James Shield: Yes, Sheffield United should be angry but their manager misses a vital point

He’s right to get the hump. Time-wasting, diving and simulation, that famous footballing euphemism for what you and I call cheating, is, as Paul Heckingbottom has pointed out on numerous occasions over the past week or so, a blight on our national game.
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It shouldn’t require around half a minute to take a goal kick; an art one of Sheffield United’s most recent opponents perfected during a match at Bramall Lane. Nor is it necessary to take a triple salchow and pike whenever someone enters your personal space, or dares to make contact when jostling for possession, in order to try and gain an advantage. Stoke City’s Tariqe Fosu has many gifts, we discovered at the bet365 Stadium last weekend. Unfortunately, unfathomably even given the talent and technique he possesses, they include a flair for amateur dramatics. Okay, so he isn’t the next Lionel Messi. But it would be a crying shame if the midfielder, on loan from Brentford, becomes better known for his theatrics than his extensive skill set. Hopefully one of his teammates, maybe even Alex Neil, decides to have a word in the Londoners’ shell-like.

The trouble is they won’t. Because many professional sports, the past 10 days have revealed, are morally bankrupt. The line between desire, the determination to go that extra mile to succeed, and dishonesty has become hopelessly blurred. And many - I stress ‘many’ because there are some notable exceptions - folk involved in it are complicit in engineering its descent into the unethical cesspit.

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Heckingbottom should be applauded for calling out the double dealers and corrupters. His warning about the importance of respecting traditions, principles such as promotion and relegation, in The Star last week was most welcome.

But the United manager is wrong, as he suggested ahead of today’s meeting with Blackpool, to think that FA bigwigs and their counterparts at the EFL hold the key to ensuring footballers go about their business as honestly as possible. They don’t. Only footballers themselves, plus their coaches and yesm their supporters, have that within their grasp.

Heckingbottom didn’t say so explicitly. But his claim that because the governing bodies aren’t punishing those who feign fouls or injuries retrospectively revealed this is what he thinks. Admittedly, regularly awarding yellow or red cards after the final whistle would have some effect. But it would also require every fixture to be subject to a video review. And if some clubs in the lower tiers really are considering kicking-off their matches early to help cope with rising energy costs, I doubt the funding will be made available. Mansfield Town deserve the same respect, and level playing field, as Manchester City.

Referees like Peter Bankes, who took charge of Sheffield United's match at Stoke City, have an increasingly impossible job: David Klein/SportimageReferees like Peter Bankes, who took charge of Sheffield United's match at Stoke City, have an increasingly impossible job: David Klein/Sportimage
Referees like Peter Bankes, who took charge of Sheffield United's match at Stoke City, have an increasingly impossible job: David Klein/Sportimage

Referees and match officials find themselves in an impossible position too. How, with people throwing themselves to the floor at every opportunity or screaming out in agony whenever they are tackled, can we expect them to know when someone is really hurt or not? The answer is, we can’t.

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So the only way to stop these ruddy annoying practices is at source. Players must call each other out. Managers need to begin dropping them, and publicly stating why, if they indulge in such behaviour. But they won’t. Take responsibility that is. Unless it suits. Until they start doing so, then they’ll just have to accept this is the way it’s going to be.

• Speaking of bad behaviour, an idea came to me a couple of days ago when it emerged the EFL are considering allowing their 3pm Saturday fixtures to be broadcast live on television. I can understand why they’re looking at removing the ban on this prime time slot. But I’m still uneasy about it; particularly because of the effect it could have on non-league sides and the grassroots game in general. Plenty of fans who either don’t want to or can’t afford to watch their team on the road attend local fixtures instead every other weekend.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is angry about the conduct of some players: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is angry about the conduct of some players: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is angry about the conduct of some players: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“With 54% of the UK population watching EFL football on television each year and a global audience of more than 400 million, it’s an exciting time to be going to market for the League’s broadcast rights,” said Ben Wright, the EFL’s chief commercial officer, as the organisation prepares for its latest auction with the television companies.

“Whilst the appetite for EFL football remains stronger than ever, we want to grow this audience further. We are inviting proposals from organisations that can enhance and develop the League’s offering, taking a new and innovative approach to how people consume EFL content. Alongside the EFL’s rich tradition and distinguished history there is a desire to evolve, grow and innovate in order to grow our audience further and we’re looking for a partner or partners who share that vision.”

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The potential disadvantages of this proposal probably outweigh the benefits. But that won’t stop those in positions of power from voting it through if they suspect there’s a few quid in it for them.

Football supporters could soon be able to watch matches on television at 3pm on Saturday afternoonsFootball supporters could soon be able to watch matches on television at 3pm on Saturday afternoons
Football supporters could soon be able to watch matches on television at 3pm on Saturday afternoons

So, if the plan does end up getting passed, here’s one of my own: Why not donate every fine for dissent, late arrival at training or all the other crimes coaching staff punish those under their command for, to those clubs operating on the lowest levels of the pyramid? After all, it’s not as if players earning thousands or pounds a week really need the dosh they collect to fund their end of season bashes or Christmas parties is it.