Saturday 20 January 2018

Spare us the Henry silly season, please

F ROM teaching the country's children that cheating equals winning to blunting Ireland's chances of getting out of the recession, Thierry Henry has been accused of plenty since that night in November. Now, we can add denying African orphans the chance to have a better life to his already bulging rap sheet.

In the days after his handball in Paris, radio stations and newspaper offices were besieged by calls about how a country beset by disgraceful banking practices and income levies should protest about a Frenchman handling a football.

Among the many highlights, one reckoned that all Irish people living in Europe should march to Geneva to demand Ireland's inclusion in the World Cup. Although when they got there, the United Nations would probably explain that FIFA's headquarters is actually in Zurich.

Some said Cuisine de France and Dijon mustard should be boycotted, others suggested more marches than a sunny Twelfth of July in the North but, as the days and weeks passed, so too did the anger. It wasn't forgotten, much less forgiven, just accepted. Now, however, with the silly season of news around the corner, the re-demonisation of Henry has begun in earnest.

"When his hand went out, our hearts stopped twice because, essentially, it picked the pockets of the orphans that Friends in Ireland looks after and it really lost us an awful lot of money," said Marian Finucane, whose charity anticipated donations of around €1m as the official Irish charity of the World Cup, had Ireland qualified.

The RTE radio presenter added that she has twice written to Henry to explain where the money would have gone and hoped that he or other members of the French team might make a contribution to help children affected by HIV/Aids in South Africa.

For the sake of her charity, hopefully, such publicity will garner some money from those who might consider putting their money where their outrage is at, yet expecting footballers to be responsible for their actions, deliberate or not, is unlikely to catch on among the fraternity.


Does Robbie Keane feel sufficiently guilty for spurning the chances that would have secured the World Cup place long before Henry's handball that he might reach into his deep pockets? Or maybe Paul McShane for letting the ball bounce, Shay Given for not catching it or Kevin Kilbane for his own-goal against Bulgaria could all organise a whip-round.

For those who just want to enjoy the World Cup for its magnificent spectacle without the sanctimonious rubbish which will be peddled about the French team, it's going to be a long few weeks. There will be no shortage of comments which could all loosely fall under the heading of 'If my aunty had male reproductive organs, she'd be my uncle' when France take to the field in 25 days' time against Uruguay.

The last time Ireland were in a World Cup, many couldn't get past the 'what if' factor of Roy Keane's absence and by the end of the tournament, the same people had convinced themselves that, had Keane been there, Ireland would have reached the final where Brazil, presumably, would have been bricking it.

This time around, France's relatively easy group is one that Ireland could have had a chance of winning, which would have then set them up for a last-16 game against, you'd expect, either Greece or Nigeria.

Having seen them off, England might await in the quarter-finals in a game for a chance of another 'what if' re-match against Brazil in the semi-finals and a chance to gain revenge for their imaginary defeat in 2002. If my aunty ...

In reality, those people in Ireland who adore Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney when they wear red but hate them once they put on England white will have a dilemma at the quarter-final stage as they hope that, somehow, both England and France can lose but that none of their club favourites are injured for the new Premier League season.

When it comes to Henry, amateur psychologists will peddle pieces about his manner in training; how his smile will continue to rub salt into the open wound of the Irish people still seething over his cheating or how his refusal to meet with Giovanni Trapattoni is yet another SNUB to Ireland. All of which accompanied by a Del Boy-esque French phrase for a headline.

Then there will be focus on that hand which will be held by a child, possibly a poor but delighted South African one enjoying the greatest day of his or her life, despite being accompanied by 'Le Cheat'.

The hand will walk the children down the tunnel and onto the pitch while a holier-than-thou brigade single out Henry for all that is wrong with the game and peddle the nonsense of the supposed purity of other sports from which football could learn.

Those determined to focus on the negatives from the presence of France will do so. While they keep their eyes on the smaller picture, the rest of the world will carry on enjoying a month-long football feast.

If they find themselves missing out on everything that the greatest tournament in sport has to offer, there'll only be one man to blame.

Irish Independent

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