top three for the third month in a row after his notorious barren spell of 17 games. The established master of tireless running, if only he could turn that boundless energy into more goals next month!
Third place goes to loanee keeper RYAN ALLSOP despite conceding seven goals in two games at the end of the month. His penalty save from Chelsea’s Jacob Maddox on his debut played a huge part in sending City to Wembley for the first time in their history.
The average team score of 6.21 is the lowest of the season.
1. Neal Eardley 7.42
2. Matt Green 6.93
3. Ryan Allsop 6.85
4. Elliott Whitehouse 6.83
5. Michael Bostwick 6.74
6. Luke Waterfall 6.63
7. James Wilson 6.48
8. Alex Woodyard 6.29
9. Matt Rhead 6.21
10. Danny Rowe 6.15
11. Ollie Palmer 6.03
12. Sam Habergham 5.98
13. Harry Anderson 5.92
14. Tom Pett 5.07
15. Paul Farman 4.38
16. Lee Frecklington 4.22
17. Sean Long 2.92
Individual ratings by match:
Swindon: Matt Green 7.28
Chelsea U21: Michael Bostwick 9.37
Cambridge: Ryan Allsop 7.50
Cheltenham: Neal Eardley 7.94
Crawley: Matt Green 6.94
Crewe: Elliott Whitehouse 5.50
So where does that leave us regarding the current player of the season standings?
1. Sean Raggett 7.12
2. Neal Eardley 7.10
3. Michael Bostwick 6.93
Home player of the season:
1. Neal Eardley 7.26
2. Sean Raggett 7.05
3. Luke Waterfall 7.00
Away player of the season:
1. Sean Raggett 7.26
2. Michael Bostwick 6.84
3. Alex Woodyard 6.79
(Ryan Allsop currently averages 7.07 and James Wilson 6.91 after two games each)
August Player Ratings: Why Sean Raggett Is In Serious Danger
September Player Ratings: Lincoln City Is The Perfect Antidote To The Dacia Duster
October Player Ratings: What Lincoln City Can Learn From Jack Kerouac
November Player Ratings: What We Need In January Is Taylor Haines
December Player Ratings: And A League Two Review
January Player Ratings: Time To Put The B Team Fantasy To Bed
Average Player Ratings v Chelsea U21s (h)
Average Player Ratings v Cambridge United (a)
Average Player Ratings v Cheltenham Town (h)
Average Player Ratings v Crawley Town (a)
Average Player Ratings v Crewe Alexandra (h)
Thank you to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City FC for the photograph.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) March 6, 2018