Play To The Whistle: Why Do Footballers Stop For Injuries?

Ben Mountain

“Play to the bleedin’ whistle, mate” is one of the many tired old adages that us football fans take great pleasure from cawing at most given opportunities.

But when the studded boot is on the other foot, things couldn’t be more different.

Diving and acting in football are commonplace scourges of the game. They’re pretty inevitable and, yes, bloody annoying. But there’s not a huge amount we can do to stop it, not until video referees start making regular appearances, that is.

So more often than not, when a player is writhing around on the floor in apparent agony; we tend to turn a blind eye and assume that the prima donna is being just that: a prima donna.

Their career-ending injury often conveniently crops up once the opposing team makes a surge down to the other end of the pitch, and usually subsides once they’re back again.

Should a player who sports our team’s colours be in this situation, we all holler and bawl that the ball needs to be sent whizzing out of play, in the interests of good sporting behaviour, of course.

Should a player who sports the other team’s colours end up in this predicament, we all fall back on our old ‘play to the whistle’ shout. If the referee doesn’t call it, why stop the game? Chances are the fella is right as rain and putting it on to quell the oncoming threat his side is facing.

But thanks to the noble gents that master our game, the ball does usually end up thwacking a ball boy somewhere to sounds of muffled claps from the crowd. The afflicted player usually regains semi-consciousness and manages to play top-level football for the rest of the match, seemingly naive to their recent near-death experience.

But this week something interesting happened in the German 3 Liga. And it’s provoked the most bizarre of reactions from parts the footballing world. Take a look for yourself.


Our instant reaction was similar to that of many of those in the comments, that this was unsporting and tantamount to being a disgusting little cheat.

Our slightly delayed reaction, however, was ‘play to the whistle, mate’.

Which of these is right?

Of course, it’s the latter. But it’s not that simple.

Footballers are under no obligation to kick the ball out of play until the referee tells them to do so. They’re certainly not awarded some sort of protection for just standing there like a post box.

The fact that half the Meppen players went to fight the chap is ridiculous, although the semi rugby tackle at first did amuse us.

Although, yes, it was in fact his own teammate who seemed to have picked up a knock, the Meppen lad really shouldn’t have stopped. He had two options. The first was to lump the ball into touch and, of course, the second was to play on. Stopping and waving your arms about doesn’t achieve anything in football, especially that close to your own goal.

The scorer for Jena, Soeren Eismann, is admittedly probably a bit of a tool. The type of bloke to nick your Pokemon cards and not move up on the tube.

But – implications of being a tool aside – he didn’t do anything wrong. The game is stupidly grey on issues like this thanks to the gentlemanly stigma we attach to a massively ungentlemanly game.

‘Play to the whistle’ is one of those things you hear shouted at the seven-a-side kids on Sundays. Perhaps players need to start taking note.

Maybe we’re morally corrupt, who knows? But it’s funny to watch those Meppen lads get worked-up all the same. What a load of nonsense.

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