The star’s apology to Arsenal and Leeds that changed cheating debate

Theo WalcottImage: Wonker

It was while I was away on holiday and we were being dumped out of the FA Cup by mighty Notts County that Theo Walcott made a statement I have since been unable to shake from my mind.

Arsenal nearly had their own cup day stinker, leaving it desperately late to snatch a draw at home to Leeds. This proved crucial as the Gunners went on to win the Elland Road replay comfortably.

But what made a real impact on me was the subsequent statement from Walcott, posted to the official Arsenal site.

In it, he offered fulsome apology to both managers, Arsène Wenger and Simon Grayson, for what he admitted was a blatant dive intended to gain a penalty. I am unaware of any doubt – or was, until tonight’s comment from a Leeds fan (see below)! – about the spot kick he did win a little later and which brought the equaliser.

This is what young Theo said:

“I want to apologise to the managers because I actually dived. I was trying to win the penalty. I said to one of their players ‘would you have done it?’ and he said he probably would have.

I am not the sort of player to do it, but I own up to it and apologise. It is something I don’t want to see in my game. I have heard some players say ‘if there is a slight touch, go down’ and it can work both ways.

It was one of those things. I am not happy with myself for doing that, but I am happy that we got the draw.

I had a little joke with the referee afterwards saying ‘that was my first dive, can you tell?’

I don’t have to own up to it and I can’t speak for other players, but I have just expressed how I feel. I hope people respect that.”

And respect him I most certainly do.

Salut! Sunderland has laboured long and hard in the cause of stamping out the cheating that pollutes the modern game.

Arsenal are not especially in our sights as targets. Some clubs, some players are more guilty than others but the scourge of cheating – diving, feigning injury, badgering referees to show yellow or red cards to opponents – is rife at all levels of football.

But we managed to appal Gooners last season by posing the Eduardo Question in each of our regular Who are you? features in which a fan of our next opponents talks about the forthcoming game, his or her club and football in general.

The question ran something like:

“Last second of the last game of the season. It’s goalless but only a win assures you of the title/a European place/staying up. One of your players goes down and gets a penalty even though everyone in the ground except the ref knows he dived. You score and win. You take it gladly, you take it guiltily or you’re so ashamed you almost wish you’d only drawn and missed out?”

Now that Eduardo has gone, Arsenal fans presumably accept that the theatrical gesture that inspired the question, at home to Celtic, was a dreadful dive after all. And they can hardly complain if I now name a related question – essentially, is it time to stop caring about fair play and accept cheating as the norm? – in honour of one of theirs.

I would love Walcott’s statement to lead to a new mood throughout football. It won’t, at least in the short term.

But it has changed the debate. To my knowledge, he is the first player at such a high level to make such a confession. His own actions clearly embarrassed him. He is contrite, and wants cheating to play no part in his game.

So far, so good. But then we learn – yes, I suppose we knew but now all doubt has been removed – that other players tell him to go down at the least contact in the hope of deceiving referees. Meaning, presumably, that they do so, too.

We are not told what proportion these cheats represent, but can assume it is widespread. And they do it so automatically that they don’t even take the trouble to conceal their dishonesty. And we can also assume that in most cases, they are behaving under direct or implicit instructions from their managers.

It is no good telling ourselves it is worse abroad, or that it wouldn’t be so bad here were it not for all those Johnny Foreigner imports. In what is otherwise a glowing display of decency and candour, Walcott’s disclosure of the cynical attitude of fellow professionals gets close to challenging the will to go on enjoying football.

Or as the wording of my Theo Walcott question suggests may be the case, have I simply got it wrong? Am I old-fashioned, naive and unrealistic in wanting to rid the game of the cheats?

I shall go on asking the question each week and I’d be interested to see a range of view expressed here.

But I’ll end for now with the way in which my Tottenham Hotspur previewer, Jim Duggan, the founder of, deals with the issue in this week’s Who are You? (due to appear here on Thursday) …

Q This was the Eduardo question and is now the Walcott question. Theo publicly admitted to a blatant dive in an (unsuccessful) attempt to win a penalty and said players had told him to go down at the least contact. Commendable honesty, or a sign that it is time to abandon high-minded principles about cheating and accept it as part of the modern game?

A Cheating goes on and it spoils the game, but then again it reflects the society in which the game is played.

Monsieur Salut

36 thoughts on “The star’s apology to Arsenal and Leeds that changed cheating debate”

  1. Why is Walcott praised, smacks of someone trying to keep his ‘brand’/’image’ squeaky clean. If he had been booked for the dive would he have tried a bit harder to stay on his feet when Parker touched his shoulder for the actual penalty? I have no issue with the penalty itself just with the praise for someone saying I tried to cheat, failed but then owned up. That isn’t class…..
    Loads of players do it and it is aggravating.

  2. i thought about diving last night and to be hoest i hope the FA and the powers who control the game dont try stamp it out because we will see them punish the usual guys who get punished while guys like rooney and gerrard commit dives after dive then go on tv saying divers ruin the game and they would never dive, it will just create another advantage for the players and managers who we all know refs fear

  3. Whilst diving is an overt form of cheating which I personally abhor, there are incindences of cheating all over the pitch which are just as pernicious. Examples which immediately spring to mind are Terry and El Hadj Diouff blocking defenders off the ball inside the penalty area allowing others to score. Against us, Bullard’s antics against Chimbonda in the wall which got Richardson’s goal disallowed at Craven Cottage.

    If I stop to think I could come up with lots more examples, as I imagine fans of any club could.

  4. The thing that riles me the most , even more than diving , is the grabbing of shirts to pull a player back . You beat a player by skill or pure speed , then as you fly past , your shirt is tugged to slow you down . In my book that is pure 100% cheating and should be a red card every time .
    It’s a more hazy line with diving or falling over – for years at SOL I have seen opposing forwards fall over as they attempt to shield the ball but have no support and “con” the referee – it’s called being “smart” – Aston Villa players are expert at it – so now when we have a couple of “smart” players – I think – why not ?

  5. Fair play to Walcott. I admire his honesty and as I hate any form of diving, play acting in the game I think it was brave of him to stand up like this. Will managers be the source of ridding the game of this blight ? Of course not. Not when their livelihoods are on the line every single game. It is only the authorities who can do this. The refs will not catch all the cheating so post match analysis and discipline are the only way forward with bans instead of fines for those found guilty. Of course this won’t happen as the FA / Premier League don’t have the balls to upset the clubs. We are stuck with this I’m afraid…

  6. All credit to Walcott for admitting it but I’m curious as to whether he was penalized for diving. How soon after the incident did he make his “little joke” to the ref? And was he yellow-carded in return?

  7. Alan’s Afro: last word from me tonight since I am knackered – which. sadly, means any first time poster will have to wait until the morning to see his or her comment – is to repeat for the umpteenth time that Eduardo got the name of my question on grounds of timing and nothing else.

    I have banged on about cheating for what seems like decades. Eduardo had the misfortune to produce his dive – which I shall always remember as a classic – just as the season was starting.

    Go on about Rooney and Terry and Owen and you won’t find me complaining. A cheat is a cheat.

    But once again: I have never seen a dive to compete with that of Gary McAllister for Liverpool v Sunderland on Feb 11 2001. The foul – and there was a foul, by Varga, who deserved to be sent off – occurred not so much outside the penalty area as somewhere to the west of Houghton-le-Spring.

  8. I think that the issue of xenophobia … a polite word for the milder end of the racism scale … also has to come into this.

    Eduardo had just come back having had his career almost ended by an English player, whose tackle was described by the media as ‘just one of those things’. And when he comes back he does dive in a game that was already won and hence the dive was meaningless. Cheating but at a very low level. And the British Media vilify him for being the worst representation of cheating johnny foreigner.

    Put that in the context of the other Big 3 at the time being led by Rooney, Gerard and Terry. Three players who are known by every supporter, including their own, as divers and cheats of the highest order, but of course English.

    I think, taken as a whole it was disgusting treatment of Eduardo and I really don’t feel it is fair to him to use his name to represent the art of cheating. There are many more deserving candidates.

  9. its part of the game now i guess, where do the law makers start to make a stand against diving? next time rooney goes over? it wont stop the top dogs by picking on apoor eduardo, they have to put their boot on the poster boys, theo walcott done the right thing for the game, but funnily enough he has also been criticised for being honest

  10. As Jeremy says above, great responses for which I am grateful. So many questions arise but why should I keep on having a say when others are making original points? I would just say to those who suggest it’s OK for English players, not OK for the rest, that this thought has never entered my head. I loathe cheating whoever does it; I suggested even when Bent was our hero that he went down very easily. Gyan has already hinted at a similar tendency (and we tried very hard to sign Chamakh, who is showing signs of being very good indeed as a diver). I didn’t “pick on” Eduardo. I just decided to give a name to the question I asked every Who are You? respondent, and his was – sorry but it’s true – early enough in the season, and certainly dramatic enough, to win the dubious prize.
    As for penalty area argy-bargy, there is no reason why the Arsenal fans coming here tonight should care but we’ve talked of little else here since Saturday at Stoke! Except in this case, the assaults were on, not by, the defenders, notably Mr Gordon.

  11. i dont wanna sound like a broke record, but referees need to referee the game from the first minute till the last, use the yellow cards regardless of the moment in the game ,when refs toughen up the fouling and cheating and diving will stop, everytime theres a corner you can see 6 fouls in any penalty area in the premierleague, some refs just close their eyes at blackburn stoke birmingham matches, and arsenal are no angels either but we never have a player looking at the goalkeeper and not the ball, thats the worst cheating in my opinion

  12. Fair play blogs. I’d only add that after Eduardo-gate Arsenal didn’t get a penalty for months, and we still suffer in the Champion’s League although it’s getting a bit long now to say this is due to Eduardo.

    But with the score 0-0 away to Braga Carlos Vela was clearly tripped in the box on a goal-scoring chance in view of the ref who waved play on. The Arsenal shopped a late goal (or two) and now face Barcelona and not some (other) dodgy second seed. A win at Braga and we win the group on head to head.

    Moreover, Vela was yellow carded for diving!! Was it due to Eduardo-gate! (BTW, Eduardo plays for Shaktar Donetsk, who won our group.)

  13. Great article and responses. It’s always the divers that get singled out, but the issue of penalty area contact begins with defenders pushing, barging, sort and shirt pulling etc, arms out and elbows sharpened. Forwards are up against this every time there’s a corner or free kick upfield. Stamp this out and you might get rid of the divers. It seems that forwards have taken to this ever since you started seeing Alamo types scenes in the box at set pieces. No referee has been prepared to do something about it. Book half a dozen of the culprits the first time it happens in a game and then give them all a second yellow when they do it again. It would cause mayhem, but would cease to be a problem in a fortnight. The diving can’t be looked at in isolation, but has to be dealt with in the wider context of what goes on in the game, and which shouldn’t have a part in football.

  14. its like thierry henry, he handballs it and goes from barcelona striker to EX arsenal captain, its up to the ref to spot these blatant things, but oh he did it in important match and pauls scholes has only commit two slam dunks in the last year or so against poor teams wolves & zenit, but he is not a cheat because the ref saw him

  15. people seem to only blame the players who get away with it, if your diving it only causes uproar if you get away with it, look at the eduardo dive then look at this ok oce were done lets just change the title to the cheats question , cheating is cheating ,diving is diving, it was happening 40 years ago in this country, eduardo felt a touch he went down, he didnt ask for the penalty or look at the referee, he just went downlet the ref decide

  16. Quote ‘Cheating goes on and it spoils the game, but then again it reflects the society in which the game is played’.

    A more sound comment seldom heard. A lot of serial cheats have previous form in everyday life.

    eg ; Rooney, Gerrard, Terry, Barton to name a few high profile cheats, all who have hit the headlines for discretions off the pitch.

    Do the managers have a bigger part to play in disciplining their players who cheat? A catch 22 situation. They risk bad results and indeed maybe their job if they leave out a star player for cheating.

    I think Sir Alex Ferguson probably got stuck into Rooney after his off the pitch antics and all power to him. That’s is maybe why Rooney courted Man City soon after. “I’ll show you Sir Alex!!” And he did. It cost Man Utd goodness knows how much extra a year to keep Rooney happy.
    SAF maybe should have turned a blind eye to the whole affair, it would have been cheaper and kept Sir Alex’s reputation intact. But no, everybody bent over and pandered to Rooney and was it worth it?
    Hardly, his form has been a shadow of his former self, he has lost his Man Utd heart (which replaced the Everton one) and quite frankly Rooneys disinterest on the pitch is embarrassing to SAF.

    Rooney(or more likely his advisors) taught SAF a lesson. Player power
    rules. A point probably picked up on by most managers.
    So if a manager picks a player who he knows dives, fights, hacks down and generally flouts the laws of the game, does that make the manager a cheat too?

  17. unfortunately even those players who draw the line at diving cheat in other ways. For example appealing for throw-ins and corners when they know full well it should belong to the opponents, stealing yards on throw-ins, encroaching on free kicks and penalties, obstruction using spread arms and shielding the ball while not in proper control to name a few. One of the most unsightly offences is haranguing the referee.

    Some players always fall over when fouled in the belief that they are unlikely to get a free kick, even when deserved, if they stay on their feet!

    The referee is criticised if he penalises every potential offence for being whistle happy, breaking up the game etc.

    It would improve the situation if for a few games referees enforced the rules more rigorously. This would certainly be annoying for a few weeks but when the referees start handing out yellow and red cards for repeated infringement players would eventually get the message and start obeying the rules. There would be a rapid improvement in the conduct and the fluidity of the play.

  18. so spectacularly, what more spectacular that rooey versus arsenal ? spins round full speed in mid air eye contact with the ref and celebrating before he has hit the deck?? andearly in the season? so whats the difference first game or last? lol all im sayingis, the cheat question would have sounded nicer

  19. The thing that annoys people was that the Eduardo saga was a media witch hunt to the very highest. As I stated in the WC when Owen went down,he did it for the country and the red tops lapped it up. Same when Chelsea played Barca and the defender (name slips my mind) was holding back their goalkeeper from the save to win!

  20. Monsieur W: he picked himself by doing it so spectacularly, so early in the season. N’Gog was also foreign, so i cannot claim high moral ground by saying he would have been my first choice had his been sooner. But if Scottish is unforeign, then I admit I erred in not calling it the McAllister question after his notoriously world-beating dive for Liverpool (OK, yes, at Sunderland and OK, yes, a long time ago).

  21. if rooney goes dives its called going down easily, if one of those foriegners goes down its called cheating, afterall according to hansen they brang it to the english game

  22. but why eduardo? hid dive is not less than 5 or 6 commited by rooney or gerrard, seems like you just picked on the guy

  23. It seems if its Michael Owen against Argentina, hes a hero.
    The Eduardo saga was almost certainly because he is foreign.
    If Rooney went down, it would be part of the game. There are different standards for different teams and different players.
    Wheither its right or wrong the media have their own agenda and their mates at the clubs.

  24. Good to see another team’s site mentioning Arsenal without being full of bile and hatred! Bar Dan Smith’s staggeringly pointless maiming of diaby a few years ago, Sunderland are a fairly popular team among gooners, and games between the two are always tight. The mighty quinn still has an element of cult-hero-ness down here, so its good to see sunderland having such a good season (although complaining at £24m for darren bent seemed a bit churlish, especially given his recent form).

    Anyway, on to the issue…

    Walcott is an impressively level-headed, honest, modest and engaging footballer, who I suspect is in the minority. I seem to remember Jaap Staam in his autobiography openly stating that Ferguson encouraged players to dive, and I’m sure the same is true of many managers, in the same way that some encourage their players to cheat in other ways (physical intimidation, off the ball niggles etc). The decision rests with the individual, and I think there are many reasons why players may dive….looking at current and recent arsenal players alone…..

    Rosicky – physically weak and mentally used to the german league which is better at penalising small tugs, trips, etc, so he exaggerates contact

    Eduardo – in the infamous incident, he thought the keeper was going to take him down and he tried to ensure contact. Probably desperation to make an impact after his injury problems, and fear of getting hurt.

    Fabregas – goes down more easily than he used to seemingly due to his indignation at getting kicked all over the place and wanting to make up for it.

    Walcott..this incident aside, his incredible pace, leaves him very open to injury if he doesn’t anticipate contact to soften falls etc (as we have seen him hurt so often)

    Pires…as wenger said…not the bravest…basically just a coward when it came to physical contact.

    Eboue …seemingly the lowest pain threshold ever seen in an arsenal shirt. Am inclined to say he is a cheat, but his decision making in this area, as with many others is utterly erratic so its hard to tell.

    Others are used to differing refereeing approaches which clamp down on certain types of physicality, and encourage to theatrical approach to make sure the ref knows there has been a foul (drogba anyone!).

    I do believe the amount of pressure, money etc involved in the game increases the temptation to cheat, particularly in big games, in the knowledge that censure after the even is unlikely, as a deliberate dive is hard to prove in most cases. Perhaps larger retrospective punishments for people like Rivaldo, Gilardino, Gamst Pedersen etc who have been caught diving or feigning injury in a blatant and discernably false way would help, but at present we are primarily relying on the honesty of individuals (probably 50:50) or the competence of referees, most of whom will never have played football to any standard (increasingly difficult).

  25. Hello mate

    Good read- a fair and balanced view. As a Gooner, I have to say that it pains me sometimes to see some of my players take dives. Some do it more than others and I think overall we’re no more guilty of it than any other Premiership team, but either way I don’t like to see it. The fact that Theo came out and spoke about it speaks volumes for his class and I for one am proud of him for being brave enough and having the integrity to do so.



  26. Zinedine: I have made the assumption that a player who says ‘go down’ does so himself, or would do so. I think that’s a reasonable deduction to make. How else are we supposed to interpret it? “You go on and dive, son, though I wouldn’t dream of such a thing.”

    And it doesn’t matter which players he has heard say it. Or from which club. At the risk of annoying the Stoke fan who deplore claims of objectivity, I would never defend a Sunderland player who I felt had cheated. We had an issue with ManU fans last season after Bardsley was booked for what the ref saw as a dive. I honestly thought the clumsy oaf – as he was then; he’s a star now – had fallen over. But I also said that if he really did dive, I’d like to see him fined heavily.

  27. Defenders pull shirts, barge and hold; they commit every foul that they are likely to get away with. Strikers respond by falling at the slightest touch. So how is one worse then the other? Referees never punish fouls that don’t result in a fall.

  28. Arsenal fan here in peace. Unfortunately cheating has become the norm and the only way to stamp it out is to make the penalties for doing so much harsher. A player knows he can possibly win a game or a competition by diving and the only thing that will come of it is a yellow card.

    I think you have possibly read a bit too far into one aspect of what Theo has said. He doesn’t say he was told to dive. He says he has heard others saying to go down if touched. This could be an opposition player telling one of his team mates or it could have been an Arsenal player telling another Arsenal player. It could quite conceivably have been one of his Southampton or England team mates. Who knows?

  29. All comments, from SAFC and non-SAFC supporters alike. welcome within reason (look what we let pass from Stoke fans to see how open-minded we are). But expect a short delay for moderation if you haven’t posted before.

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