The beautiful game

By Ged McMahon

Early in the week I scoffed when someone referred to soccer as “the beautiful game”. Soccer has just never grabbed me. My main beef is the constant diving and staging for free kicks. This is at severe odds to the “show no pain to the opposition” approach of Aussie Rules. Last weekend I was at a Montmorency vs Heidelberg footy match when a player went down. He limped off the field and later discovered that he had a broken leg. Out the back of the rooms he waived a morphine whistle for a ciggie. If he’d been playing soccer, he probably would’ve called for the Royal Flying Doctors.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with beauty. But I’ve always felt Aussie Rules is a superior game to soccer. Watching Michael Long bound along the wing and kick a goal is just one example of how beautiful our game can be. Seeking vindication of my opinion I excitedly headed to the Bombers vs Blues clash. Saturday afternoon footy at the MCG. The way things should be. Even Mother Nature agreed so she turned on a magical day.

But when the game starts it doesn’t go to script. It is scrappy. It is ugly. Goals are as rare and as precious as they are in … soccer.  To compound the ugliness, Winderlich and Dempsey both go down with season ending knee injuries. My vindication is lacking. But my Bombers lead by 18 points at quarter time, so I take that.

In the second quarter Dustin Fletcher attempts to breathe life into the contest with a running goal from inside the centre circle. The crowd finally joins the party. The MCG is alive. Carlton comes back and after a flurry late in the second quarter, they get within a straight kick at the main break.

The third quarter is still a bit scrappy, and still a little ugly. Calling it an arm wrestle is almost too generous. But the tension is building and the crowd is already looking forward to the final quarter.

I read with interest last week when John Harms explained how the Footy Almanac had saved footy. He explained how when the players got tired they reverted back to the old principles of footy. Kick goals. Man up. That’s exactly what happened in the final quarter. Tired players battled on, the ball ricocheted up and down the ground and every contest seemed like a life and death situation. It was frantic.

As a heavy shadow cast over the MCG I was transported back to the late 90’s when these two teams waged huge battles against each other. Battles of consequence. The ’99 Prelim came to mind. I was glad Kouta wasn’t playing this time.

Jobe Watson, the seemingly tireless midfield warrior was tired. At one stage in the last quarter he was hunched in the goal square, hands on his ample thighs, gasping in the air he needed for one last assault. Later, he almost delivered. He emerged from a pack, fending off all comers in gladiatorial fashion. The crowd rose but his shot on goal faded. It was a point. Handy point.

I lose track of time now. While I remember individual events, their sequence is hazy. Leroy Jetta takes a mark just inside the 50m line. He goes back and despite my bubbling nerves he kicks a goal. It’s telling. Surely he’s sealed it for us.

But almost immediately Kade Simpson runs about 60 metres in his characteristically jaunty fashion and nails a goal that equally deserves to be the sealer. The Blues lead by a point.

If it was frantic before, it’s hellishly chaotic now. The Blues scramble forward to Garlett who marks about 35 metres out, plays on and speeds towards the goals. It wasn’t supposed to end like this I lament. Dustin Fletcher agrees. The oldest man on the ground chases down arguably the fastest. There is hope again. Jeff Garlett was three years old when schoolboy Dustin Fletcher played in the Essendon vs Carlton draw in 1993. I guess that’s why he took him on. Didn’t think the old man could catch him.

Our counter attack from Fletch’s miraculous tackle is fruitless. Members of the crowd with radio earpieces parrot the estimated time remaining. Surely we’ve got time for one more goal. Carlton has the ball. They’re doing that kicking around thing. Trying to “ice” the clock. Holding possession. But then Simpson––the hero only a few minutes ago––does the unthinkable. He sprays an icing kick and it goes out on the full.

Old fashioned footballer Heath Hocking does an old fashioned thing; he bangs it long. There’s a contest. David Zaharakis was the last gasp hero less than two years ago on Anzac Day. This time he swoops on the ball deep in the pocket and snaps it at the goals. Can he be the saviour again? No. He misses. It’s a point. The scores are level.

Moments later the siren sounds. A draw. Once the heart rate has dropped sufficiently, I do a very soccer thing and take solace from the draw. With two men down from early in the game we’ve fought hard for this. It hasn’t really been a beautiful game, but geez it was a beauty.

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Hi Ged, I was at the game too – first one I’ve been to this year. Was down from NSW visiting friends in Shepparton who were going to the game and fortunately had room in their car. It certainly was an exciting finish. When Jobe raced out of the pack and had that shot a goal I was about to scream out ‘TIMMY!’
    You’re right about Heath Hocking being an old fashioned footballer – just what we need in defence. Fletcher’s long bomb was fantastic.

  2. “constant diving and free kicks” . . . Yawn. Didn’t get past the first para. Just how many live soccer games have you been to Ged? How many full games have you watched on TV without the blinkers on?

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Ged’s right Ian. Soccer players need to get some nuts. Bloody pooftas!

  4. Not that I agree with Ged’s view, Ian, in all seriousness, how are we to understand the culture of diving, and over-the-top writhing in agony, and more significantly faux-agony. Having played a number of seasons of soccer, I know there is serious pain in a belt to the shin/foot/ankle/knee. But, as I ask, what are we to take from the (pretty standard) response?

  5. #3 Phil – we were just saying the other day here at home how you no longer hear the word “poofter” or “poofta”. Shame because I reckon its an inherently funny word.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says


    it’s a divisive and hateful word spawned from ignorance and fear of difference. Like the words ‘wog’ and ‘nigger’ it is only funny when those victimized by these terms take ownership of them and rightfully satirize their use.

    My old man used to laugh at Graham Kennedy’s antics and then feel guilty, “but he is poofta”.

    Going back to Ged’s piece, I think the greatest irony here is that Matthew Lloyd was the biggest diver and stager for free kicks that I’ve seen in any sport.

  7. In our (very naive) household, my father used the word poofta without knowing the meaning of it. When he found out (my worldly uncle, a Gold Coast accountant, pointed it out over the dinner table one night when I was about 12)he couldn’t believe it. I daresay he was considering all the public places where he had used it over the years. He used it as a term to describe someone who wasn’t having a go, and not just on the sportsfield.

  8. My understanding, while Ian gets around to answering the question of ‘diving’ in soccer is the following:

    1. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it is made out to do

    2. There is a fine line between an actual fall, the instinctive protective reaction and the outright Academy award ‘dive’. In that sense it is best to err on the conservative side of the action and forgive the fall unless it is a blatant cheat tactic.

    3. Soccer is a low scoring game. One team can score in the first minutes and then the game is played out on a knife edge as that team endeavours to protect it’s lead and advance while the opponent looks for the strategy to bre4ak the lead. With so much tension built into the game from the first moment, is it any wonder that players will look for ways to slow the game and ease the tension, if only momentarily? All sports have such mechanisms. I for one, find the equivalent in Australian Rules, that of one team holding the ball by playing kick to kick for minutes at a time, a lot harder to digest than the ‘dive’.

    I find it a weird issue to concentrate on in comparison to what can be found and dissected in soccer which is an incredibly skilful and artful game.

    Cheers, and over to you, Ian.

    By the way, I personally don’t think a site like this is any place for such divisive terms as the ‘P’ word.

  9. As someone who enjoys and appreciates soccer, it disappoints me that the sport’s World Cup showcase
    is often dogged by players “diving”. It merely confirms the prejudices of those only vaguely interested
    in the world game; and it ensures that the argument is more difficult to win.

  10. johnharms says

    I have absolutely no need to argue the case for one game being better than another. That is a matter of personal preference. People have their reasons. I think soccer is a ripper game, for many, many reasons.

    I am interested in what is observable. I take Rick’s point #8 that ‘diving’ and ‘bunging it on’ doesn’t happen as often as often as it is made out to. But it is observable. Is it cultural?

    This is certainly not a key issue in soccer. Just a topic of conversation, for someone interested. It certainly doesn’t alter my regard for the game.

  11. #6 yes Phil I wasn’t referring to its meaning, just its sound. Like “pants” and “frog” – funny words.

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says

    No worries Dips. I know there is no malice. It’s a bit like when I hear the word ‘handbag’ :)

  13. Ian Syson says

    I think Rick gets it right. But here’s my two-bob’s worth.

    Diving happens in soccer, more at the professional end than at the lower levels. But the false impression of universal diving/writhing is not helped by the media’s tendency to repeat ad nauseam some more famous moments of simulation.

    I remember once taking my son Dan’s friend to a VPL game and he commented how he thought soccer players playacting was hilarious and a bit weak. I asked him how many soccer games he’d seen and he said “none”. All he’d seen were highlights (possibly of Rivaldo of players acting.

    I watch VPL soccer and there is very little of the theatrics (it’s not wholly absent of course). But there’s not enough to generate a bad impression, except to somebody prejudiced against the game in the first place. I saw a Mirabella Cup game on Saturday where there was not one incident of diving and not one moment where an unhurt player stayed down. The one who did stay down seemed to have had a serious leg injury, but he did try to get up!

    Diving/writhing happens because of a number of things: 1) It’s a product of professionalism 2) players cheat to try and get a free kick or get someone sent off 3) timewasting or stalling for a break in the action. If the rules were changed to more footy-type rules (play-on, injured players leaving the ground while play goes on) it would only be as prevalent as it is in footy I’d suggest.

    Yet as Phil point out, footy is not free from theatrics hence this article 2 years ago

    Interesting comments section leads me to believe that footy has more than its fair share of cheats!!

    Other sports are not free from it either. John, you will have seen how RL players on teams in the lead towards of the end of games seem to get hurt in tackles more than their opponents do. They are as a result very slow in getting up in the play the ball. False applealing/not walking in cricket seem to me on a par with simulation.

  14. Damo Balassone says

    Every sport has elements of fakery to win, but I think the disappointing thing with soccer is not the actual diving, but the writhing around in agony that goes on for several minutes after the con attempt. Perhaps if soccer was more continuous and had less stoppages this fakery could be lessened.

    But as stated by others above, this does not occur in all leagues – it is mainly confined to certain South American and Southern European nations (I hope none of my relatives read this blog).

  15. Oops, I didn’t mean to spark a fire! I should’ve guessed a sport vs sport comparison might polarise the readers.

    I’ve seen my fair share of soccer matches, but Aussie Rules is just my personal choice.

  16. No fire Ged, just a reasonable set of questions.

    “Constant diving and free kicks”? Sure the game the other morning epitomised something of that. But the soccer I watch week in, week out has very little of the “constant diving and free kicks” you talk about. And if VPL players did that they’d be condemned by the crowd. I’d be interested to know which live soccer you’ve seen on a regular basis because if it’s kids’ or local soccer I’d be surprised you came to that conclusion and if it’s EPL I’d also be surprised. Maybe you’re one of those lucky souls who watch the girly-men of Scottish fitba with your subscription to Setanta.

    Damo, I agree with you. It drives me mad when Barcelona players with all their sublime skills resort to play acting. The stoppages are the thing that allows this to occur.

    But why has no-one responded to my suggestion in #13 that this kind of cheating is rife in the AFL, judging by the article I cited and the comments in response to it? Only last night Brad Green had a big sook about a half-volley mark that (appropriately) wasn’t given and any number of players exaggerated pushes in the back to draw a free kick. But the game goes on and there’s no time to focus on the cheating/whining.

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