Cheaters often prosper, so we'd better get used to it


Cheating in football. It's awful. Heinous, in fact. If football were my wife, I'd leave her on the spot, cut her face out of all our pictures, move straight in with rugby and not talk to her again until, loaded with vodka, I tearfully admit I miss her in a text.

But, no matter what you think those photos of me and the half-inflated Adidas Tango imply, football is not my wife. It's an activity that I play in the park with my friends, a business that much taller men orchestrate for large sums of money, and an excuse to throw empty cans of Stella at the TV whenever Adrian Chiles talks about it. 

Thus it has vexed me so to see a number of people, people some of you may have actually paid real life money to read the printed words of, declare that they were “done”, or “finished” with the beautiful game following yet more, underhanded, Ashley Young shaped, controversy.

In case you missed it, after going down under the intense contact of Shaun Derry's thoughts last week, Ashley Young then cut inside Ciaran Clark, spotted an untied lace, and threw himself over it. Penalty. 1-0. Booooooooo. Ban this sick filth.

Twitter, as it usually does in these situations, exploded into life and the propellor motor for the retrospective punishment bandwagon was given an almighty starting heave by the internet's legions of apostrophe dodging pundits. They've lost all faith in the referees spotting these things, so they want a separate panel to review the incidents and slap bans, fines, and stern glances at anyone who has “cheated” an opponent.

I wasn't around in the early 19th century, and, unless you're something that's been found in Keith Richards' plughole, neither were you, but the advent of the offside rule came about through similarly frustrating circumstances. Sticking “Big Baz” (or whatever you would have called “Big Baz” in 1846, “Barrington the Imperious”, probably) on the goalie's toes and lumping it forward to him was a) effective, b) within the rules of the game, but c) considered wholly uncouth by the teams who suffered from it. Just as tripping over an outstretched leg is now.

Side note, Tony Pulis is actually known to wake up in the middle of the night, dripping cold fear from every pore, after dreaming of a parallel universe where, instead of an offside rule, they'd simply banned footballers from being over 6 foot, but I digress.

The rule change that this issue necessitated changed the game at a fundamental level, but it didn't change the fact that managers and players still looked to bend and twist the laws of play at any available opportunity if they saw an advantage. Shirt pulling, time wasting, encroaching on a free-kick, professional fouls, backpasses, players feigning injury to disrupt the play, goalies holding onto the ball for ages or coming off their lines for penalties. Rules have been coined in response to all of these, with varying success.

And believe it or not, falling over thin air is also against the rules, it's called simulation, it's a bookable offence, and the officials do their best to uphold it. But like every other little trick I've just mentioned, enforcing it hasn't become an exact science.

Going down the route of retrospective bans will only lead to the most pathetic, drawn-out slagging matches imaginable. In any given game, there are hundreds, honestly hundreds of examples of players bending or breaking the rules to get ahead. If you're going to punish one, you're going to have to punish them all. I mean, would you accept a three match diving ban for one of your players, when he tripped over the leg of an opponent you think should have been sent off earlier in the game?

No you wouldn't, you'd phone up 606 and tell Robbie Savage that it's a disgrace.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is this… The issue of cheating is now dangling an outstretched leg in front of us all, and we're presented with two options. Either we theatrically throw ourselves over it, writhe around in agony whilst holding our shins and pleading to a baffled governing body to appear with a wet sponge and bucket full of appeasement, ultimately making look as silly as the players we seek to condemn.

Or, we can all just try and stay on our feet, figuratively speaking, and get on with it. It'll cost us the odd goal here and there but hey, at least we'll have our self-respect.

And our wives.