Why Referees Cant Possibly Get It Right: The Neuroscience of Intention and Attention


Well-Known Member
Sep 2, 2003
More interesting, perhaps, is the way in which our commentators and pundits, as well as supporters, are influenced by a language of intention and excuse when it isn't relevant to the Laws. Related to this is a personal bugbear, the way in which many are prepared to moralise about particular kinds of player behaviour where 'morality' is irrelevant. The term 'cheat', for example, is flung around with abandon without any understanding of what it actually means.
I've followed your discussion with thesoccershrink with interest.

This issue is also a bugbear for me, but apparently for a different reason. I find that instead of using the term 'cheat', commentators and pundits instead rely on a slew of euphemisms. For example, we often hear of players 'going down too easily' or 'playing for' a free kick when 'cheating' or certainly 'diving' would be more appropriate. In a similar vein, several times in a game we will see players from both teams (including ours) who, after little or no contact, appear to be mortally wounded; such play-acting is rarely commented upon, and certainly never described as cheating.

With 'simulation' now enshrined in the Laws (and the questions of intention and morality thereby catapulted into them) I would far rather hear such behaviour described for what it is than excused - and, by extension, perpetuated - by myriad softer terms.
Jul 26, 2003
Spud, thanks and I agree this opens up another field of argument. Personally, I don't think 'simulation' necessarily introduces the problem of morality (or intention for that matter) into the Laws. Without any special status, it appears alongside a long list of offences that would attract a caution for 'unsporting behaviour'. But, yes, it is the one that exercises the fans and pundits the most, and attracts moralising judgements in a way that the 'professional foul', for example, does not. These judgements are confused and inappropriate.

For me, the careless use of the term 'cheat' devalues the term. The real 'cheating' in football occurs as a result of corrupt machinations away from the field of play that influence players and referees in particular games, or favour particular clubs in the league, and can also involve the very authorities that should be regulating the game. Many pundits, for example, who are prepared to use the term so inappropriately about events on the pitch are peculiarly silent when it comes to the real cheating elsewhere.



Front Page Gadfly
Jun 7, 2004
What spud's contribution has opened up is the division between "cheating-on-the-spur-of-the-moment", such as diving, and "cheating-with-malice-aforethought", such as throwing a match (or pre-planning to bowl a no-ball). Similarly to the earlier discussion on "intention", they're very different things, both psychologically and in terms of their impact on the game at large.

It would be useful to have another word than "cheating", so we could use one for a nefarious plot and another for an impulsive reaction, but I don't know one.

I don't think that "playing for a free kick" is necessarily cheating at all. Bale did it very effectively (and legally) against Newcastle the other day: he collected the ball and tried a run up the touchline, but he was well-marked by two men and found himself facing away from the pitch with nowhere to go. Using his skill and ball control, he just kept the ball in front of him, under pressure, and waited ... until one of the defenders ran out of patience and put a hand in his back, at which point he went down: free kick. It was within the defender's choice not to push him in the back, but to wait until Bale ran out of tricks to keep the ball and then steal it or poke it out for a throw.

There's a whole range of footballing techniques that are arguably part tactics, part gamesmanship and part cheating. We need a better array of words, or alternatively, we need to home in on exactly what it is that we want to stamp out and in what order of importance.
Nov 17, 2004
Thread starter #24
Anyway, good luck in your psychological endeavours.

Thanks! I've really enjoyed the discussion and your contribution.

When I first saw your spirited defence of the Laws of the game I imagined you were either Martin Atkinson, Mark Clattenburg or Sepp Blatter :grin: But your comments about off the field cheating leaves me wanting to know more and what it is that you know about that? But if you have to kill me if you tell me, I prefer you stay silent.

Happy New year!