John Lanchester, 29 July 2021
Of the very, very many things that make fans cross, nothing makes them crosser than penalties and sendings-off induced by simulation. We all know what it looks like: the faintest contact with a defender sending the grizzled pro to writhe in agony on the pitch, one eye on the referee, the other on next year’s Oscars. There was a beautiful example in Italy’s quarter-final match against Belgium, when the inappropriately named Immobile collapsed with an apparently career-ending injury after being breathed on by a defender, only to bounce sheepishly back to his feet and trot off to join the celebrations when Italy scored ten seconds later. The generic fan term for this kind of behaviour – which includes elaborate delaying tactics, shirt-pulling, winding up opponents and so on – is ‘shithousery’. Fouls are against the rules but within the ethos of football. They’re just a fact of the game and all players foul, some better – more intelligently and tactically – than others. Simulation and shithousery are against the rules but the question of whether they are within the ethos of the game is more complicated.