Put your hands up
October 1, 2010 § 3 Comments
Apropos of absolutely bugger-all (and because I can’t find the Michael Carrick passing statistics I need to make myself truly happy), here’s a rant about one of the least-appealing-though-admittedly-insignificant features of watching football in these weird isles.
Let’s get hypothetical, as the philosopher said to the actress. (This is why philosophers rarely cop off with actresses.) A player, in possession of the ball, is streaking down the wing, when he is unceremoniously dumped on his arse by a cynical full-back. The crowd leaps up and screams, his team-mates hurtle toward the ref, the defender jogs sheepishly away … and then the lad on the floor, shins stinging, commits one of the great sins of modern English football.
He waves an imaginary card.
A few seasons ago, this offence against football’s carefully preserved Corinthian soul was itself deemed worthy of a yellow. After all, what could be worse than one professional deliberately and cynically attempting to get another professional booked?
There’s the first problem. Waving a card isn’t trying to get another player booked; it’s saying to the referee that you think the player should be booked. The difference there might seem slight, but is important. Diving, simulation, feigning injury: that’s all cheating before the event, with the intention of persuading the referee that something that hasn’t happened, happened. Card-waving comes after the event, by which time you’d hope the referee would have made up his mind already.
Which isn’t to suggest that it may not be an attempt to influence the referee; indeed, it would be naive to think otherwise. The second problem, the key one, is that there is no qualitative difference between a player waving an imaginary card and player saying to an official “Ref, that’s a booking”, except that it’s much harder to get the word “fucking” into a mime. It would be exactly the same if a maltreated player were to secrete a peculiarly booking-flavoured scent, or hire a biplane to spell out BOOK HIM in the sky, though those are probably less practical options.
The popular narrative is that the waving of the imaginary card is something that has been brought into English football by those underhanded continental types. (The subtext being that real men, English men, express their opinions to the referee by shouting.) But there is a disjunct in the moral assessment of an sentiment-expressed-through-action as opposed to a sentiment-expressed-through-verbalisation and, while it could be down to some deep-seated ‘fear of the gesture’ rooted within the English linguistic sensibility, there’s a simpler explanation.
England – the nation that gave us the headline ‘Fog In Channel, Continent Cut Off’ – has a grand tradition of operating a two-track morality, neatly eliding the ‘us’ from the ‘them’. In a footballing sense, this is why Michael Owen wins penalties, while Jurgen Klinsmann dives. It’s this very capacity for double-standards that allows Steven Gerrard to write in his autobiography that diving players – he names Cristiano Ronaldo – are damaging the game, yet happily fling himself to the ground, and at no point seem cognisant of the contradiction. Quite simply, when they do it, it’s wrong. Us? Well, that just ain’t no thing.
The English game, and the dialogue surrounding on the English game, is rife with hypocrisy, of which the double-standards applied to card-waving is just a tiny example. And other footballing cultures may be as well, of course; experience necessarily circumscribes comment. But when a a player waves his imaginary card, and another player points this out to the referee, would it be too much to ask that everyone recognise they’re doing the same thing? It’s just the second player’s doing it with added spittle.