The angry mob busts out the Tiki-Torches after Welbeck’s dive

I’m literally lolling at the state of English football journalism right now. For the entire 2017/18 season British pundits, players, and managers have gone out of their way to excuse diving and then one man goes down easily and suddenly they have rounded up the tiki-torches and are rallying to stamp out diving forever.

John Cross of the Mirror was front and center of the baying mob with his headline “Danny Welbeck’s shameful dive overshadows Arsenal win and embarrasses English football”. In this article, and I kid you not, Cross says: the dive “should embarrass English football”; that it may make others stop diving; that the dive decided the tie; that AC Milan were enraged; and that “foreign stars have brought (diving) to the Premier League”.

This is an entirely different article from the one John Cross penned exactly one month ago when Dele Alli was embroiled in a diving controversy. This one ran with the headline “Dele Alli played for Tottenham penalty but Rochdale boss won’t hold it against him – ‘I hope he does it for England'” In this article, Alli “earned” a penalty and the rest is all glowing quotes from the Rochdale boss about how he would love it, LOVE IT, if Dele Alli would dive in the World Cup.

But what exactly is a dive? It seems to me like diving is sort of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous proclamation about porn “I know it when I see it.” Which leads to wildly different interpretations of what constitutes a dive. Let me illustrate.

There are four basic events that happen when two players come together on a football pitch – No foul + No dive, Foul + No dive, Foul + Dive, No Foul + Dive.

No foul + No Dive happens a lot. Two players come together, the referee decides the contact wasn’t intentional or didn’t rise to the level of a foul and play goes on.

Foul + No Dive also happens a lot. A player, say, slides in, is late winning the ball, and gets his opponent’s foot and the player goes down, or eve stays on his feet. Sometimes the player is awarded the free kick/penalty but a lot of times they aren’t. I’ve seen Walcott and Welbeck get kicked in the box on numerous occasions, but because they don’t go to ground, the ref won’t call the penalty/foul.

Foul + Dive also happens a lot, I’d say it happens lot more than people want to admit. What I mean here by “dive” is any form of exaggeration. The majority of contact in football has some exaggeration on the end of it. Think about Hazard’s dive off Bellerin’s kick, that’s just one glaring example. But the most common form of this is type of dive happens when a player is playing up top by himself, receives the ball from a long punt and if a defender even touches him, he goes down, often while grabbing the ball to ensure that the referee makes the call. This is usually a player like Kevin Davies, Jay Rodriguez, Ashley Barnes, or Glen Murray. I’m talking about burley 6’2″, 175lb English forwards, who fall over when they feel a hand in the back from a fullback. This happens all the time and it’s never spoken about. Or if it is, it’s “clever”. You watch this weekend and you’ll see this happen in almost every match. The reason they do it is so that they can win a free kick. And if the kick is close enough, they get a set play chance out of it. My point here isn’t the specific action, but rather that there is an almost constant stream of exaggeration going on in football.

No foul + dive is the one that drives people nuts and there are several major types of these dives. There’s the one that Welbeck did on Thursday – the player either feels a touch or anticipates a touch and because of the regularity of players exaggerating contact (see above), the player goes down. This seems to get people the most incensed. I think because it exposes the lie of the sport, that players aren’t exaggerating contact constantly. The one that seems to be ok with some people is the one where the player anticipates the contact, the contact doesn’t happen on its own, so the player manufactures contact. This type of dive, the “kick out” dive, is also very common in England. Dele Alli does it all the time.

This type of dive has several key components. The first is that the attacking player “wins the ball”. All he has to do is literally kick the ball away and that will satisfy most people that he’s won the ball. It doesn’t satisfy me, but then, I’m a weirdo I guess.

The second component is that “there was contact” as if any contact is a foul. Warren Barton, bless him, made this argument about the Welbeck dive on TV here in the States. According to that argument, Rodriguez touched him so he had a right to go down. But what players like Dele Alli “cleverly” do now is literally kick their opponent to simulate the contact. Whenever the keeper is coming for the ball in a 1-v-1 he will initiate his dive before and as he’s going over the keeper, he will stick a leg out to draw contact. They also do this when a defender stands up near them, even if the defender is pulling out of the tackle.

Here’s a compilation of several of the types of dives described above:

The comedic aspect of all of this is the almost religious fervor people pour into “diving” but how they only seem to reserve this zealotry for the most egregious examples or what they consider to be the most egregious examples.

See, diving is a lot like calling a foul. What’s a foul? We’ve talked about this here many times before and I’ve come to the conclusion, based on the laws of the game, that a foul is whatever a referee calls. The laws of the game are so subjective, especially when it comes to calling fouls, that even video assisted refereeing often calls fouls that fans and other referees don’t think are fouls! And if no two referees can agree on fouls so how on earth can people agree on dives?

Someone said to me that VAR would have solved the Welbeck dive: I disagree. The referee who called the foul was standing inches away from the action. He called it a foul. Why wouldn’t a VAR referee decide that Rodriguez tugged on Welbeck? I’m not saying that Welbeck didn’t exaggerate (because he did!) just that we cannot be 100% certain that another referee would say that contact wasn’t a foul.

Why? because I remember the Eduardo incident against Celtic where the press had the same hyperbolic reaction. The Mirror even had a ‘campaign against diving’ that season with a cute little picture of a swimmer diving and circle/line thing! UEFA tried to prosecute Eduardo after the fact and do you remember the outcome? The referee had a good look at the action in slow motion, on video replay, in the courtroom and said he would have called it a foul even using VAR.

Players exaggerate on almost every play, they try to win free kicks, they pretend the ball didn’t go out off them, they ask for yellow cards, they fall over and feign contact. Good luck stopping that. Welbeck, who I think we can all agree exaggerates contact very rarely, did exactly what every other player does in that situation. Harry Kane won a penalty against Liverpool which had all the pundits enraged, he said “I felt contact and I went down.” And Kane’s manager Mauricio Pochettino said “Football is about tricking your opponent – one way or another.”

This is probably going to leave many of you dissatisfied. You want me to be a firebrand and either say that Welbeck is a cheat or that he should be absolved. My answer is simply that I don’t think he did anything unusual – he anticipated more contact than he got and went down easily – and modern referees can and do give a foul for any contact, even contact initiated by the player who is supposedly being fouled.

And I will end with the words of Gennaro Gattuso, the man who Crossy said was “incensed”: “Welbeck is a striker, he has to do what he does,” Gattuso said. “We cannot use that as a reference for the whole of English football – there is a great deal of fair play here. Even when I was a player, I tried to take advantage of individual situations. I don’t want to talk about the referee. I don’t want any alibi.”

Was it a dive? Was it a foul? I say we go with whatever the referee decided in the game. That said, I never imagined a time when Gattuso would be the voice of reason in football.



    1. Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is quite good. After reading it, I wince every time I see the internet pile on someone, even when it’s someone I myself consider toxic.

    2. I think it was you who recommended Sam Harris’ podcast “Waking Up”? Thanks, if that’s the case. Really enjoying it. Anyway, there’s a great moment in his recent interview with Niall Ferguson when the latter talks about social media’s impact on the US election, and he basically describes how its revenue sources contribute to a format that in turn works to perpetuate outrage. (This, incidentally, is why he thinks Russia’s meddling had no impact on the election’s outcome.)

        1. I’m not in a rush to take credit for this because I’m not even a regular listener but yeah, it was one of my two suggestions as well, glad more people are tuning in, he’s well worth a listen.

    3. Interesting. I’m 100% sure that I’m participating in this by writing about Cross. My tweet with a screengrab of the two headlines now has 1.9k RTs and is certainly shaming him.

      But his response was to team up with Stan Collymore and bash fans as “one-eyed illiterates” who don’t actually like football. Cross also basically called Arseblog a “fas disguised as a journalist”.

      And then Cross released an interview today with Dele Alli excusing his diving. Did Cross publish the “Welbeck disgrace” article and the “Dele hero” article intentionally to increase hits? Wow.

      1. Hm. Maybe. I haven’t seen your screen grabs (I don’t have a Twitter account), but I guess you’re playing Cross at his own game, i.e., you wage social media campaign against my guy, I wage social media campaign to show why yours is in bad faith.

        That said, and while I think the back and forth with Cross, Arseblog, you, etc., is a good example of how social media is used rhetorically these days, I guess I most often think of public shaming as having to do with issues of race, gender, class, etc., which ruin reputations and careers. I don’t know. Cross isn’t going to lose his job, and Arseblog is not going to lose followers, over this issue, no matter which way you fall on it.

        1. No it’s definitely not in that category of what Ronson writes so well about. This is the other side of the equation.

          Tabloid newspapers and their journos like Cross absolutely rely on provocation for readership and clicks. These guys are old hands at this game from the print era. No way Cross doesn’t know his Dele Alli article was in the pipeline. He knows ‘mob outrage’ pays good money.

          1. I think it does apply to Ronson’s message when viewed as a deliberate and selective character assassination of Danny Welbeck.

        2. Ah.. that does clarify.

          The thing I’m seeing right now is people on Facebook ruining people over perceived or even clumsy sexual advances.

  1. Definite kudos to Gattuso for avoiding the easy out.
    Agree the punditocracy is ridiculously inconsistent. I think English football is genuinely less ‘exaggerated’ in its response to fouls but the culture that once embraced that honesty (Robbie Fowler telling the ref Seaman hadn’t touched him) has been undermined, not by foreign players, but the media and financial pressure to win at all or any cost.
    I think Arsene got it right again – we used to say diving was a foreign practise but we’ve become pretty good exponents ourselves.
    So I salute Danny W, not only for doing what he had to do, but then for having the bollocks to get up and execute the perfect spot kick.
    I’m also saluting AW tonight.
    His ability over the past month to retain his dignity, deal with the media and fan pressure after such a bad run, accept his responsibility to turn things round and keep his sense of humour and sense of self intact throughout was thrown into sharp contrast by the absurd Moaninho today. I still hope he retires at the end of the season but he’s been such a class act compared to some.

  2. I found it funny how after the City loss the cameras showed a crying boy and it got heavily criticised so now the director went out of his way to show the opposite.
    I don’t recall the exact number but as far as I can tell, after each of the goals we now had to see a happy smiling child in the warm embrace of his father, as if that somehow erases the previous scene.

  3. Also, dive or not (it was), it feels good to be on the winning side of a 5-1 result (albeit cumulative and not in a single match).

  4. I’m always a bit surprised when John Cross writes negatively about Arsenal. I thought he had a good relationship with the club. He always seemed to be joining them on pre-season tours, etc.

      1. Did you know John Cross used to write the Arsenal beat on soccernet dot com before that turned into espnfc dot com?

        Between that and the Mirror the guy’s published a metric tonne of Arsenal-related transfer clickbait and unsourced insider gossip stories over the years. His rep for bad takes stretches back pre-Twitter. Pretty much since Wenger first arrived.

  5. First time to comment here but I gotta say that all I really care about right now is Avengers Infinity War trailer 2. The pundits and journos can rant all they want… It won’t change the fact that we beat AC Milan against all their expectations. It must hurt so bad…

  6. How to fill the void? Thank heavens for You Tube and Thierry Henry because our next game isn’t for over two weeks and it’s on April Fool’s Day. Against Stoke. Seriously.

    BTW, I read with interest some of the political opinions in the commentary of the last post including those referencing the Soviet Union/Russia. And now we get CSKA Moskva in the QF of the Europa League! I hear traveling Arsenal fans are already being warned about their general safety.

      1. I guess we can say bye to Wenger now instead of waiting for him to leave the club.

        He’s done for because he’ll never be able to work the zipper of his hazmat suit

      2. Don’t you see the threat to Russia? The British are sending their Arsenal to Russian soil along with a team of Gunners!!

        Yes, I am making fun of myself.

  7. I think in Italy for example, you get penalties for a lot less contact, especially with the VAR now. To someone used to the English league and especially watching Arsenal that seems like a complete non penalty. I still think it is a non penalty. But I can see why a referee more used to a continental game would see that as calling a foul a foul regardless of where it takes place.

    The hypocrisy of the British football media is clear when it comes to Arsenal. Maybe it’s all about hits but I think there’s more to it than that. Good luck with Cross but he, like other media hacks, is shameless and relentless. And he’s got the platform to keep pulling his s***. And you can bet he is baiting for the clicks.

    Maybe he’s annoyed that he doesn’t have the same access to the club that someone like Ornstein apparently enjoys. Or of course the French media get from Wenger.

  8. Danny Welbeck is one of the most hardworking and decent young men to have ever played for the Arsenal.

    He is a good footballer who (probably) did a not so good thing. The karmic wheel turns ever so slowly sometimes but it does turn.

    Eden Hazard went down after minimal if any contact by Hector Ballerin in January of this year.
    Remember Arjen Robben’s dive against us in 2014?
    What about Didier Droghba’s spectacular flop in 2013?
    And unlike Wayne Rooney 10 years ago, Welbz didn’t end the 49 game unbeaten run by one of the greatest sides in history with a simulation.

  9. Everyone is underestimating the impact of the Ornstein memes on Cross. They must’ve really affected him, and now he’s having his revenge.

  10. I have started unfollowing most journalists., just got fed up of the continual bias and click-bait style articles.

    Happy for any suggestions of neutral journalists I should keep with but Guess most will go.

    1. Dan Roan, Ornstein, Amy Lawrence are some good ones, pretty much anyone who writes for the Guardian is unlikely to be a troll, whereas pretty much anyone who writes for a tabloid trolls for a living.

  11. Very effective screen grab. Made Cross look a bit asinine and very inconsistent. But remember, he was one of the saner voices in the ridiculous brouhaha over the Ozil-sipping-tea tweet at Adam Crafton, the thin-skinned Daily Mail journalist.

    1. My sense is he comes down hard on one side of a debate in order to stay relevant, but probably doesn’t really care which side as long as his opinion is interesting or just the right amount controversial. Like Trump always says, any publicity is good publicity. You may not like Cross, but you have an opinion on him, and that is how he keeps climbing the ladder in the tabloid world.

  12. Yeah I know we’re not the only team to ever get stick but there does seem to be a special kind of venom and almost double standards reserved for when it’s Arsenal under the spotlight.

  13. Remember when there was a huge deal made about the number of cards Arsenal picked up around the invincibles years (despite other teams having worse records)?

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