The Hand of Frog
It’s less than 24 hours since Thierry Henry handled the ball (video here) before setting up William Gallas to score the extra time goal that meant France will travel to the World Cup and the Republic of Ireland fail to qualify, but the backlash has already been huge. After the game ended last night I, like many Irish supporters, was in equal measure disappointed, angry and disillusioned with organised football. My girlfriend in tears beside me, I quickly turned to every outlet I could find – twitter, sms contacts and facebook heard all about it, and I was not alone,within a half hour the We Irish hate Thierry Henry (the cheat) facebook group had 13,000 fans. It now has almost 50,000.
I wanted a national boycott of Renault, I was calling for his head. The cheating scum had clearly handled the ball leading to what proved to be a national sporting disaster for us Irish. Hopes and dream of cheering on the boys in green this summer were shattered.
Today I’ve calmed down, and am even enjoying some of the jokes going around like the revelation that the French are handball champions and the pix.ie Tweet of the Day. I’m still angry but not at Henry. He has admitted he handled it, he did so before he had even left the pitch and he’s on the receiving end of a horrible backlash and not just from the Irish, look at some of the comments on the BBC. This one incident could permanently stain the reputation of one of the greatest players ever in the game, just as Zidanes headbutt and Maradonas hand of god did to them.
I’ve started to try and think of this from his point of view. I think his reaction was instinctive and most players would instinctively do the same. Robbie Keane handled the ball about 4 times during the match. In a high pressure game and in the box, the ball unexpectedly drops right in and it’s not pre-meditated, there’s no logical decision made, there’s no time for contemplation of the consequences – it just happens. The culture of the game doesn’t help, players are accustomed to always trying to get every advantage they can – it’s OK as long as you don’t get caught. Eamon Dunphy has in the past made the great comparison with the great culture of sportsmanship in snooker where players call fouls on themselves, this is a rarity in football.
So if the handball is instinctive we can only judge Henry’s character on what happens next. Henry didn’t deny he had handled it, maybe he could have told the ref he handled it, did the ref ask him?
Now we reach the real problem, the officials and the rules. Refs make split second decisions, rarely receive help from assistants and their decisions are final. I can’t help thinking what if the ref had asked Thierry if he had handled it before ruling on the goal. Why is this not an option for refs? If he had and Henry had lied, which I honestly don’t think he would have, we could really label him a cheat.
The Football Association of Ireland are asking for a replay, which of course is a ridiculous claim and would set an impossible precedent. At least Trappatoni seems to realise this.
The real solution, of course, is the use of TV replays in officiating. There’s really no reason not to at least implement this for goal and penalty decisions. There’s always a significant delay after a goal anyway with celebrations and everyone getting back onside and it’s already proven to work well in rugby. I really hope the backlash over The Hand of Frog, or Le Hand of God or whatever you want to call it is that FIFA finally come under enough pressure to make some changes and not that all Henry’s great moments are overshadowed by this.