Last Monday marked ten years since that dreadful night in Paris. The night that will never be forgotten as long as the nightmare is passed down from generation to generation. In recent years Ireland have struggled to reach the World Cup and to think that the one campaign that we deserved to qualify from was snatched away from us is gut wrenching. I will never forget the pure sick feeling of injustice that night and going to bed gutted that we would miss the worldwide spectacle the following Summer.
Technology in the sport has come a long way since that fateful night, and if occurrences like that handball were to happen today, it would not evade the sharp eye of the video analyst referee. Ireland have not been the only side that have suffered at the hands of referee blunders. Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup that was not given despite crossing the line was a fatal mistake by the referee as that would have tied the game at 2-2, after Matthew Upson pulled a goal back for the Three Lions only minutes earlier. It was this controversy that lead to the introduction of goal line technology for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The introduction of VAR to the English Premier League has made an incredible difference be it for better or worse. Although some argue that it slows down the game, and that every decision ends up being passed to the video assistant, it is vital that the right calls are made. As Irish football fans, we never want to see anyone endure the pain we did a decade ago. In days gone by, if a goal was scored, the scorer would wheel away in celebration while the fans dance in wonderland. Now, there is almost the feeling that the scorer must look to the linesman, and to the ref and to the big screen and wait to hear their verdict before they can really enjoy their goal.
On a personal note, I think some of the times VAR is called into action kills the excitement for both the players and the fans. International football could certainly have benefitted from the video referee over the years, particularly in the high-stake games. Probably the most well known act of deception on the field of play was the ‘Hand of God’ successfully performed by arguably the greatest player that ever lived, Maradona. If only VAR had been in use at the time, Maradona could well have been handed his marching orders. It was England who once again drew the short straw and were on the receiving end of another piece of trickery. Even in more recent times, in the World Cup Qualifiers Play-off between Northern Ireland and Switzerland, Switzerland were incorrectly awarded a penalty when the referee said Corry Evans blocked a shot with his hand. This penalty was the deciding factor in Switzerland progressing to the 2018 World Cup and The North returning home with nothing to show for their incredible efforts.
With Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking last week, its hard to believe that only five months ago, his Spurs side were in the Champions League Final. On their route to the final, they had a nervy encounter with VAR in their controversial quarter final meeting with Manchester City. They were 4-4 on aggregate with City in the dying minutes and set to progress on away goals. Raheem Sterling thought he had clinched the victory for city with a goal in stoppage time, only for VAR to rule it out, claiming Sergio Aguero was offside in the build-up. This call came only minutes after Fernando Llorente’s goal for Spurs was argued by the Man City players to have hit Llorente’s elbow before bouncing off his hip and into the net. VAR waved away the frantic claims of the City players stating that the angle he saw gave him no reason to change his mind. In the other quarter final tie between Ajax and Real Madrid, their were two controversial decisions made. In the first leg, Ajax scored in a goalmouth scramble only for VAR to rule it out saying a foul was committed by Dusan Tadic on Thibaut Courtois. In the second leg, Tadic put another goal past Courtois but the goal was reviewed after claims that the ball had gone out of play in the build up to the goal. Although it did appear that the ball went out of play, the goal still stood. It is these kinds of decisions that question the integrity or consistency of VAR. at the end of the day though, it all comes down the man in the middle and what he says rules. Since VAR has come into use, it has created a huge argument between pundits and fans. It gets quite tedious hearing that this goal should have been disallowed, and that goal should not have been given. It leads people to question goals that do not really need to be questioned. While I support the right decisions being made in the beautiful game, I feel that it has ruined the flow of the games and the enjoyment of the fans. It is part of the reason for my loss of interest in the English Premier League.
For many years, football games were played all over the world without any sort of video analyst and fair enough there were some questionable decisions made, but people had accepted that as part of the game and everybody would feel hard done by at times. Players would argue their case with the referee, but their efforts would be in vain. Now if a player protests, VAR will be called in, and players will always protest for the good of their team meaning pleading to the ref multiple times in each half, which slows the game and dampens the excitement of the action. Obviously, you can’t argue with the right decision being made, but it is certainly being used too freely and frequently now. To finish off, I have included a selection of reactions and memories of the ‘Henry Incident’ just to mark the occasion, hopefully one we will never see the likes of again.
Ciaran Dineen, University Express, Editor in Chief: I remember feeling disappointed that a player as great as Henry would do that, but after that thinking how if it was me and for my country, I’d have done it too. Actually, the thing I remember most is Sepp Blatter laughing at us and Evra saying he’d rematch us on his playstation.
Sam Curtin: University Express, Deputy Sports Editor: it still gives me shivers down my spine. I remember just being in stunned silence and I remember the next day actually our teacher got us to re-enact the incident and I was Henry.
Cailean Coffey, University Express, 2018 Editor in Chief: I’d never, in my young life, felt such a sense of injustice in all my time on this green earth. Were my eyes deceiving me? Had no one seen what I’d seen? Was the referee, indeed, blind as I had so often protested? At 12 years old I thought the world was fair. I thought the world was just, moral, equal. I had heard stories, sure, of the unending corruption at the hands of FIFA, but I never thought it would ever be this blatant. Robbie Keane had given us a sniff of hope in the first half, only for it to be ripped from our fingertips by the Gods of wrath and anger. Not only was I an Ireland fan, watching his favourite players crumple into despondency come the final whistle, but I was an Arsenal fan, and one who had hailed Henry as a hero, an icon, a legend, he who could do no wrong, until now. Watching Henry to volleyball it onto the oncoming forehead of former Arsenal Captain, William Gallas, it was as though my first love had betrayed me. Such innocences, in the eyes of greed, once lost could never be returned. A jersey, never to be worn again. You let me down Thierry, how could you!
Cian McGrath, University Express, Byline Editor: the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign was the first one that I’ve ever truly invested in with Ireland. I was too young when Staunton was in charge, but I can remember watching the whole 2010 run, and falling in love with the Irish National Team. I’d been at the 2-2 draw with Italy in Croker, and have been to many games since. I’m happy to say that there has certainly been more good days than bad with the Boys in green, but I still despise Thierry Henry. It was probably the first time in my life that I’d realised that somethings just weren’t fair and nothing could be done about it. 11 year old me just stormed off to bed swearing that he’d never watch a game of ball again. Luckily that’s not the case, and the Irish National Team remain close to my heart, even if they drive me spare!
Jonathan Hanley, University Express, Webmaster: I was absolutely disgusted by it, and it really did put me off international football for a few years.