Before I get into this a caveat: I’m genuinely gutted for Ireland at missing out on a place at the World Cup. Genuinely. And I’ve only seen the pivotal incident once and very quickly at that.

But. And so.

The question I have is this: When did we all of a sudden turn into a nation of prissy, holier-than-thou, rule evangelists? Yes, you would expect the reaction to Ireland’s aggregate defeat by France to be a clamour of indignation, players weeping on the pitch, screaming headlines, but this? It’s so *shrill*. Listening to the 5Live commentary last night I was astounded to hear their pundits come out with lines like: “Well, Henry had the opportunity to admit the offence and have the goal disallowed…” What? If you’re playing top level international football – actually scratch that, any level of football – and the ball comes to you and on the spur of the moment you control it with your hand – yes, even twice – towards the end of a game that you really, really HAVE to win, and a decisive goal results from your action, are you going to go up to the ref and say, “actually, mate, you should really chalk that off”? Of course you’re not. Why? You’ll get strung up by your own players, your manager, your own fans. If you handle the ball on the way to creating a goal, you *expect* the goal to be disallowed and you to maybe pick up a booking. That’s the ref’s job, and 99 times out of 100 he and his assistants will make exactly that call. If they don’t, you’ve got away with murder, but that’s not your fault.

Of course, Henry shouldn’t have handled the ball, but these things tend to be instinctive, spur of the moment events and you expect the mechanisms that govern the game to prevent the advantage being taken. But sometimes they doesn’t. Sometimes the ref misses it. Even when it’s blatant. We live in a world now where we watch football on huge HD screens and have access to instant replays of the major incidents from every conceivable angle, and we forget that the experience of the players and officials on the pitch is vastly different to ours.

So, yes, maybe the TV replay thing has got merit. We should try and see what happens. But what I’m objecting to is this ridiculous White Night media crusade to rid the game of cheating altogether.


Because Football is one of the great ongoing narrative efforts of human culture (don’t laugh, it is). And tough as it is to accept being on the wrong side (or even the right side sometimes) of an injustice on the pitch (and as a Scot, I’ve had my fair share of both), it’s all part of the great drama of the story of football. It’s what engages us in those ongoing pub conversations that endure for years without resolution. The goals that never crossed the line. The unbelievably soft penalties. The Hands of God. It’s these, every bit as much as the Mara-Gemmell dribbles, the backs to the wall last ditch defending, the great team performances, that make the story of football as enthralling as it always has been.

Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s tragic.

But tragedies make such good stories do they not.

8 thoughts on “Cheat!

    1. Well obviously you would and I would (especially since the level we play at we’re self-policing), and I reckon on most occasions Henry would as well. But under those kind of circumstances, clearly the temptation was too great for him, Iain. And once it was done and the goal was in. Trust me, if you were playing at the level and your honesty lead to missing out on the World Cup, knowing that you had right on your side wouldn’t lend that much weight to your brave piping up of: “it was the right thing to do!”

      Think back. Have you ever seen anyone doing it? Ever? Players play to the whistle and take whatever advantage they can. Most of the time there’s no advantage cos the ref is on the ball. But sometimes that’s the way it is. That, as they say, is football.

  1. I’m not surprised he did it. I saw him running down the line in the last big tournament they played in, and the defender swung his arm round and caught him in the chest. Henri immediately put his hands to his face, went down as if poleaxed, and writhed around still holding his face. I didn’t think much of him after that, and even less now.

    1. He’s got that side to him – didn’t he score a goal with his hand against Rangers once as well? – but I always thought he was a generally decent human being. Certainly not in the Rivaldo league.

  2. Yes, Neil,
    This is the lot of the football fan.
    But it’s funny how often these injustices seem to fall the way of the bigger team, is it not?
    Dubious Old Firm penalties, Man Utd never having penalty awards against them at Old Trafford, Italy’s goal at the death in the last Euro qualifying after that dodgy free kick.
    And even Scotland once benefited as the bigger team – in Joe Jordan’s case.

  3. Hey Neil, I seem to remember Robbie Fowler deliberately missing a penatly which was awarded to Liverpool a few years back. Is that a sign of humanity at work in football, or perhaps he was still on a come down after antics the night before…. see you at the awards.

    1. For me, that kind of overly gentlemanly behaviour just adds to the narrative power of the game, Scott. It’s all part of the great ongoing pub conversation: “It was never a penalty…and you’ll never guess what happened next.”

      Be interesting to know, however, if that game was an FA cup early round against a tiddly wee team that they were already three up against – or a Champions League semi against Milan? Sometimes you can afford to be magnanimous.

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