This assembly looks at what happens when somebody cheats, with reference to a recent football match

Last week Liverpool footballer David Ngog helped his team draw against Birmingham City when a tackle on him led to a penalty. Unfortunately a replay showed that the striker dived to get the penalty – he cheated.

Have a look online for a video of David Ngog’s dive.

Today we’re going to be talking about a game of football. But unfortunately you won’t be hearing much about the beautiful game, because today we’re going to be talking about cheating in a game of football.

Last week, in a Premier League match, the Liverpool striker David Ngog (pronounced ‘un-go’) cheated in a match against Birmingham City. David’s team were trailing 2-1 with 20 minutes to go. He got the ball into the penalty box and then fell spectacularly, blaming defender Lee Carsley for his tackle.

The referee, Peter Walton, was too far away to see clearly what had happened. He gave a penalty to Liverpool; Steven Gerrard converted the penalty into a goal that meant the game was a draw.

But David Ngog had cheated; Birmingham defender Lee Carsley didn’t touch him – David had made a dive.

Let’s see what happened next. [Show video clip]

It’s clear here what happened but the referee was at the wrong angle to see the truth. It wasn’t his fault – referees are only human and they can make mistakes, and the rules say that the referee has the final word – and he doesn’t get to see any replays during the match.

What can be said in David Ngog’s defence? He’s only 20 years old and made a mistake? He wanted to do well for a team that he hasn’t played for for very long? The referee should have spotted what had happened? Every team has their share of bad calls?

What do you think? Can cheating ever be justified? [Take suggestions]

Let’s listen to a story…

Ben’s story
It was the league final: Willow Street Primary versus Haglan Road Primary.

‘We’ve got to win this,’ said Ben with gritted teeth.

Des sighed. ‘I don’t know – Haglan Road are pretty good. They’re strong on defence, although we’ve got a better striker, haven’t we Ben?’

Ben smiled, although his insides squirmed like eels in a barrel.

It was true. Ben was the best striker on either team and it would have given Willow Street an advantage – if it weren’t for the fact that Haglan Road’s defence was so good.

Mr Proctor the PE teacher came into the changing room.

‘Ready, team?’ he said. ‘It should be a good game. Good luck everyone!’

He led them out onto the field to the shouts and cheers of the rest of the school.

Trevor was the goalie; Jason was the sweeper; Melanie, Arnold and Rekki were the backs; the four midfielders were Beth, Erik, Donny and Paul; Ben was the striker, with his best friends Des and Joe as the other forwards.

They took up their positions and the ref, Mr Jellicoe, blew the whistle. Haglan Road had won the toss but their forwards were ragged and Ben soon had possession of the ball. He raced up the field, but he was harried by the Haglan Road defenders. Time and time again Ben found his route to the goal blocked. The frustration started to rise as they neared half time.

Mr Proctor gave his team a talk at half-time.

‘It’s a tough game,’ he said. ‘But I’m sure if you keep at them that defence will weaken eventually. You’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time. Good game! Good game!’

Ben’s mouth was set in a grim line. This was his last year at Willow Street Primary and his last chance to win the league cup – and he was the captain. It was up to him to lead his team.

For the next 40 minutes, Ben did everything he could to be ‘in the right place at the right time’, but it wasn’t enough. If nobody could break the stalemate in the next five minutes, it would be a penalty shoot-out. Ben also knew that Trevor, the goalie’s nerves went to pieces in a shoot-out.

Ben saw his chance. He dashed up the field in time to receive a swerving pass from Des.

‘I’ll score this time!’ he said to himself.

But from the corner of his eye he saw a Haglan Road defender running across to cut him off –again.

Ben couldn’t say he actually made a decision but he flew through the air as if he’d been tackled hard.

The ref blew the whistle.

‘Penalty! Are you all right, lad?’

‘I… I think so,’ said Ben bravely.

‘I never touched him!’ yelled the Haglan Road defender, a big girl called Julie.

The ref showed her a yellow card and she stalked off muttering to her team mates.

Ben could see Des frowning but he ignored it.

He positioned the ball on the penalty spot and took six long strides backwards. He ran forwards, he aimed, he kicked the ball, he scored!

The cheers rang in his ears – but there were some boos, too.

Willow Street Primary were declared the winners and everyone was slapping Ben on the back – everyone except Des.

‘I saw what you did,’ said Des, ‘you dived.’

‘That’s not what the ref said,’ replied Ben crossly.

‘You dived. I saw it. We don’t deserve to win this cup,’ said Des, folding his arms.

‘You’d rather be a loser, would you?’ said Ben.

Des shrugged. ‘It’s better than being a cheat.’

Ben’s cheeks felt hot.

‘I’m not a cheat!’ he shouted.

Des just looked at him, then walked away.

‘You’re supposed to be my best friend,’ called Ben after him.

The next September, Ben and Des went up to the same highschool, but Des refused to speak to Ben and soon they made new friends and went their separate ways.

Ten years later, Ben was in a supermarket. There was something familiar about the man standing in the checkout queue in front of him.

‘Des, mate! Is that you?’

‘Hello, Ben,’ said Des. ‘How are you?’

‘Yeah, fine! It’s great to see you. What are you doing now?’

‘I’ve just finished university,’ said Des, ‘and I’m getting married next week. This is Julie my fiancee.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ said Ben.

‘We’ve met before,’ said Julie. ‘I was the defender in the league cup match when we were all at primary school. I remember you.’

Ben’s cheeks grew hot – and he felt ashamed for something he’d done all those years ago.

Ben felt so bad about winning the match by cheating that he never did it again – and he never forgot how he felt, or that he lost a good friend because of what he’d done.

But what about the teams involved in the Liverpool versus Birmingham match – what do they think?

Here’s what defender Lee Carsley says:

‘I know I didn’t touch him and I said to the referee to book me or send me off. That would have made me feel better. I’m sure he has got a family but, if I went home having done that, I’d be embarrassed. You are supposed to be teaching your kids an example and this is just an embarrassing case of cheating.’

And what about Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez – what does he say?

‘I asked him [David Ngog] about the penalty and he said maybe it wasn’t. It was a pity to score with a penalty that maybe wasn’t a penalty. It is not fair sometimes but we have had a lot of things go against us this season and we deserved more from this game.’

And what about the poor referee, Peter Walton, who made that bad decision? Here’s what his boss, Keith Hackett – the referee’s manager, says:

‘Ultimately it’s down to players… However, as referees, we have a responsibility to be able to see what’s happening. It is difficult and sometimes the speed and quality of the player and the way they can juggle the ball, does catch referees out.’

And what about David Ngog – what does he say? So far – not a lot. Why might that be?

PrayerDear Father,

Help us to be good sports even when we want to win. Teach us that winning isn’t everything but that being a good sport is. Amen.

Unfortunately cheating happens too often – both on the football pitch and in life. But the consequences of cheating can be severe – not only if you’re caught, but also in terms of your conscience.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Jane A. C. West