With the Premier League briefly abandoning us in favour of the long, mostly boring road to World Cup qualification, I took the opportunity to watch some women’s football, via the Continental Cup Final. Arsenal and Birmingham played out a game full of quality, with Kim Little’s long-range cracker sealing a deserved 1-0 win for the Gunners, but it was the spirit in which the two teams played that stood out.
As the men’s game struggles to overcome problems such as diving, foul-mouthed tweeting and egos bigger than Alex Ferguson’s trophy cabinet, it was refreshing to see the sport played so professionally. Everyone respected the referee, opponents didn’t feel the need to square up to each other in a caveman-style show of faux-machismo, and melodramatic tumbles were wonderfully conspicuous by their absence. The players simply seemed to be happy doing what they love.
It’s undoubtedly true that the behaviour of Premier League footballers, both on and off the pitch, has worsened over recent times, but Michael Owen’s comment on diving that “it’s worse than 10 years ago with the influence of players coming from South America, Spain and Italy” is unhelpful at best, and xenophobic at worst. Having seen home-grown stars such as Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Gareth Bale gain an advantage through simulation over the last few years, it’s clear that this phenomenon isn’t the fault of foreigners. Instead of giving any credence to this false and overly-simplistic explanation, let’s face up to the fact that bit by bit, diving has become accepted as a part of football, and that we are all to blame. As a global football community, we must take a long, hard look at ourselves, and come together to introduce a culture of zero tolerance in regards to on-field amateur dramatics. The women’s game, so often derided by fans, showed everyone its quality and worth in the Olympics, and proves week after week that the game can be played passionately without trying to gain an unfair advantage.