Henry’s hand­ball still makes my blood boil

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -

WE lost 1-0 in Dublin in the first play-off leg on Novem­ber 8, 2009 and we were rub­bish. Ni­co­las Anelka capped off a poor game with a poor goal, a de­flected ef­fort that just about summed up the night.

What dis­ap­pointed me most — and the rest of the guys were the same — was that we were too rigid, we were too stiff, we were too by-the-numbers and pre­dictable. Where had our spark gone, where had our mis­chief gone? We’d gone from a side that would gam­ble — and be­lieve — that they could pull some­thing from some­where, like Rob­bie had done against Ger­many in 2002 for in­stance, to be­com­ing a side that had lost its dev­il­ment, its fuck-this attitude, in essence its Ir­ish­ness. That was all about to change.

For the sec­ond leg in Paris, Trap wanted us to re­main as we had in the first match. He wanted us rigid and deep with­out press­ing too much. He wanted us to nab a goal from some­where and maybe force ex­tra-time — and then who knows what might hap­pen?

As a squad, though, we felt this was the time to roll the dice. On the day be­fore the match, driv­ing through the streets of Paris with The Dublin­ers blar­ing out, the mes­sage was the same.

I’d said my piece in the build-up to the match and I was as black and white as I could be.

“Lads, I don’t care what he says, we’re go­ing to go at these tonight,” I said. “We’re go­ing to fuck­ing go for it, we’re go­ing to press them, we’re go­ing to hurry them, we’re go­ing to throw every­thing at them. What­ever hap­pens, if we get beat we get fuck­ing beat — but no­body gets back on this bus with­out giv­ing it every­thing.”

Even think­ing about it now is mak­ing the hairs on my arms stand up. We weren’t be­ing dis­re­spect­ful to the Trap at all and it wasn’t like we were go­ing to dis­obey him but we wanted the shack­les to be off, we wanted to just go for broke.

“Lads, this is the chance of a life­time,” I said. “We’re go­ing for it.” In the hud­dle be­fore the game, the mes­sage was pressed home by Rob­bie. “This is why we play boys, this is where we want to be,” he said. “We go out there now and we hit them with every­thing we’ve got un­til they don’t know what the fuck’s go­ing on.”

Maybe be­cause it was our last chance to get to the World Cup or maybe it was be­cause I was older, I don’t know, but I was so re­laxed that night. We were sip­ping a Guin­ness in the last-chance saloon, you know? Why get tense, why play tense, when we have ab­so­lutely noth­ing to lose?

All the lads were the same. It’s the least ner­vous I’ve ever been on a foot­ball pitch for Ire­land — it was more a feel­ing of en­joy­ment and lib­er­a­tion. It was time for the Ire­land team to play like the Ire­land team and we came out and did ex­actly that. Ev­ery­one was at it and on it all night. Dun­ney had Henry asleep in his pocket, Duf­fer was class, Rob­bie was the same. We didn’t over­think, we didn’t over­play, we just crossed the white line and played with our hearts and fi­nally, Rob­bie gave us the lead af­ter about half an hour, beat­ing Hugo Lloris.

Af­ter the break, Duf­fer missed a good chance but at 1-1 on ag­gre­gate af­ter 90 min­utes, we went into ex­tra-time and still felt solid and strong. We again spoke and the mes­sage stayed the same.

Early on in ex­tra-time, Anelka went down in the area as I chal­lenged him but it was one of those that can go ei­ther way and the ref­eree Martin Hans­son waved away France’s claims. He’d just made the last de­cent call of the night.

Then it hap­pened. France got a free­kick about 25 yards out, just to my left. Florent Malouda floated it into the back post. Lurk­ing there was Thierry Henry. The worst thing we did was let the ball bounce in the box. We should’ve just headed it clear — some­where, any­where.

Any­how, the ball fell across Henry and bang, straight away, the arm goes out to con­trol it. Only for a split-sec­ond but it was bla­tant. I was so close to it that I could even see how the ball be­ing touched by Henry had changed the spin and al­tered the pat­tern on the ball. Then he tapped it again, ever so slightly, knocked it past me with his right leg and Wil­liam Gal­las poked it in.

It all hap­pened so fast but the mo­ment Henry had done it, my first thought was, ‘Get the ball for a free-kick, let’s get up their end’ but as I looked up, Hans­son was point­ing to the cen­tre-cir­cle.

I just couldn’t be­lieve it. He stopped the ball with his fore­arm from go­ing out then pulled it back in with his hand! It was a dou­ble hand­ball, how had the ref missed both? If you miss the first, you must see the sec­ond one?

Im­me­di­ately I was to him. off, sprint­ing over

“HAND­BALL, HAND­BALL, REF, REF, HAND­BALL!” I was like Usain Bolt af­ter him and then the lines­man but they just wouldn’t have it.

It was the most bla­tant act of cheat­ing I’d ever seen on a foot­ball field, it was sim­ply un­be­liev­able that the goal had stood. It was my worst night­mare com­ing true. I just wouldn’t and couldn’t let it lie and the rest of the lads were the same.

I re­mem­ber Kevin Kil­bane ham­mer­ing the ref­eree, telling him he was a joke and that he’d just made the big­gest mis­take of his life. I was into him as well, giv­ing him loads. “YOU’RE A DIS­GRACE, HE CHEATED, HE’S CHEATED US.”

It was just so bla­tant. Watch the video back and you can tell straight away that Henry knew what he’d done be­cause he im­me­di­ately set off around the back of the goal cel­e­brat­ing, try­ing to buy one over the ref. It worked, didn’t it?

At the time, the Ir­ish fans in the sta­dium didn’t get a re­play on the big screen and they hadn’t re­alised what had hap­pened, so when the fi­nal whis­tle went they just cheered us but the feel­ing in­side me was des­per­ately low, the low­est I’ve ever felt in an Ire­land shirt.

Not qual­i­fy­ing for the 1998 World Cup was one thing and it was bad enough. But at least we got beaten fairly and on merit. Yet when that fi­nal whis­tle went in Paris, Ire­land had been de­nied an­other World Cup and this time we’d been mugged, robbed, call it what you will. I was shat­tered by it.

We must’ve had about 25,000 in the ground as we sloped over to them and they were all cheer­ing us — the plucky, un­lucky Ir­ish once again — but then later on, when they got word from back home over their phones, they be­gan rag­ing with the rest of us.

The fans were there in their thou­sands that night and I can re­mem­ber the noise now. I never talk about any of this stuff really but it’s only now, as the mem­o­ries come back, that I can feel the blood run­ning quicker and the anger ris­ing in me. I hope the Ire­land fans re­alise what that night meant to us. When they read this book I hope it hits home to them. Some­times, as a player, you get the im­pres­sion that the fans think you don’t care but one look in­side the Ire­land dress­ing room af­ter­wards said it all.

It was car­nage, as an­gry a dress­ing room as I’ve ever been in. Rob­bie was rag­ing, Kev was livid, Duf­fer was the same. Ev­ery­where you looked there were lads swear­ing, throw­ing and kick­ing boots and bags out of the way. Shin pads were hurled and drinks lashed against walls.

Other los­ing play-off dress­ing rooms were silent and gloomy. We were heart­bro­ken but re­signed to our fate. This night we had a real, gen­uine and jus­ti­fied anger at be­ing to­tally stitched up. “Brian, get the fuck­ing match on, now,” some­one shouted at Brian McCarthy, and when it was played back the anger just cranked up an­other notch or two. The bas­tards. Rob­bing us of a World Cup.

This was 18 months. This was our en­tire fu­tures boiled down to 90 min­utes (or 120 as it turned out) and we wanted it so much, yet we had noth­ing at all to show for it. If you get stitched up in the Pre­mier League, that’s dif­fi­cult to take, it’s not some­thing you like, but you al­ways have next week to make up for it. If you get a tough call, the luck will swing back in your favour sooner rather than later. But that night we had no chance of get­ting re­venge, no op­por­tu­nity to wait for luck to even it­self out. That made it even more dev­as­tat­ing. It had been do or die — and we’d been killed by the ref.

The Trap was go­ing nuts along with the rest of us, half in Ital­ian, half in bro­ken English: “It has been a fuck­ing mur­der.”

Straight af­ter the match, Henry had gone and sat next to Dun­ney on the pitch, like they were best mates. Henry ad­mit­ted that he’d cheated but added, “I didn’t mean it.” OK Thierry, that’s fine then mate, that makes it all ok — what you drink­ing?

I reckon the rea­son he went and sat down with one of our lads was be­cause he was feel­ing guilty. It’s a good job he picked Dun­ney to sit with — he is a lovely, calm in­di­vid­ual. There’s a fair few in that team who would’ve told Mr Henry where he could shove his apol­ogy.

It had been do or die — and we’d been killed by the ref

Thierry Henry sits with Richard Dunne af­ter his hand­ball helped France to a play-off win in 2009

is pub­lished by Trin­ity Mir­ror Sport Me­dia. It is on sale from this Thurs­day. Shay will be sign­ing copies of the book on Saturday next at noon in Dublin, at the Ea­son store on O’Con­nell St. He will also be in the Ea­son store in Let­terkenny on Sun­day at 1pm; Dubray, Shop St Gal­way on Novem­ber 11 at 11am; O’Ma­hony’s Book­shop, O’Con­nell St, Lim­er­ick on Novem­ber 11 at 3pm; and the Ea­son store on Done­gall Place, Belfast on De­cem­ber 3 at 1.30pm.

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