Sunday, 1 July 2018

It's time to get over Thierry's handball!

Love, peace and handball buddies by Allan Cavanagh. See more of his artwork at at

Let’s make a deal, in an attempt to live in the present: if I don’t mention England’s World Cup victory in 1966, you’ll move on from Ireland’s Euro 88 victory over England in Stuttgart.

Actually that’s slightly disingenuous of me, because I never mention 1966, save for exploding with exasperation that the English media are still going on about it.

It’s incredibly sad the way both the English and Irish hang on to their far-distant footballing glories, while the Irish have unique abilities in the grudge bearing department. 

If I ever hear another word about Thierry Henry’s handball, it’ll be centuries too soon.

Yes it was painful, awful and all that, but he didn’t score a goal with his hand. He just bundled the ball towards William Gallas. 

Horrible, illegal, wrong: yes, all of the above, but he didn’t punch the ball into the back of the net, and - sorry about this! - it was a qualifying play-off, not the quarter finals of the World Cup.

When Diego Maradona suddenly found his fist possessed by a holy force, his country had been licking their Malvinas/Falkland wounds for 4 years. His Hand of God goal against England was revenge delivered cold.

Anyway, a mere four minutes later Maradona erased debate, by dribbling past five England players (Terry Butcher twice) and scoring on the greatest stage one of the finest goals the sport had ever seen.

Unlike the Irish government, who after Henry's handball asked FIFA if Ireland could enter the World Cup as an unprecedented 33rd team, the English did what they always do: soak it up, spit it out in vile tabloid headlines, burn a few cars in Nottingham and come to terms with the fact that they were beaten by a better team.

Like Iceland.

Thank you Iceland! Your steadfast skills and thunderous grunt handclap killed off any traces of English self-delusion that survived their feeble 2014 World Cup experience.

Even more than expectation, for decades England teams carried a sense of entitlement. After all, didn’t we invent the game of football, so isn't it our natural birthright to beat Johnny Foreigner soundly on his or her sporting backside?

Winning the World Cup in 1966 didn’t create that mindset: it simply reinforced in gold what the nation believed, ever since the sun set on the Empire in 1948.

Talking of empires, what a tragedy that the world’s favourite game and this World Cup are run respectively by a power-hungry venal organisation and a tyrannic despot.

Some might think tragedy too strong a term, but consider the scope of influence of this game

In the favelas of Brazil, the backstreets of the Ivory Coast and lesser-known parts of Laois, toddlers learn to kick a ball, win attention and applause while exercising in the most thrilling way. Football offers the unique chance of a lifestyle beyond the bounds of reasonable dreams.

At the other end of the socio-economic ladder, football also enchants the ├╝ber-rich. In April 2003 a Russian billionaire watched David Beckham and the Brazilian Ronaldo scored five goals in Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Manchester United.

That day he fell in love with football, went off and bought my beloved Chelsea FC. Truly Roman Abramovich must be an optimist, as well as lover of the game, as he’s watched just about every Chelsea game since, and he’s still around.

Well, he is now, after taking Israeli citizenship, so that he can get into the UK. Russians have felt an English cold shoulder since that nerve agent attack.

Strange that Russia is allowed to invade Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and threaten the Baltic States, but when an ex-spy cops it on a bench in Wiltshere, all hell breaks loose.

That’d be because like FIFA, Putin is unassailable.  
Both are supreme rulers of their particular universe.

Both are unapologetic about their methods, decadently rich and interested only in further expanding their power, whatever the human cost.

Hence, as football fans we have no choice but to accept that this World Cup is taking place in a dictatorship, and that the next, given the number of  nations who love the game and deserve to host it, has been awarded to one of the least worthy countries on earth.

What a tragic shame that the sport which honestly claims to be the people's game has been royally hijacked by unaccountable elites. Us lovers of the Beautiful Game have no choice but to accept that, sing ourselves a rousing chorus of

“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be!”

and move on, just as the Irish need to forget Thierry’s digits and the English Diego’s divinity.

That just leaves Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against the Germans, in the 2010 World Cup. The one that was a full two feet over the line; the goal that was instrumental in FIFA adopting technology.

When Frank equalised England had come back from 2-0 down and were playing better than our exalted opponents. It looked like we might make it to the Quarter Finals, but instead of 2-2 in the 39th minute, demoralised England collapsed to lose 4-1.

What’s that? 
You calling me a hypocrite for grizzling about the past?

No problem.

Just as Mourinho complains his opposition parked the bus, hypocrisy grips football like Luis Suarez’s teeth on defenders' bare flesh.

I’ll drop the Hand of God if you drop the Frenchman’s fumble, but Frank’s disallowed goal?

That’s different!

©Charlie Adley

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