I’m probably not going to make myself very popular by saying this, and it may well contradict a considerable amount of what I said over the course of the World Cup, but I thoroughly enjoyed Didier Zokora’s dive for Spurs against Portsmouth on Sunday afternoon, and not merely because of my club affiliations. It was, to my eyes, an act of such breathtaking audacity that I wasn’t far from standing up to applaud, with tears of laughter running down my face. All the people who want every single decision in football to be decided by video evidence will, no doubt, have been frothing at the mouth. Mendes, who was closest of all to him (though such was the distance between the pair of them that I would hesitate before calling him the “defender), couldn’t have done any more. He stood back, arms aloft, feet as far away from him as he could manage, with a look of utter innocence on his face. It was a priceless moment.
Within South American culture, the concept of the honorable pick-pocket is much respected. The skill and sleight of hand of someone that can steal something from right under your nose is considered something of an art form. Not so in this country, with our “sense of fair play”, of course. Well… at the risk of stating the obvious, we’re hardly paragons of virtue in England. Think of Michael Owen, tumbling around the penalty area like a drunken Olga Korbut against Argentina in 1998 and 2002. And the thing is… I don’t care. These things tend to even themselves out over the course of time. Corinthian Casuals, the famous amateur team, had a code of conduct which extended to their goalkeeper (possibly apocryphically) refusing to face penalties if his team were un-gallant enough to concede them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve never won anything.
I may be alone in this belief, but consider this: how extraordinary was the fact that Diego Maradona fooled everybody to score The Hand Of God goal against England in 1986? The barrel-chested, 5’6″ tall Maradona managed to convince 110,000 thousand-odd people, Barry Davies and (what I presume to be, as he was in charge of a World Cup quarter final) one of the best referees in the world that he outjumped the 6’0″ tall Peter Shilton (who had the added advantage of an outstretched arm and, well, being a goalkeeper) and headed the ball in! The only people that saw it on the first view were the England defence, and I’m not altogether convinced that they wouldn’t have claimed handball if he had headed it in. I’m not much of a believer in God, but that, coupled with that sublime second goal, must go some way towards proving that he had some sort of Providence on his side that day.
It strikes me as singularly ironic, in an age when clubs bend rules in whatever way they can (and, we’re likely to find out later this week, probably break them as well) to get an advantage, when the whole structure of the game is skewed so far away from any notion of sporting equality and towards maintaining some sort of hegemony of elite, wealthy clubs, that everyone gets so worked up by something like Zokora taking a dive. There are many issues within the game of football that need to be addressed. Those of you that know me will already be aware of my opinions on these matters. Zokora’s act of petty theft on Sunday afternoon should be fairly low down on any list of the FA’s priorities at the moment.