Luck of the Irish? Tell it to that cheat Thierry Henry
Before I get into this I must say a quick thanks to the many people - including complete strangers - who have sent messages of sympathy and support after Ireland got knocked out of the World Cup by what is surely the worst cheating incident in the history of sport.
If there’s one thing we Irish are really good at, it’s being outraged at injustice. Thanks to our over-friendly English neighbours we’ve had more than 800 years of practice.
And now we get to do it on Facebook.
The fastest-growing group on the social network right now is a petition to have the fixture replayed and has over 160,000 members. The group We Irish hate Thierry Henry (the cheat) has over 75,000 fans and claims it has been described on Sky News as a “sensational” page.
At least when Diego Maradona handled the ball past Peter Shilton into the English net for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup he had the good grace to say it was “a little of the hand of God, a little of the head of Maradona”.
No such aplomb from Thierry Henry, who openly admitted to cheating to Irish players immediately after the incident in which he used his hand – twice – to control the ball before squaring in to William Gallas to score and secure France’s place in next year’s World Cup.
(Watch it here and listen to what Henry has to say for himself. First vision of the handball is about 20 seconds in.)
Today I spoke with someone back home and as you might expect the country is gripped in a wave of seething anger and indignation. A 15-minute news bulletin on the national broadcaster was dedicated entirely to the story. Brian Cowan, the Irish prime minister, has discussed it with French president Nicolas Sarkozy. There’s talk of boycotting French food and wine.
In this atmosphere it’s probably a good thing that the Irish military’s hardware is basically limited to some propeller-powered airplanes and some trucks.
With most sporting controversies like the original Hand of God incident or the Jarryd Hayne touchline dance there’s some grey area, a point or two that could be up for debate. Even English football fans whose scars haven’t healed 23 years on will readily concede that Maradona’s appalling cheating was somewhat mitigated by the fact that he scored one of the greatest goals ever in the same game, taking the ball from inside his own half and beating seven opponents before toeing it into the net.
This is different. There’s global agreement that Henry is a cheat and that the Irish were robbed.
Even Thierry Henry agrees he’s a cheat, for crying out loud. “It was a handball,” he said after the game, “but I’m not the referee.”
There were two losers in this game: Ireland and sport. The most saddening aspect of it is that Henry is at the centre of it all. Until this week, if you liked football, you liked him. He was considered a gentleman of the game and has been indisputably one of the most delightful strikers of the modern game to watch.
Now punch “Thierry Henry cheat” into Google and you get around a quarter of a million results. Dig deep enough into it and some of the anger is disturbing. I can’t link to some of the content because it’s obscene.
The Guardian wrote overnight that Henry has become “perhaps the most vilified footballer on the planet”. Henry hate groups are everywhere on the web. He has been called every name under the sun and then some. And this isn’t just a case of sour grapes from the Irish. He’s being condemned in his own country – the French teacher’s union called it “unquestionable cheating” and the British press are savaging Henry and the French coach Raymond Domenech. Take this from Rob Kelly, a football writer for the UK Telegraph:
Just a few points, Raymond. Firstly, Thierry Henry has admitted it was a handball, and as such, it is cheating - that is one reason why you should apologise. Secondly, you should apologise for the lack of grace French football officials have shown since their disgraceful progression through to the World Cup finals. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you Raymond should apologise for turning what had been a magnificent French team into the dishevelled shambles we saw on Wednesday night.
So what happens from here? The Irish government and the Football Administration of Ireland are seeking a replay, but the early signs from football administrators are that it won’t happen. Despite the online petitions and the fact that the entire world is basically united in outrage, the likelihood of a replay is practically zero.
Irish people and sports fans everywhere will get to hold on to their indignation, and young kids around the world have been given a clear message that cheaters win.
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