"I say to my players there must be no diving in our team. There is no 'but' to it either. I don't want it."
David Moyes, March 2012
I like to think of myself as pretty honest. We all tell the odd white lie, to avoid confrontation for example, however on the whole I try to avoid being dishonest for selfish reasons, as this tends not to end well. I was a little alarmed therefore, to read the following thought, a few pages in to Jonathan Wilson's book "Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics":
"To the modern sensibility, it is baffling that the early amateur footballers thought passing unmanly, and yet it may be in time to come - as indeed it already is in certain cultures - that the present-day British distaste for diving seems just as naively irrelevant"
Just to be clear on the context, Wilson isn't condoning diving. His point is that things change, football has changed a great deal since the late 19th century, and it will undoubtedly continue to change.
So could it be, some years down the line, that diving might be considered as integral a part of the game as passing is now? I doubt it to be honest, and I certainly hope not. We've taken steps to try to avoid this, with diving having been a bookable offence for years; however the fact that these steps needed to be taken proves that diving is something that many players will not think twice about if they believe it will benefit the team. Competitive instincts lead many of us to live our lives believing winning is everything. In business, as well as in sport, people tell porkies, manipulate others, and bend the rules in order to get ahead.
But is this just part of human nature, an unavoidable fact of life? On countless occasions I've heard Evertonians say that our current crop are "too nice". They help opposition players to their feet, they don't crowd around the referee like a pack of wolves, and they don't go to ground easily enough. Should we condone and even encourage dishonesty on the field if it gives us the edge? I don't believe so, but it is a difficult dilemma, particularly when we see players from other teams diving and manipulating the officials. We want to win of course, but as uncomfortable as it feels saying this, winning isn't everything.
Now don't get me wrong, if we make it to the cup final, and in the last minute one of our players dives and wins a penalty, of course I'm not going to shake my head and refuse to celebrate. I'm only human, and my desire to win would take over. However, the desire to win without compromising decent values seems a worthy ideal, and one worth aiming for. Which is why I felt extremely proud to read David Moyes' comments above. The problem in my opinion is not that we are "too nice", it is that the standard of referees is not high enough to identify and penalise the cheats and to avoid being influenced by certain players. What the solution is I don't know, but something needs to be done to make the seemingly impossible job of refereeing easier.
I recently had the privilege of meeting the great Derek Temple. We spoke about various things, from the cup run of '66, to his life after football. The most memorable part of our conversation for me though, was when he spoke about the way he feels Everton as a club tend to do things - as he put it, "the right way". You only have to spend a couple of minutes with Derek to realise that he epitomises the word 'gentleman', and he is as good a role model as anyone playing today. What he said made me proud, and if the day ever comes when our players regularly dive, cheat, and try to pull the wool over the referee's eyes, then I believe that would be a sad day indeed. Hopefully "Nil Satis Nisi Optimum" will always encompass not only our efforts to be skilful and play flowing football, but also how we conduct ourselves on the pitch. Monsieur Bleu