By Alan Biggs
The Premier League’s first “cheating” charge has gone right to the heart of the culture that You Are The Ref believes needs to be eradicated from football.
If not exactly an unwritten law, it has become almost a code of conduct among players at all levels that it is acceptable to go to ground in the penalty area if there has been contact.
However, there are degrees of contact and that is what made the case against Everton’s Oumar Niasse, who won a crucial penalty in their 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace last weekend, both complex and highly significant.
Niasse has been banned for two matches after an FA commission heard the case.
The FA brought a charge of successfully deceiving a match official after a three man panel, of an ex-referee, ex-manager and ex-player, decided unanimously that referee Anthony Taylor had effectively been conned.
There was a mere brushing contact with Palace’s Scott Dann before Niasse appeared unmistakably to throw his considerable weight forward, topple to the ground and have a penalty awarded.
Highlighting the problem was Niasse’s response. He was quoted as saying that, having felt contact, “that is all I have to do – go on the floor.”
Arguably, this was ammunition for the prosecution rather than the defence. Yet it could also be interpreted as an honest statement of what has become acceptable conduct among many players.
The FA’s biggest challenge in taking on diving, or simulation, is to remove this grey area. You Are The Ref hopes they have the courage and fortitude to do so.
Keith Hackett said: “Football is a contact sport – so we have to get rid of this idea that contact equals a foul. It doesn’t. Just because two bodies make contactin the area does not entitle the attacker to go down.
“There is contact between players all over the field. Supposing every player in possession went down when it occurred? What a farce the game would become. Referees would be rightly castigated for awarding free-kicks in those circumstances.
“It has to be the same in the penalty area. The culture that many players seem to have tacitly agreed among themselves has to be rooted out.”
Inconsistency hasn’t helped. Other viable cases in the Premier League this season – for instance against Bernardo Silva of Manchester City and Watford’s Richarlison – have not been pressed.
Lower down, bans were administered to Carlisle’s Shaun Miller, in League Two, and Bailey Wright of Championship club Bristol City.