Matt Jarvis spoke with the right kind of honesty, a few hours after showing the wrong kind. The West Ham winger knew that his manager Sam Allardyce and pundit Gary Neville were right in their post-match criticisms of his rather self-defeating nobility against Arsenal at the Emirates on Tuesday.
When Jarvis was running with the ball across the box in the first half, Bacary Sagna swung his leg, missed the ball, and clipped Jarvis on the shin. It would have been easier for Jarvis – and certainly better for West Ham – had he embraced his imbalance, gone to ground and won the penalty. But instead Jarvis tried manfully to keep his feet, Kevin Friend waved play on and the attack broke down.
"The manager was disappointed as I could have had a penalty," Jarvis said, admitting that he might have handled the situation better. "Maybe I should learn from that and be a bit more clever."
But this is one of the old problems with the English game, and how we think and talk about it. Actions tend to be classified as either "honest" or "clever". Acts of violence or even malice can be described as "honest" and, therefore, on the side of virtue. But being "clever" – in this case, alerting a referee to the fact of a foul – is seen as being inherently devious, cowardly and unbecoming.
These skewed standards are not even equally applied. As soon as Sagna clipped Jarvis he instinctively held his palms up and out, the way defenders protest their innocence in that tiny gap between committing a foul and hearing the referee's whistle. He was claiming not to have done anything wrong despite knowing that he had, an on-pitch act of dishonesty that is accepted every week.
Football is full of this type of low-level everyday fibbing. In every game, at every level, players will appeal for throw-ins and goal-kicks they know not to be theirs and it is accepted as part of the game, a reasonable way to persuade the officials to give advantage to your team. Games are there to be won, after all.
Yet when the issue moves to fouling, and the specific issue of voluntarily alerting referees to fouls, a whole new standard is applied, in which having been tripped leaves you more open to moral condemnation than the act of tripping itself.
As ever, it took Neville to spell out precisely why Jarvis had got it wrong. "You can either be an angel and do what Matt Jarvis did, and get a pat on the back off his nan when he goes home tonight," Neville said, "or he can win his team a penalty. He should have gone down."
Allardyce said afterwards that it was difficult to teach players to do something that they had been conditioned against. "You can't ask players who are honest to be any different," he said, "it is against their nature." Choosing to go down, as we all know, is an import of sorts to the English game. Jarvis started his career at Gillingham, and the lower leagues, at least until recently, were less receptive to foreign ideas and standards.
The next generation of English wingers, learning the game in academies today, might well know instinctively what Allardyce spelled out on Tuesday night – that "there is no reward for being honest". But old habits, even ones with the best intentions, still linger.Reuse content