Modern Football Is Good-ish: Gamesmanship or Cheating?

Opinion

An Introduction

Those who know me on a personal level know that my opinions on many things don’t tend to go along with the majority. Some say I’m just wired differently, some think it’s a subconscious reflex just to naturally be ‘contrary’. Through this occasional feature I hope to provoke some discussion by laying out my ‘contrary’ opinions.

The one that comes to mind due to recent conversations is based on something that is a very emotive subject for football fans: gamesmanship or cheating, that win at all costs attitude.

When it comes to professional football, there are such fine margins between winning and losing that one simple on-field action can drastically alter the outcome of a match. With the massive amounts of money involved in football this win can be the difference between splashing the cash or having to pinch at the pennies. It is this thinking that carves out my own opinion on gamesmanship that maybe it isn’t such a terrible thing?

What’s the big fuss?

Diving is considered the cardinal sin amongst the purists and the fallout from a ‘simulation’ incident can be totally bizarre. One side will bay for blood, declaring that the guilty party be hanged, drawn and quartered. The opposition (usually supporting the team the player represents) will refer to super slo-mo replays to indicate that there was indeed CONTACT, their case will often involve references to the player’s pace and comments of “but he’s just not that type of player”.

So, the player has made the most of a challenge, and what? The first incident that comes to mind for me is Victor Moses for Chelsea v Spurs in the FA Cup Semi-Final. Moses clearly made the most of the mistimed slide from Son, the contact was minimal (if there at all) but the penalty swung the tie back in Chelsea’s favour at that point – bonus for the player.

Sergio Ramos lit the social media world up during the Champions League final when his reaction to Juan Cuadrado brushing by him led to the Colombian’s sending off. The action consolidated Real Madrid’s position in the game allowing them to see out the win with relative ease.

Didn’t our heroes of the 80s and 90s (the golden age of football according to the AMF movement) routinely attempt to wind their opponents up so they would retaliate with violence and see red? I don’t see too much of a difference between the two actions. Gamesmanship at its finest.

Maybe, just maybe…

How many of us who have played amateur football can claim to never have bent the rules? That nudge on a defender to grab you the vital yard of space on your way to goal. Blocking the run of your attacker at a corner, standing on their toes at the throw in – isn’t that all strictly ‘cheating’? I know that we’ve all claimed for throw ins, corners and goalkicks that we knew weren’t ours… it’s part of the game! Is there a hierarchy of cheating that I haven’t been made aware of?

Gamesmanship isn’t just a football thing. Sledging in cricket is a massive part of the game, trash talking on the basketball court, you could even argue that the intimidation attempts of the Haka aren’t strictly within the confines of Sportsmanship.

Maybe it’s time to abandon that notion that gamesmanship is a new feature of football and simply realise that it has evolved over the years, in the same way as the game itself has. I look forward to the responses to this article, I’ll be reading them from my nuclear bunker in preparation for the deluge of hatred…