Is Ashley Young's diving controversy emphasised by his nationality?

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Ashley Young’s ‘simulation’ in Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday has reignited the flames of debate on diving in football.

They say it’s a ‘foreign’ thing, diving. They say it’s cheating. They say it’s a disgrace but why do the British have such an adverse reaction to what the rulebook terms ‘simulation’?

It’s true, in Spain, Portugal, and Italy on the continent and in South and Central America further afield, there is more of a tolerance and, in some cases, an acceptance or even and expectance that players will dive to deceive the referee and give their team an advantage whether it be a free kick, a penalty or a numerical advantage via a sending off.

When Arsenal’s Eduardo dived a few years ago to earn his side a penalty, he was crucified by the press and commentators and it’s only a recent development that more English players have seen singled out for what is perceived as cheating.

Cristiano Ronaldo used to do it all the time, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez too – in fact it was United manager David Moyes in his previous season with Everton that took such a strong stance on the issue, even to criticize his own captain Phil Neville for diving after he’d made such a fuss about Suarez’ simulation previously. He was not impressed with Neville’s caution for it in the Merseyside derby last term.

Now it’s Ashley Young and it’s not his first time either – he has been told off before and had to defend himself from criticism. He was cautioned for diving and then he went and did it again to earn United a penalty at Old Trafford and the Eagles were down to ten men as referee Jonathan Moss dismissed Kagisho Dikgacoi for the challenge, which was actually outside the box.

It was a poor decision by the referee who was poorly positioned to see the incident – from replays it’s clear the contact occurs outside the box and the contact is minimal, after Young collides with Dikgacoi, purposefully running into his path rather than towards the ball ahead of him.

He dived, that’s clear but what is not so clear is why it bothers us so much – and so much more than a number of other regions and nations. I believe it’s something to do with what the British value in the game traditionally.

We value football as a ‘man’s game’, a ‘contact sport’, we have always championed the physical side of the game – the more ‘masculine’ players, the rugged heroes, the men’s men, the warriors, the brutes – Vinny Jones, Stuart Pearce, John Terry, the gladiators of the modern age.

When players like Eduardo, or Ronaldo, or Bale or Suarez or Young – the crafty, skilful, tricky, technical players of this league – effectively outwit, outsmart and deceive the opposition and the referee with one fell swoop, it threatens the masculinity of the game. It’s deemed a bit ‘girly’ to dive, it’s not very barbarian-like to feign being hurt, is it? It’s not what Decimus Maximus Meridius would do, anyway.

I was chatting to a nice chap called Tony who fixed my internet connection last week about it – he asked what I do for a living, I told him and asked if he liked football, to which he responded negatively – he doesn’t like all the cheating and the play-acting and he prefers rugby – a man’s game.

The British have a very nuanced relationship to football – compared to, for example, the Spanish. Football is a big part of the national psyche for many nations and especially the male psyche in Britain – it’s about identity and defining what it means to be a real man, a hardnut, one of the lads, a heterosexual man’s man. Diving undermines the traditionally physical nature of the English game and, with it, it undermines the masculinity indelibly attached to it.

One could argue that professional fouls, the cynical fouls to deny a scoring opportunity are just as much cheating as diving is but we say he took one for the team, a good lad, sacrificed himself with his infringement and took the booking like a man. Why is diving more cheaty than deliberately taking out a player of the opposition is? It’s not, and the polarity of the perspective on these two equally disingenuous forms of cheating exposes what is so detestable for some about diving.

I was told only last week, via the comments box at the bottom of the page, that football isn’t for girls (I’m told that on a weekly basis, it’s not as shocking to me as it really should be in this day and age because of the frequency I’m told this) and I think we still have a long way to go before the sexism, homophobia, and racism that are unfortunately still prevalent amongst players and supporters is completely eradicated and I think, especially in the case of the former two forms of prejudice, that it’s largely due to an insecurity about British football’s maleness.

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