Arsenal's Theo Walcott Shatters Fans' Illusions By Admitting to Cheating

Jon Naylor@jonnaylorSenior Analyst IJanuary 8, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 27:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates Arsenal's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on December 27, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There's an old story about former US President Ronald Reagan that springs to mind.

Before his political days, Reagan was a baseball commentator on local radio, covering the Chicago Cubs. Reagan used to deliver in-depth, play-by-play accounts of games to his listeners.

The unique aspect was, Reagan wasn't watching the games, but filling in the gaps from telegraph accounts of the matches in progress.

He knew he was making parts up. The audience knew he was making parts up. But both were happy to carry on the charade for the benefit of the broadcast.

Which brings me to the modern game of football. Fans know cheating happens. Players knowingly cheat. But, for the most part, both carry on in a state of ignorance, keeping up the charade for their mutual benefit.

Supporters of clubs whose players appear to have dived look over countless replays, searching for the hint of contact that would preserve the character of their idols. Rather than admit that their boys are willing to deceive officials, the fans prefer to continue in a state of delusion.

Football fans remain happy that they can continue to watch an honourable sport, and the players get paid. The circle continues.

So, when Theo Walcott openly admitted to diving in an attempt to win a penalty after Arsenal's FA Cup match with Leeds on Saturday, he broke the spell. By confessing to a deliberate attempt to cheat, he shattered the illusion that all but the most dastardly players would ever dare to commit such an offence.

Some Arsenal fans will feel let down. Others will cling on to another thread, that their player did what was necessary to win and any other would have done the same. Leeds fans will be apoplectic. 

The simple fact is that players dive with astonishing regularity, but home supporters do their best not to see the incidents. A classic case of the Wengers, if you will.

Walcott also said in the interview that he regrets his actions and "isn't that sort of player." His honesty will be lauded by a section of the Arsenal support, but others will feel that if he wasn't the type to cheat, he shouldn't and wouldn't have attempted it in the first place.

Will Walcott's words spark a new pledge to eliminate cheating from football, or will it make simulation more acceptable to fans? Or will supporters prefer to continue the illusion that it doesn't happen in their clubs? 

Not many players admit to diving and you can't help but feel that this will be an isolated outbreak of honesty amongst the footballing profession.

Shouldn't we, though, be more willing to accept as a fan community that many more players dive than admit it and do more to eliminate it from the sport?