Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday November 20 2009
The moral high ground is, more often than not, the last bastion of the loser in sport. The notion of "fair play" is something of a deity in football. Much as God is revered when "miracles" happen yet apparently blameless/ helpless in the face of disaster, so football fans will wheel out the shield of fair play. The FAI this week begged and pleaded with FIFA to "uphold the integrity of the game" by giving them a replay. Strangely enough, when Ireland beat Georgia at Croke Park earlier in the Qualifying campaign courtesy of some incorrect officiating, I don`t recall them offering Georgia a replay. When Damien Duff dived for a penalty in the 2002 World Cup I`m not sure I recall the same media or FAI uproar. I`m also not sure why the FAI have demanded Thierry Henry apologise for his handball on Wednesday night, yet have somehow not asked Robbie Keane to do likewise- Keane, you will remember was twice penalised for deliberate handball in the match. Is it only intent to cheat when you get away with it?
You might argue that it would be natural for an Arsenal fan to feel defensive for Henry, yet I don`t seek to defend him. He cheated, there`s no question of that. But the hysterical reaction to his handball exasperates me, but it doesn`t surprise me. Frankly, people are idiots. The individual person is smart on occasion, but people are stupid, panicky, hysterical and lack the ability to think independently. The furore surrounding Henry is eerily similar to that of Eduardo`s earlier in the season. Manufactured moralising by an institution like the media. It`s like Myra Hindley telling children not to talk to strangers. Quite apart from the hypothetical argument that had the Irish won in the same fashion or had Rooney or Terry handled the ball to gift England a first World Cup for forty four years, the reaction would clearly be different, there are other issues to look at. Firstly, say the goal was scored in a different way. Let`s say France have a corner, there`s jostling in the box, Henry gives Richard Dunne a little nudge before rising to head the ball home. The referee does not spot the infringement and the goal is given. Is there the same sense of moral outrage? Is Henry publicly admonished as a cheat? No better than Ben Johnson or Maradona? Probably not, because we see players do this all the time. But is it still not intentionally breaking the rules to gain an advantage? You know, like handling the ball in the box?
It is EXACTLY the same. Yet the reaction would be entirely altered for the same principle. Yet for the past thirty six hours, I`ve heard various hybrids of frothy mouthed bile and hatred, mixed with naval gazing self pity. What is so utterly depressing, and this is not just true of football but of life in general, is how easily people are led and informed by the media, their sense of justice served to them like Pedigree Chum whilst they chow down on it like the subservient little puppies they are. You have to ask what right the media has to morally judge anybody given their despicable machinations. Handball is a crime on a par with paedophilia apparently, but intentionally deceiving an England manager into thinking you are an Arab Shiekh so you can get a revealing interview is fine? As I said, Fair Play is a concept wheeled out when it suits us- in that respect, it`s football`s answer to political correctness. It is informative that none of the Irish players have laid blame at Henry himself, instead castigating everyone from the referee to adidas. (Damien Duff came out with the adidas gem and Damien Duff has a boot endorsement deal with…..? Come on, keep guessing). It`s because they know that in the same scenario, they would have done absolutely the same thing. Ireland have every right to be sickened in losing a game of that magnitude in that manner. I am still bitter to this day that our 49 unbeaten run was curtailed by a cynical piece of cheating at Old Trafford by Wayne Rooney (where was the media`s moral compass then?) But I also know that that 49 match unbeaten run was at times preserved in an unsporting manner (Pires v Pompey anyone?)
The request to replay the France versus Ireland match was a ridiculous and pathetic one that would make most sports fans cringe. Replaying this game would set such a disruptive precedent, if every game that suffered a dodgy decision were to be replayed, we would never get past the first game of the season. The FAI cite the replay between Bahrain and Uzbekistan was different as the replay was awarded owing to a technical error. i.e. The referee saw the incident (encroachment on a penalty) but awarded the wrong decision (an indirect free kick to the perpetrators rather than a retake!) Ireland were desperately unlucky, but the whailing and whining of the FAI and the moral outrage of the media and it`s dribbling zombie consumers is entirely hypocritical. My favourite gem would be from Tony Cascarino, who lectured, "it would never have occurred to me to stick out my hand and guide it back into my control. I wasn't that devious." This of course the same Tony Cascarino who revealed in his autobiography, 1 year after collecting the last of his 88 caps for Eire that he wasn`t actually qualified to represent them. "I was a fake Irishman. A fraud." This is the sort of hypocrisy I`m talking about, Fair Play when it suits you. I feel for Eire, but it`s time to suck it up and move on. It is an absolute bona fide certainty that any one of the Irish fans who crammed into Croke Park and who were so vocally resplendent in Le Stade de France will watch their club team benefit from a similarly cynical act to gain a goal. Gauge how your reaction alters when you are the beneficiary. Henry, like Eduardo before him, is the latest sacrificial lamb to be offered to the brainless masses. But the responsibility now lies with the authorities to equip referees with the means to limit their mistakes, otherwise there will simply be more and more of this tiresome moralising as yet another non British/ UK scapegoat is stretched on the wrack. Kurt Cobain once memorably crooned, "Teenage angst has paid off well/ now I`m bored and old/ self appointed judges judge/ more than they have sold." Too true.LD.
Date:Friday November 20 2009
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