Joe, I think I dislike the 'professional foul' the most. Simply because of it's title - what's 'professional' about purposely fouling someone to stop them having the advantage that they've earned? If they changed the title to 'cynical cheating' it would lose some of it's glamour. I detest shirt pulling and holding players to stop them moving - especially in the area. And maybe that's the other bit I dislike about it - it's so prevalent - it seems to 'infect' even the most honest players. There isn't one corner where someone isn't obstructing, holding or pulling the shirt of an opponent.
Dodgy challenges - I can understand mis-timed tackles and players who aren't versed in the art getting timing wrong (who said Hoddle?). But how many excuses will Paul Scholes be given? Surely at some stage dodgy challenges stop becoming a '...oh, he always mis times his tackles...' joke. The malicious stuff is totally out of order - but that seems to me to be one of the easiest infringements to spot. Although I heard Vinnie Jones laughing and joking on the TV about how they 'did' players - so maybe the refs aren't too adept at spotting deliberate fouls.
As for diving, I can and do understand Bale's point about getting out of the way of the mis-timed or dodgy challenges (and I'd rather he got out of the way and stayed fit, rather than get clattered and be out for 6 months), but I thought Bale's 'fall' against Villa was a bit OTT as it 'appeared' to me that he could have stayed on his feet.
Punishments - I find it odd that a player can be banned for 'n' games for racially abusing a player, but get a quarter of that if he tries to maim him. Seems a bit bum about face to em [sic].
The problem with all these is 'intent' - was the player actually trying to 'do' the other player? Was the player diving to get an advantage or simply trying to stop getting clattered?
I'd go with the Monday morning board to assess the dubious challenges - the manager/club should be able to request a review and retrospective punishments (and rescinding of punishments given) should be given, irrespective of whether the ref has seen the issue or not.