Football: Inspiring Stories of Fair Play and Sportsmanship

Football is not just about fierce competition. Sometimes, it can give rise to beautiful stories of fair play and sportsmanship. These stories, although not centered around conquering success or a trophy, allow the teams and players involved to carve their own slice of history.

The history of football is characterized by similar events, where athletes demonstrate remarkable acts of fair play alongside their competitive abilities. Let’s explore some of these inspiring moments.

  1. Paolo Di Canio: A Gesture That Made History

Paolo Di Canio, during his tenure with the West Ham shirt in the Premier League, became the protagonist of a gesture that went down in history. In a match against Everton in 2000, while the opponent’s goalkeeper was left on the ground injured, an attacking action led to an opportunity for Di Canio to score with an empty goal. However, he chose not to take advantage of the situation. Realizing the injury of the opponent, he caught the ball with his hands, effectively blocking the game. This act of fair play was warmly received by the fans, who dedicated him an ovation. At the end of the season, the Premier League recognized his gesture and awarded him the Fair Play of the Year.

  1. Klose and De Rossi: Fair Play in the Capital

With the introduction of VAR, the work of referees has been facilitated, allowing for more accurate evaluations of controversial game situations. However, in the past, before VAR’s existence, it was solely up to the human eye to judge the flow of the match, inevitably leading to some missed incidents. Hand fouls, for instance, have always been a subject of discussion. Nevertheless, they have also provided moments of great sportsmanship.

In 2006, a young Daniele De Rossi scored a goal with his hand against Messina, but the referee failed to recognize the irregularity and validated the goal. It was De Rossi himself who confessed the misdeed, leading to the goal being disallowed.

A similar incident involved Miroslav Klose, then playing for Lazio in 2012. He scored a goal with an obvious handball. After a moment of confusion, Klose voluntarily informed the referee about his handball and the goal was rightfully disallowed.



  1. Fowler and the Wrongly Granted Penalty

In 1997, Liverpool star Robbie Fowler found himself in a unique situation where he refused a penalty that was wrongly granted to him. During a match against Arsenal, the referee blew the whistle for a penalty, but Fowler, realizing that the decision was incorrect, voluntarily informed the referee and chose not to take the penalty. This act of fair play was also acknowledged by FIFA, which awarded Fowler with the Fair Play Award. A similar gesture was made by Elvin Mamedov, a player from Qarabag, in a match against Inter in December 2014. The Azeris were incorrectly awarded a penalty, but in agreement with the coach, they deliberately missed the opportunity.

  1. Jan Vertonghen’s Involuntary Goal

In 2006, a young Jan Vertonghen, playing for Ajax at the time, found himself returning the ball to opponents of Cambuur, who had stopped the game to allow assistance to an injured player. Mistakenly, Vertonghen took a shot from midfield, surprising everyone in the stadium. However, after immediate clarification, both teams agreed to allow the equalizing goal to be scored, nullifying the unintentional goal.

When Simulation Transforms into Fair Play

In football, unfortunately, simulations and diving have become common occurrences, making it less obvious to admit when one hasn’t been fouled. However, there have been instances where players chose to uphold fair play, going against this trend. In 2014, Aaron Hunt of Werder Bremen managed to convince the referee not to award a penalty for a non-existent foul, as he had slipped inside the penalty area by himself. Similarly, in a match against Atalanta in 2021, Andrea Belotti did the same. Despite being surrounded by opponents and falling at the edge of the penalty area, he signaled to the referee that there had been no contact. Such gestures are highly appreciated by both teammates and opponents alike.

In conclusion, these stories of fair play and sportsmanship in football remind us that the game is not solely about victory and trophies. It highlights the human aspect of the sport and the values that make it truly beautiful. As fans and participants, we should celebrate and appreciate these remarkable acts that go beyond the realm of competition, leaving a lasting impact on the history of the game.