Soapbox: another week, another drama. But let’s hand it to Thierry Henry


As Sunderland prepare to face Arsenal, the debate rages on. Should France v Republic of Ireland be replayed? If so, what about Reading 1 Sunderland 0 (goal given, not over line), Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 1 (legitimate, last second SAFC winner inexplicably denied by Steve Bentley), Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0 (beachball clinches the points).
One view of Thierry Henry’s public contrition is that it reaffirms his greatness; another is that it was a little belated and therefore that public reaction forced his hand (sorry).
No serious football controversy would be complete without Pete Sixsmith weighing in. And he says the Irish just have to get on with life …

Like the poor
Swedish referee, I didn’t see the Henry Handball incident on Wednesday. I was driving home from Billingham, having got my midweek football fix by watching an entertaining game between Synthonia and West Allotment Celtic (2-1 to the visitors if you really want to know), but I did have the commentary on Radio 5 Live.

In between the whoops and soars and the intervention of Radio Moscow, I heard John Murray say absolutely clearly that Henry had handled it and the goal should not have stood. Mark Lawrenson came on at the end of the 90 minutes and said the same, only more forcefully. Both spoke about the need for technology to help the officials with their decisions.

Understandably, the Irish are unhappy about this decision, but my view is that they have to accept it and move on. Yes, Henry deliberately moved the ball on with his hand and a vital goal was scored. But demands for a replay are not on; if that happened and set a precedent, Manchester United would play every game, every season until they won it. You can imagine Sir Alex demanding a replay even if his team had lost 4-0 because “the opposition goalkeeper put a foot outside the penalty box and that led to the first goal” or some such drivel.

The same applies to the use of camera technology. Certain managers from the Govan district of Glasgow would demand constant replays and if they went against his team would accuse the cameraman of being unfit or a Mackem or both. Certain managers from Strasbourg and with a professorial image would still maintain that, even though the camera proved conclusively that one of his players had fouled an opponent in the box and had then decapitated him with a hacksaw, “the camera was not accurate as I did not see it”.

Rugby League introduced camera technology years ago courtesey of Sky TV. It is not the answer to everything. Certain decisions are still very difficult to call accurately. In the recent Grand Final between Leeds and St Helens, a try was given to Leeds after copious looks at the video. The arguments still rage over it with Leeds fans saying it was and Saints fans disagreeing. Also, it can take an age. At a recent game I was able to eat a three course meal complete with brandy and cigars before “No Try” flashed up on the screen.

So, what is the answer? I’m afraid there ain’t one. We could go ackto the Corinthians in the 19th. Century who refused to even attempt to save a penalty kick awarded against them because it was unsporting. Lionel Perez obviously followed this dictum in the play off final in 1999 as he stood motionless as Charlton converted penalty after penalty.

We could encourage footballers to be more like cricketers and admit that they have not done what they had claimed to do e.g. claim a catch after the ball has bounced. No cricketer would ever refuse to walk if he were out, whether he was wearing his MCC sweater or his baggy green cap. Or maybe they would……….

Henry took advantage of the inability of the officials to see whether he handled or not. I would imagine if the whistle had gone he would have given a Gallic Shrug and accepted it. He didn’t have to because it wasn’t seen. Players will always seek an advantage; Francis Lee dived, Cloughie went down in the penalty area and (sorry Nathalie) a decent man like Gary MacAllister did a hop, step and jump to get an undeserved penalty. The line between seeking an advantage and cheating is a fine one. Henry overstepped it. I think we are all disappointed by him – but if Andy Reid did it this weekend…………?

7 thoughts on “Soapbox: another week, another drama. But let’s hand it to Thierry Henry”

  1. It seems tome that this isn’t a question about technology, but about consequences. If Thierry Henry handles the ball, or if a player dives and gets a penalty, and they aren’t caught, they gain a decisive advantage. If they are caught – they get what? Maybe a yellow card, infrequently, for simulation or breaching the spirit of the game. The risks are far smaller than the rewards. I think the sanctions need adjusting so that if you cheat and get caught, the punishment is enough to be a deterrent. It isn’t at the moment.

    • I agree with you to some extent, – except how do you prove the dive, the handball, the elbow off the ball except with t.v. replays? How do you distinguish between cheating (eg. diving) and instinct (which is what I think happened with Henry)?

      Unfortunately many people who play sport at any level will take whatever advantage they can get with no regard for the morality of their actions. Only at the highest levels is there video evidence to capture the offences.

      There are batsmen at all levels of cricket who don’t walk when they’ve edged it, keepers who appeal when they see it flick a thigh pad.

      At all levels of football managers and players appeal for decisions they know would be wrong. Players dive, tug shirts, obstruct opponents etc. etc.

      Years ago, when I was still fit enough to play footy, I nudged a ball level with my hip, forward with my wrist and stuck it away. The ref saw it and gave the free kick. I said “good decision” as I passed him. Would I have told him if he hadn’t seen it? I doubt it.

      Henry was right when he said the decision was the ref’s. I am not condoning what he did but can understand how it happened.

      I happen to think video evidence will come in at some point, and when it does, then yes, wrong decisions in games should be corrected and the sanctions for deliberate cheating should
      be a strong deterrent. Proving the intent might be not always be easy though.

  2. Excellent points Malcolm and I agree with them. One of the great things about football is that it is the same for all clubs. Shildon and Sunderland have 1 referee and two assisstants. If Sunderland had video technology the game they play would be fundamentally different from that played at lower levels. Rugby League has this problem; the video replays are only there for Sky matches.
    It’s interesting that the referee has not been slaughtered over this and it shows that there is an acceptance that there are some things that refs just do not see. That’s the difference between this one and Steve Bennett against Villa and the disallowed goal at Fulham last season. They were down to poor refereeing.
    The Europa League experiment may prove to be a worthwhile one.

  3. Video technology?
    Are sportspersons less honest than in the old days?

    The thing about video technology is that we already have it. It has taken much of the doubt out of what happens in top level sport. In the pre high-tech “good old days” we all only got one look at an incident and could spend hours debating the validity of a goal, a catch or the synchronicity of the rhythmic gymnasts of Schleswig-Holstein. In the early days of footy, how many pints were quaffed whilst trying to decide if the ball had gone over or under the tape that preceded crossbars, whether W.G. had really nicked the ball onto his pad or just intimidated the umpire into submission, or if Greta’s left hand/wrist angle was just a tad less than her partner’s and so only warranted a 5.5 and not a 5.6 Now the discussion is about accuracy, fairness and morality.

    I haven’t really worked out where I stand on this one. There are some decisions which are clearly wrong. Wrong decisions can be costly. Wrong decisions ruin the dreams of fans and players alike when they go against you.

    We can look at the sports where technology is used. I believe it helps to an extent. But it doesn’t solve everything. In the NFL on Sunday the Dallas Cowboys challenged an on field ruling which was clearly wrong. The ruling was that there could be no ruling because it fell outside what was permissible for review. Green Bay scored another touchdown when they shouldn’t even have had the ball. But for every similar incident there are hundreds where the correct decision is reached.

    In cricket many of the marginal catching decisions – did the ball carry to gully? – or hawkeye LBWs – would the ball have shaved the leg stump? – still leave room for doubt but has proved invaluable with the judging of run outs and stumpings.

    But how would it apply in footy? If you accept cameras could help officials see whether or not the ball had crossed the goal line then should it be used to judge goal kicks, corners or throw ins? If you use them to judge if a foul was inside or outside the area then why not to see if there was any intereference in the wall when a free kick ends up in the net?

    And in any sport technology is only available at the very highest level. Whilst the moneymen might approve if decisions go their way, would those connected with Grimsby or Darlo be right to feel aggrieved if a decision that sends them out of the League would have been overturned if it had involved Hull or Boro?

    And in the furore that has followed the Henry incident let’s not forget that the Irish would still have had to win the penalty shoot out to qualify. No consolation I know as they might have done so and does not devalue the discussion, but as one who was at Tranmere when the smirking Aldridge substituted his red carded player, my last word is that any legislation must be in place before kick off and games like this should not be replayed no matter how bad the decisions. That would open up a whole new can of worms.

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