As a very proud Irishman inspired by Ireland’s greatest ever performance and result over 90 minutes of football, I must say that the disgust experienced by France’s injury time clincher is being replaced by an uneasy feeling of dismay at the Irish reaction to the incident.
Frankly, our moralising and bleating just does not sit well with me. And nor should it with anyone who loves this wonderful and dramatic game. Frankly, morals are the last resort of losers in sport. And it was ever thus. The winners rarely ever cry foul.
But critically, there is no moral high ground for professional footballers and football watchers. The general reaction of professionals to Henry’s actions are nothing if not informative. It has been noticeable that the Irish players have tended to be more critical of officialdom than of the perpetrator of the crime.
Why? Because every one of them to a man would probably have done the same thing. Even the upset Trappatoni directed his ire at FIFA rather than the Frenchman. Tellingly, it was not the player’s job to draw the attention of the ref to his infringement.
Such apparent immorality is upsetting – but it is the game we love. You simply cannot remove from football the kind of cuteness, slight of hand – cheating if you must – perpetrated by the French captain. Sneaky hand balls, diving, pulls, tugs, lunges, stepping on toes, a dig in the ribs behind the ref’s back – part and parcel of football, and it was ever thus.
The disappointed, but largely accepting, response of the Irish players confirms just that.
We can be justifiably upset at what occurred and its influence on the result, but please spare me the moral self-righteousness. For Irish fans, football officials and most embarrassingly, government ministers, to take the moral high ground is pure hypocrisy.
It also displays very short memories. Where was the indignation of the honest Irishman – player, fan or politician – when Italy were wrongly reduced to ten men in Bari? And where were the upholders of fair play when the referee awarded the Irish a seriously dubious penalty against Georgia at Croke Park – getting a struggling Irish team out of jail?
Where were the petitions to FIFA demanding the games be replayed? Why were the ambassadors of Italy and Georgia not summoned to the Irish seat of power to accept our humblest apologies?
Are we only going to be moral when it suits us? You know, sometimes, you just have to suck it up. Put it down to experience and move on. Realise that while our performance may have deserved better, it was our inability to take the chances our superiority afforded us that ultimately lead to our downfall. We need to be calm and philosophical.
We need to realise that the Henry’s “cheating” is as much a part of the rich pageantry of the greatest game as the most sublime of goals. The two are intertwined and cannot be unpicked lest you sanitise the game into blandness.
We must console ourselves that we have the right manager and the right players to learn from this and to succeed. And we must accept that at some stage, we will be the beneficiaries of such unsavoury incidents – and that unless we are planning to hold our hands up and insist on fair play, then we have no right to demand it of anyone else.