The Matt Holland Column: Time to act against those who defraud the game

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The Independent Online

The music had stopped and there was a tense anticipation in the dressing room. We were live on BBC in front of millions of armchair spectators, could hear the chanting of 21,000 expectant fans and knew that all our season's work meant nothing now. This was it – first leg of the Uefa Cup. The knock on the door signalled time. The atmosphere changed slightly. To most it would be imperceptible but anyone who has been part of a dressing room minutes before kick-off would notice it. The cooker had been turned up a couple of degrees. Some looked towards the door for confirmation, others continued pacing, stretching or rolling their necks in a gesture that is athletic in appearance but nervous in conception.

"Come on, boys, this is it." We filed out to the tunnel, lined up beside the Torpedo Moscow team and waited to walk on to the pitch at Portman Road. I ruffled the hair of our young mascot, turned for my captain's place at the front and gave the rest of the team a nod and some encouraging words. We waited. Players of both sides swayed from side to side, switching balance from left foot to right, others chatted, but we were all engrossed in our own mental preparations, and waiting. One minute passed. Then another minute. A loud voice from the back asked: "What's going on?" Normally, it takes fewer than 60 seconds to get us on the pitch. "Waiting for EastEnders to finish," came the reply to muted laughter. Of course we had to wait for the TV schedules, that is part and parcel of modern football, but at that moment it seemed absurd.

The game itself was frustrating because I think we were the better side, dominated the second half and had too many opportunities for only one goal. Torpedo Moscow played a very tight formation, and tried to hit us on the break. The goal did not come like that but we have been warned, they can pass and link at exceptional pace. A poor pass from Titus Bramble was picked off and that gave them the goal but we have to applaud Bramble's resilience after that moment. His second-half performance was much more composed, he attacked with powerful runs and scored the vital equaliser. I believe he has the talent to become a regular England centre-back but he has to keep working hard. He's young and will make mistakes but he is a defender that enjoys the ball.

Of wider interest in football has been the groundswell of feeling against cheating. The media have developed this debating point during the week, and to be honest not before time. The last two weeks have witnessed some appalling scenes: vitriol and antagonism by players, managers and fans and I honestly believe we, and by that I mean players, managers and fans, have to eradicate this problem before it damages the game. What I cannot understand is how players can dive and appeal for penalties or free-kicks when they know nothing untoward has happened. They are defrauding the fans who are the lifeblood of the game, other players and most importantly themselves.

I am not going to mention names because I think that would localise the problem and detract from the real issue, but it does astonish me how players can go on TV and try to justify their actions when everyone can see in slow motion that they are blatantly lying.

Referees have a very difficult job. Sometimes they make a mistake and the players hound them as if they have been found stealing the charity box. These same players then deliberately cheat and con the referee into giving decisions and yellow and red cards. I am afraid that players can't have it both ways. They either have to accept every decision with good grace, or start helping the officials by being honest. There is no middle way. Personally, I'd like to see some honesty in the game.

And it's not just players. Managers have frequently defended players' misdemeanours or abdicated responsibility by claiming: "I couldn't see anything.'' Yes, and I suppose "the cheque's in the post". On occasions it is correct for the manager or a player to avoid answering but only when they have not seen the replays. Remember that the manager may castigate and berate in private but not wish to be seen to be betraying his players in public, but I fear that events have moved on. To restore integrity we have to take more drastic measures. Show them the replays, ask the appropriate questions and let's hope for some honest and forthright answers. It could only benefit football.

An, to kick-start the idea why don't the FA or Premier League use a video referee to study each match within 48 hours and award cards for diving? The ensuing suspensions would certainly make players and managers take notice. Or impose heavy financial fines. Players earn large sums of money so fine them large sums. I know there are reasons why both these ideas may be difficult to implement but we need to focus attention on an ugly area of the game. Football is a wonderful game that is a joy to play and watch, but there is little pleasure in watching cheats dive.

In an interview with Iain Fletcher

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