James Lawton: Johnson's diving confession shows football morality has hit a new low

It is some game when cheating is endorsed by someone of Alan Shearer's weight

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It seems like a lifetime ago but it is merely 15 years since Robbie Fowler told a referee and TV cameras that he had not been brought down by David Seaman in the penalty area during a vital collision between Arsenal and Liverpool.

Even then, though, the gesture was considered quixotic enough for leading TV analyst Andy Gray to declare: "His manager should give him a clip around the ear because it could cost his club the title."

Gray was doing no more than stating the reality of football morality, which is surely true of Adam Johnson's explanation for his head-long reaction to the featherlight contact made by Fulham defender Chris Baird at the weekend.

But then Johnson was maybe doing something slightly different and certainly quite elegantly when he said: "I felt the contact. Sometimes in normal time, when you are in the moment, you anticipate the contact. There is a fine line between diving and anticipating contact but I felt it and went down. These things happen." Indeed they do, and each time it is another little pinprick into the concept that professional football will ever again be inhabited by someone like Fowler, who for at least a fleeting moment put the importance of fair play before the imperative of winning in any way you could.

There is no hatchet here for Johnson, one of the more entertaining sights in Premier League football, any more than for the vast majority of his work-mates who would have done precisely the same had they had the opportunity. Even the aggrieved Fulham manager Martin Jol conceded that it was probably all in the game.

Some game, though, when the process of cheating is not only encouraged by the football climate but also endorsed by someone of Alan Shearer's weight on Match of the Day. Shearer may remember that when his up-and-coming young sidekick in the national team, Michael Owen, first emerged, his England manager Glenn Hoddle was pointing out that his penalty-winning instincts, a most valuable commodity at the highest level, were perhaps not all that they should be.

English football has rarely known such full-blooded, up-front practitioners as Gray and Shearer, which means that there is no shortage of perspective for Johnson's confessional.

It is one which puts at the top of every agenda the requirement to gain an advantage at any cost. That's the name of the game or, should we say, a progressively cynical business.