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The ‘Hand of Frog’: a great day for football

That handball reminded us that cheating, controversy, injustice and Roy Keane are all part of the fun of footie.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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That Handball. Blimey, what a kerfuffle! A veritable flooded Cumbrian river of moral outrage.

Thierry Henry’s handball, which allowed him to lay on France’s winning goal in the World Cup playoff against Ireland, inspired a gargantuan loss of perspective that would make a medieval devotional painter blush. It was, after all, only a game of football. But the real problem with the post-match furore was that it was predicated on the fundamental misconception that the handball was A Bad Thing. The beautiful game brought into disrepute. The sporting ethos betrayed. The soul of football lost. Yada, yada, yada.

In fact the opposite is true. But L’Affaire Henry wasn’t bad for football. It was good. Not just good; it was fantastic. A brilliant advert for the game. Bear with me on this; I’m being serious. There are dozens of reasons why Henry’s handball was good for football, but here are my top five:

  1. Thierry’s Va Va Voom is a write off. Henry is a pretty decent footballer. But what I couldn’t stomach was the way he was venerated as the living embodiment of the Beautiful Game. The Arse-fixated media creamed themselves over the preening French ponce. Never mind that this magician’s best trick was his vanishing act in big games. Never mind that his idea of leadership was to stand on the half-way line moaning and sulking. Henry complained time and again about gamesmanship and rough treatment by opposition players. Remember his rant about Barcelona’s lack of sportsmanship after the Champions League final in 2006? You won’t hear Henry sermonising about sportmanship any more. His reputation as a footballing gentleman has been irreparably sullied. Serves him right.
  2. Roy Keane has a pop. Roy Keane’s tirades are the stuff of legend. We love his straight-talking ‘take that, you cunt’ honesty. We loved it when he told Mick McCarthy to ‘stick it up your bollocks’. Unlike the rest of Ireland, Roy Keane used the opportunity to take a swipe at his whinging compatriots for wallowing in self-pity. ‘They can complain all they want, but France are going to the World Cup – get over it’, said Keane. ‘I’d be more annoyed with my defenders and my goalkeeper than Thierry Henry. How can you let the ball bounce in your six-yard box? How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you? If the ball goes into the six-yard box, where the hell is my goalkeeper?’ If Thierry Henry hadn’t handled the ball, then the world would have been deprived of yet another classic Keano rant.
  3. A bad day for Irish novelty hat sellers. The Ireland fans were loud and passionate at the Stade de France last week. They outsang the French (though, in truth, that’s not particularly difficult). But did they have to wear those ridiculous novelty hats? Green leprechaun hats, black and white Guinness top hats, tricolour Jester hats: it’s a football match, not a kids’ fancy dress party. Wear some proper clothes for God’s sake. The noise and colour of the Irish supporters will certainly be missed in South Africa. Their stupid hats won’t be. There should be no place in football for that sort of nonsense. Ireland’s defeat is bad news for novelty Irish hat sellers. And that is good news for football.
  4. A perfect excuse for an internet hate campaign. One new football tradition to emerge in recent years is the internet hate campaign. Whenever a referee has a howler in an important game the laptop hate mob are immediately on his case, posting death threats on social networking sites and sending abusive emails to his personal mailbox. The online vilification of Thierry Henry has followed a familiar pattern. There are dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to abusing Henry. One group, the We Irish Hate Thierry Henry (the cheat) attracted a staggering 80,000 members.

    Admittedly, there’s nothing big or clever about posting obscenities on Facebook. But, if we sift through all the childish name-calling, you can usually find some internet gems. My particular favourite in the aftermath of the ‘Hand of Frog’ incident was the rewriting of Thierry Henry’s Wikipedia page. The page has now been locked to prevent wiki-vandalism, but for a brief time it read: ‘Thierry “Le Cunt” Henry is a French cunt footballer who plays for Spanish La Liga club Barcelona and the cunting French national team, predominantly as a cunt.’ Puerile? Yes. Vindictive? Of course. Abusive? Hell yes. But, it’s great fun isn’t it?

  • Controversy is the lifeblood of football. L’Affaire Henry has predictably led to renewed calls for the introduction of video technology in football. ‘Referees want to see video replays introduced, the players do, managers do, everyone does but FIFA, for some reason, are refusing to listen’, wrote former Republic of Ireland striker Tony Cascarino in The Times. But L’Affaire Henry doesn’t prove we need video replays. If anything it’s the opposite. Football is drama not science. The game thrives on controversy. It dines out on cheating. It gorges itself on miscarriages of justice. Imagine if, thanks to video replays, there were no more controversies in football? Wouldn’t that be dull? No more internet hate campaigns. No more heated pub debates. No one to blame but ourselves if we lost the match. We’d hate it.
  • Cheating isn’t killing football. It’s part of the fun.

    Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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    Topics Politics

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