The Language of DivingThis week, Manchester United’s winger Ashley Young has made the headlines again for allegedly diving in a Champions League tie against Real Sociedad. This main listening report examines the language used to talk about diving. If you have questions or comments, email us at:


First of all, what is diving? Well, most people agree it is when a player falls to the ground pretending that he or she has been fouled in an attempt to con the ref. The player hopes the referee will believe a foul has been committed and award a free kick, penalty, or book the other player involved. If the player succeeds they win a free kick or win a penalty. Diving can also be referred to as simulation.

There may be contact between the players but not enough to cause someone to fall or lose their balance – in this situation there is minimal contact, or the defending player may only brush his opponent. If the player falls, they go down too easily. To emphasise the fact that it was a dive the commentator may say, he went down easily. In clearer cases the dive may be described in this way: he went down as if he was shot or he went down like a sack of potatoes.

The dive may be described as theatrical and carrying on the acting metaphor the player may be said to ‘deserve an Oscar for the dive’. To emphasise the fact that the fall was deliberate and not the result of contact, it can be called a tumble, or the player is described as taking a tumble.

If the player’s dive is successful and they win a decision, they got away with it, they hoodwinked the ref. When the replay is examined the commentator can call the decision soft – for example, it was a soft penalty – meaning the free kick or penalty shouldn’t have been given. Players who regularly take a tumble in the box gain a reputation as divers. This reputation can then precede the player – his reputation precedes him – and they may not win a legitimate decision because the referee believes he player is likely to have dived.

Many English pundits and players believe that diving is a foreign import that didn’t exist in the English game until large numbers of players from abroad arrived. They call for diving to be stamped out. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but what is not is the fact that most fans would accept a penalty in the last 5 minutes of the game even if it was won theatrically as their player tumbled in the box with the slightest of touches.

Football vocabulary and phrases used in this listening report

con the ref: deceive the referee

simulation: cheating; pretending to be fouled

minimal contact: the slightest of touches; not a lot of contact

brush : touch slightly; gently touch

go down like a sack of potatoes: fall heavily and suddenly, as if someone has dropped a large bag of potatoes

theatrical: to describe an actor or acting

tumble: fall, but in an amusing or childish way

hoodwink: to fool, cheat, trick

soft: easily awarded; easily given; not merited

stamp out: to stop; to bring an end to
Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here If you have any suggestions, contact us at

Learn English Through Football
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I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football!
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