Soccer Diving: A Historical Perspective

Slate's Culture Blog
July 2 2010 11:09 AM

Soccer Diving: A Historical Perspective

Here at Brow Beat, we thought the World Cup Dive of the Day was a novel concept. It turns out that one Dutch soccer fan was way ahead of us. For the past year, photographer and Web designer Dick van Mersbergen has presided over the diving Hall of Shame . Van Mersbergen's database is exhaustive. It includes a total of 231 dives, most of which (126 to be exact) are from 2009 and 2010. While most of the remainder also took place in the 2000s, a few go back several decades.

Dive historians should be sure to watch a few classics. German Rudi Völler's dive against Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final is essential, as is Brazilian Rivaldo's hissy fit after getting hit with a ball during the 2002 World Cup. According to van Mersbergen, the flop by Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen against Arsenal in 2009 is "arguably the worst dive ever." The most important dive of all time? Probably Bernd Hölzenbein's performance in the 1974 World Cup final between Germany and Holland. Hölzenbein's tumble in the box drew a penalty, which allowed the Germans to tie the game at one. (The Germans eventually prevailed 2-1.)

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Soon after the German took a tumble, it became known in Holland as Hölzenbein's schwalbe. " Schwalbe is German for swallow, the small bird," van Mersbergen explained via e-mail. Apparently, swallows drop quickly while flying . It's unclear who coined the term, but schwalbe has definitely caught on in Holland. A quick search of De Telegraaf , the country's biggest newspaper, yielded dozens of schwalbe references.

If you'd like to use schwalbe yourself during the World Cup quarterfinals Argentina-Germany, we're guessing, will feature dives aplenty the site Dutch Word of the Day provides a few sample uses. Try this one: Dat was echt een schwalbe! (That was really a fake dive!)

Alan Siegel is a writer in Washington, D.C. You can reach him at asiegel05@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter.