One last pop at Eduardo for that extraordinary dive against Celtic and then all will be forgiven. The unfinished business is that we have one more prize to award, for the winner of our Pretend Fair Play league. The prize itself falls below Euromillions levels …
All season long, since Mr Eduardo’s bid for Olympic glory, but in a sport other than football, against Celtic in the Champions’ League, Salut! Sunderland has posed the same question to virtually every fan of a rival club who has taken part in our Who Are You? series.
With variations, it ran like this:
The Eduardo question: it’s the final game and your title/trophy/Champions’ League place/survival depends on a win. You’re drawing with seconds left. One of your players goes down dramatically in the box and the referee is the only one in the ground not to see it as a dive. You score and win. You take it gladly, you take it guiltily or you’re so ashamed you almost wish you’d only drawn?
It became clear as the months wore on that we might as easily have called it the N’Gog or Drogba or A N Other Question. Historically, we are hard put to think of a more impressive dive that the one perfected by Gary McAllister on Feb 9 2001 to win a penalty for Liverpool at Sunderland when the foul occurred almost outside the stadium, let alone outside the box.
But we were stuck with Eduardo because his spectacular effort was the earliest of its kind this season, and had the humourous sequel of Uefa declining to punish him. It also had the effect of diminishing that sympathy we felt for him after his horrendous injury.
This did not endear us to Arsenal supporters, though they did turn out to be a highly sensitive breed. However much solidarity we expressed with badly injured Arsenal players, whatever appreciation was shown towards Arsenal’s style of play, the slightest criticism of M Wenger or his team caused deep offence to certain Gooner visitors to this site.
No apologies are in order. We declared ourselves to be opposed to cheating. It didn’t matter to us who did the cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or dismissed – as we made our little stand against it, advocating the toughest possible sanctions in an effort to stamp it out. In fact it has got worse on all fronts except that we talk about it more.
And the question brought some lively replies. On my cursory count, 24 said they would take the penalty gladly and 10 would take it guiltily. Sometimes, it required some interpretation of the response to decide which of those categories applied most accurately, but there was no doubt as to the basic sentiment.
And then we had the Honesty and Integrity camp, in poor third behind the pro-cheating/accept cheating coalition. Just seven contributors took the high moral ground.
In seeking a prizewinner I ruled Martin Haworth, a Man City, fan ineligible because has already won the Who Are You? competition. Equinox, of Pompey, is an excellent previewer and might have won, but I cannot make awards to nameless people. Anyone who started off by professing outright opposition, but then wavered on whatever grounds, was also excluded.
That leaves no fewer than three Aston Villa fans, two Birmingham City supporters and one from Man United in contention. It is almost impossible to choose between them, but I have only one prize..
Here is what they said:
Gary Gleeson, Aston Villa
After what happened to Ireland vs France in Paris, I have to say that I would feel completely ashamed. Cheating is cheating and should be stamped out without debate… In fact, Ashley Young frustrates me hugely because of his frequent diving antics. I felt the same way about Milan Baros and David Ginola when they were with us. I have a DVD of Villa vs Inter Milan from the 94 UEFA Cup when we won the 2nd leg 1-0 and ultimately won the tie on penalties. That remains one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen. It was played at a fantastic pace, tackles were flying in and it was a very very honest match. I don’t remember any diving and both teams tried to win the game in the right way.
Martin Haworth, Man City
Thought long and hard about this one. I think I’d go for the option to feel ashamed and wish we’d drawn. The record books would show that the title had been won, but if it is won in such a manner, that is also what people would remember it by. They would ignore the good work of the previous nine months. It’s not unlike how people remember how Leeds United lost the Division One title in 1971. The one incident of the Jeff Astle “offside” goal was the standout moment of the entire season. So I’ll opt for the honest option, and say we should have drawn. Then again, this is the club that got a lot of success in the 1970s on the back of Francis Lee having a balance problem whenever he got into the penalty area.
Dominic Wren, Aston Villa
Great question, Villa is a club built on class, especially this new regime, so I would like to think Villa fans would think the same.
Jonathan Fear, Aston Villa
I hate winning or losing unfairly. However a season is about more than one goal, so I’d not like the incident but point to it being a marathon not a sprint. Still hate diving though and wish they’d introduce video panels for after games to get some of the main culprits.
Honestly, truly I’d prefer relegtion to cheating. [I’m going to get so slagged off for that one but for me personally that is the way that it is]
John Baker Birmingham City
Survival would be tainted by the knowledge that we earned it by cheating. In fact, next time I see Kev I’ll smack his bottom. Er, is it time to wake up now?
Liam Bradford Man Utd
I’d rather lose the championship. I hate cheating. I’m the first one out of my seat shouting at people to get up. I found the Ronaldo years especially difficult. He was a nightmare, the problem was you never knew whether there was contact or not! The kid was exceptional and that balances the problems out. I would rather lose the game than win it illegally. But you have to draw the line between illegal and unfair. The city game was UNFAIR but within the rules of the game. Eduardo’s dive was illegal and Arsenal and the player should be ashamed of themselves. I think it’s time we, as fans, stand up to this sort of bullshit. Even if UEFA struggle to make a decision because of the ramifications, that shouldn’t stop us.
Kevin Ball, Birmingham City
I’m old fashioned, I can’t abide cheating. I don’t care if it is a Blues player or not. I would be furious.
It boiled down to a choice between Kevin Ball, Gary Gleeson, Dominic Wren and Liam Bradford. Any of them could
have won, but I have decided it should go to Kevin Ball, with the assurance that he is not OUR Kevin Ball.
He will receive, with our best wishes, a copy of Lance Hardy’s book Stokoe, Sunderland and 73: The Story Of the Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of All Time.
* For the record, Arsenal fans were divided. Their responses ranged from Chris Borg, from The Gunning Hawk, – “I would be bitterly disappointed of course because we complain when Rooney dives and we complain when Gerrard dives. But, although the press would do it, I would not stop at that particular episode as you can’t put down to just that a full year of hard work – to Darren Wright, of the Wrighty7 site, “Take it all day! Eduardo’s already done it this season so one more won’t hurt!”
And when Jonathan Fear turned the tables and had me answer the same question for his Vital Villa site, my reply was: “After the beach ball, I have lost my high moral ground so I’d take it guiltily but be happy for the diver to be sold as an example.”
* NB: a recent deluge of spam means comments from people who have not been this way and posted before will have to await moderation. Sorry.