Monsieur Salut did not expect to have to spring to the defence of Theo Walcott again following the recent piece headlined The star’s apology to Arsenal and Leeds that changed cheating debate. He felt the need all the same …
While we had the ear of the FA – on the question of Darren Bent, Fabio Capello and criteria for England selection (which do not, we were assured, include geography, ie where people play) – it seemed a good idea to ask about Theo Walcott’s confession that he dived in the hope of winning a penalty just when Arsenal most needed one.
The News of the World, not your favourite paper if its staff have been listening to your private phone calls, had two pieces that caught my eye on Sunday.
One was Martin Hardy’s report from the game I had seen at the Stadium of Light. His assessment of Sunderland’s performance, first half promise and flair followed by second half surrender, was superb. It was written, necessarily, at speed but captured, for me, the detail and substance of the match with some panache.
The other was Andy Dunn’s column, which probably didn’t have to be written at speed from a stadium press box. It had a snippet complaining that Walcott had not been punished in retrospect for his admission.
Dunn’s point was that two Englishmen – Walcott and his teammate Jack Wilshere – got away with it; two foreigners, Ryan Babel and Rafael, had meanwhile been hit with fines for publicly expressing dismay with individual refs.
For Dunn, size appears to matter. He mentioned how much the pair had been fined – £10,000 and £8,000 – as if these were especially significant amounts for men on fabulous wages. And by saying “let’s put it down to pure coincidence – for now”‘, he left us in no doubt that he saw the Englishmen v Foreigners factor as important.
He was utterly wrong.
As the FA explained – it had already occurred to me, and must have been known to Andy Dunn – diving is a yellow card offence. Reprehensible, shocking if you like, but a booking. The rules of the game do not allow yellow cards to be awarded or withdrawn after the event.
There were also real differences in what had been said or done by the various parties. Man Utd’s Rafael reacted yobbishly to a second yellow card against Spurs and launched into a rant at Mike Dean. Babel, then at Liverpool, re-tweeted a mock-up of Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United top after controversial decisions in the FA Cup game against ManU.
Wilshere’s crime? He questioned the consistency of a referee’s decision-making, in this case Phil Dowd’s in the 4-4 draw at Newcastle: “Inconsistent refereeing needs to stop. It’s killing the game. If Diaby goes … what’s the difference between that and Nolan on our keeper? Joke.”
That is simply not in the same league, and nor was Walcott’s hands-up.
So there is no strict need to add that by publicly labelling himself a cheat (on one occasion, and without success), apologising and stressing that he wants such conduct to form no part of his game, Theo Walcott actually did football a service. And the same would have applied had it been a foreign player making the confession.