A professional’s take on diving
In a professional career spanning almost two decades, Simon Smith has played for over sixty-seven clubs. The ultimate utility player, as his pace has diminished Simon has managed to reinvent himself time and again, from poacher to holding midfielder, centre-back to goalkeeper. Now that his website has been closed down, we have exclusive access to his weekly column.
Whenever I go online or read a newspaper having given up on trying to get some sort of ‘app’ to work (as far as I can see the only benefit is being able to make a joke about the only angry bird in my life being Clarissa. An earlier version of the joke also included our daughter, Angelica, so I could say ‘angry birds’, but in the end I just didn’t feel comfortable referring to our only child as a ‘bird’. It always goes down well at dinner parties and Francis Benali was so taken with it that he’s actually reused it on his early morning BBC Radio Solent show) there always seems to be somebody moaning about diving. Apparently diving for penalties is becoming more and more prevalent and is a blight on the game in this country and the finger is usually pointed at foreigners.
Until a couple of years ago I got tremendous grief from my teammates for refusing to dive but it was something I simply did not feel comfortable with it, even though other players routinely do it and obviously it can be a big help. I mean think about it – players will sometimes miss the target or put the ball down the middle but more often than not they will go for the corners. You’ll probably save one in ten when you refuse to dive for penalties but that isn’t going to be enough to win a shootout (especially if I’m one of the takers!).
As I say, foreigners get a lot of stick for always diving and I remember it was Peter Schmeichel who first brought it into this country. It wasn’t long before some of the top English lads like Kevin Pressman and Fraser Digby started doing it. Some people say there were divers before Schmeichs but if there were, I don’t remember them. There’s actually a lot that we can learn from overseas players coming over and I fondly recall being at Nottingham Forest when Andrea Silenzi signed. The bossman told me to watch him closely and learn all that I could. Within weeks I had gained so much and still regularly eat tapas although I tend not to slick back my hair quite so much. Chance’d be a fine thing these days!
I’ve just this second read about Sir Alex Ferguson’s chat with Ashley Young and realise that I got the wrong end of the stick when people were talking about diving. Seeing as he’s been using one of my gags, I feel I can slip in one of Benali’s here: What’s the difference between Tom Daley and Ashley Young? One of them is a talented young athlete whose athletic diving is the great hope of the nation this summer and the other is Tom Daley! LMAO as my Angelica might say. Well, type.
I’m ashamed to say that when I was younger and less wise, I would occasionally ‘simulate’. It’s not something that I’m proud of but it’s important to address the less proud moments of your career. My teammates were never happy with me going down in the box and I suppose it was a high-risk strategy but sometimes I would be getting hassled from one of their forwards and thought it was worth trying to get the free kick to ease the pressure.
I remember very clearly when I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was playing away at Crewe and had a slightly heavy touch (I know a lot of you won’t find that too hard to believe!), the defender stuck a leg out and I took my chance. It was raining and so my rolls along the slick surface took me all the way to the advertising hoardings. I gave the ref the puppy dog eyes (a look that I think is a better way of getting a decision than the more commonplace look of indignation) and he pointed to the spot. As I stood up I made eye contact with a Crewe fan who was swearing with both his hands and words. My first reaction was that he was still angry about my earlier loan spell with the Railwaymen but then I realised it was almost certainly in response to the penalty I had just dived for. Amongst his effing and blinding was a line that I still remember so clearly; ‘you go down more easier than Monica Lewinski’. The grammar wasn’t accurate but the sentiment was on the nose. I love jokes about Bill Clinton and that incident in particular but here I was as the butt of it and the worst thing was that I deserved it. I knew what I had to do and lined up to put the ball deliberately wide to make amends. The whistle went but I misjudged my run up to the ball, got it all wrong and smashed the ball into the corner. My teammates joked that it was my best ever pen and that I must have been trying to miss. Nobody actually believed that truly was the case though.
I would probably agree that simulation has no place on the football field but I do think that it has its place in other areas of life. I was once out on the town with Neil Ruddock and a couple of others and things got nasty. You can often get a lot of unwanted aggro in nightclubs when you’re a professional footballer and you’re trying it on with people’s girlfriends. Punches were thrown and I received a glancing blow. It barely touched me but still I hit the deck and stayed there until the ruckus had died down. It certainly proved to be the right decision given the injuries some of my Tottenham teammates suffered that night. Darren Anderton, for one, was out for 6 weeks after a dry-roasted peanut went down the wrong hole earlier in the evening.
Finally, I have also noticed that there was a lot of hubbub about the Chelsea goal against Tottenham that definitely didn’t cross the line. I won’t wade in on that discussion save to say that some of us have actually been calling for goal line technology for quite a while and far be it for me to blow my own trumpet but I was actually writing about this issue a long time before that FA Cup semi final. If you don’t believe me, just check out my column from three weeks ago.
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