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Home|Football News|Premier League|Diving & Simulation

Premiership Football News: Beat The Cheat

by Andy Greeves


Diving or 'player simulation', to give it its official FIFA terminology, has long been the scourge of world football. Eduardo's theatrical tumble in the Champions League qualifier between Arsenal and Celtic was a recent example of how player histrionics can deceive a referee into giving an incorrect and potentially match decisive decision. A psychologist at the University of Portsmouth has produced a new study which he thinks could help referees out the cheats.

Dr Paul Morris has published a series of 'tell tale' signs of when a player is behaving dishonestly in the forthcoming Springer Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour. Dr Morris' research has shown that there are distinct actions which footballers use, either individually or as part of a series, when feigning contact by an opponent. These include:

- Clutching a body part which has clearly not been struck.
- Taking an extra roll when they hit the ground.
- Taking fully controlled strides after a tackle, before falling.
- Holding up both arms in the air, with open palms, chest thrust out, legs bent at the knees in what Morris describes as an 'archer's bow' position.

"One action is unique to a faked fall - the archer's bow," Dr Morris tells Soccerphile. "This occurs in many dives but biomechanically it does not occur in a natural fall. Instinctively, the arms either go down in an attempt to cushion the fall or out to the side for balance in a genuine fall. Moving the body like this is completely controlled behaviour... the moment the arms go above the shoulder is a clear indication of cheating."


During his research Dr Morris showed four-second clips of tackles from televised live games to over 300 people. The participants were only allowed to see the clip twice in real-time before they were asked to spot the fakers. The results showed that there was a high level of agreement by participants in their classification of the players who intended to deceive and those who did not. The problem was there were also a number of cases where intention could not be agreed upon.

"That's why they will never be able to fully eradicate diving from football," says Dr Morris. "My findings have indicated that while there are blatant examples of simulation and legitimate cases of players being fouled each weekend, there are many ambiguous cases too. What the average football fan would want is for the referee to be able to spot all the behavioural traits I have discussed, to ensure clear examples of diving are spotted."

Diving is stereotypically thought of as a 'foreign' behaviour by certain sections of football supporters and media in the UK. When the discussion of simulation is raised, it is often accompanied by an overseas name and rarely that of an Englishman. Dr Morris completely refutes the idea however that diving is more culturally accepted in other countries outside of England and also rejects the suggestion English players are less likely to dive that their foreign counterparts.

"This behaviour (diving) has no national boundaries; everyone does it, it even occurred unprompted during our research trials," he jokes. "Diving does seem to have become more common in the last few decades in English football, but the fact there has been an increased influx of foreign players into the Premier League during that time is purely incidental. One can point to the fact there is now far greater technology to analyse games, people see football in a far different light than they used to. Sure, there are players that seem more likely to dive, but their nationality cannot be considered a factor. This is purely individualistic behaviour we are talking about."

Diving continues to attract negative headlines across the football world and rightly so. The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK is currently spearheading a campaign against simulation in the game and FIFA has vowed to 'defend the integrity of football' by continuing to take firm action against divers, as it did against Arsenal's Eduardo (albeit that FIFA overturned the two match ban at a later date). Morris understands why fans of the game despise simulation so much.

"Diving is a trait that repulses supporters as it is seen as dishonest and unfair way of gaining an advantage on the field. From a very general point of view, cheating is seen as a sign of weakness and in a masculine environment, this goes against the norms of excepted social behaviour. Stereotypically, the English have a reputation as being advocates of fair play and this is often given as a reason why diving is so unpopular in the national game."

With such scrutiny over diving, one wonders why players continue to commit this offence. Morris is quick to point out that if certain individuals feel they may gain an advantage through dishonest means, they will try to do so. "The diver has two clear intentions from his actions. He wants to deceive the referee first and foremost. The player also needs to get the referees attention, which is often why we see such flamboyant behaviour. The 'best' divers therefore are those whose fall can look natural, but at the same time be bold enough for the referee to think an offence has occurred."

Dr Morris would like to work with referees in helping them understand behavioural cues associated with dishonesty on the football field. As a keen football supporter and psychologist, he's already considering his next project too.

"I am interested in intentionality and another area of football which fascinates me is tackles. I would be keen to analyse challenges and see if there are 'tell-tale' signs when a player goes into a tackle with an opponent with the aim of causing an injury."

Insight into such a subject would have been useful at Eastlands last Saturday following Emmanuel Adebayor's 'challenge' on Robin van Persie.

Andy Greeves

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