Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Falls the Shadow 2: Henry’s handball

Terrific lot of fuss about Thierry Henry’s handball, wasn’t there? The interesting thing for me was the fact that he was actually able to handle it so quickly and so skilfully.

There are a thousand incidents of cheating in any football match, but there are also different categories of cheating. This is tied to the strange internal moralities of sport, but also to what we might call, until I can think of something better, a sport’s ‘frame of reference.’

If you’ve played football you’ll know that deliberate handballs are very rare. Players who will happily cheat in other ways – such as shirt-pulling or kicking a tricky little bastard’s legs away – won’t dream of handballing. This is because when playing football your whole frame of reference is based on touching the ball with any part of your body except your hand. It’s actually very difficult to commit a handball, because your instincts are trained not to. Whereas shirt-pulling and kicking legs are just natural extensions of the physical side of the game, handball goes against the very Platonic (!) ‘footballiness’ of football.

Or to put it another way, kicking someone is a hot foul – an extension of passion and aggression - whereas handballing is a cold foul, a professional one.

Perhaps this is why there was so much fuss, and why we still resent Maradona’s Hand of God incident. Had Henry or Maradona scored critical goals by cheating in more ‘normal’ ways, such as pushing a defender in the back to win the ball, we’d just let it go.

In the split second between the decision and the action falls the shadow. Henry mastered that split second for dark and dastardly purposes. This is cold and clever and uncanny - and we don’t like it.


Mike Beversluis said...

Yep. Same thing in baseball, where the scale goes from George Brett & his pine tar on the light side, to Gaylord Perry and his spitballs in the middle, to Albert Bell and his corked bat, to Shoeless Joe Jackson and his field of dreams. Biggest problem over here right now, though, are the umps, who call wildly different strike zones for/against different players.

Anonymous said...

The NHL seems to be suffering from a surfeit of injuries of late. Of particular concern is the rise in truly frightening head shots like this one, which cause very serious injury (mainly concussions) and can knock a player out for weeks and even sometimes for life. Talk shows debate endlessly about it and everyone admits something has to be done, but no one can agree on what and serious rule changes always seem to be defeated by the shibboleth (mainly from players and owners) that "hitting is part of the game". A player who makes a hit like this may be suspended for a few games (or maybe not), but returns fully rehabilitated.

OTOH, spearing a player with a stick (painful, but not usually too damaging) is very rare and earns the perp instant universal contempt and the epithet "Chicken Swede". It's something good old Canadian boys just don't do.

worm said...

are those real things you listed there mike or did you just make them up? either way they seem excellent, especially Gaylord and his spitballs

Brit said...

I like Shoeless Joe Jackson and his field of dreams.

If I understood any of Mike's comment, I would definitely agree with it.

malty said...

The Leonardo of dirty play was Jack Charlton, people would travel for miles to see his invisible barge, made Vinnie seem like a fairy, which, come to think of it.. Understandable when you see his birthplace, even the wimmen hewed coal.
Jack had eyes in the back of his head, knew when the ref turned away, in went the laddo, down went the forward, poetry in motion.
The combination of wor Jack and Don Revie took Leeds to dizzying height, unlike todays plummeted depths.
Them was the days, studs like crampon points, ball weighed the same as a small car and the shorts, well the burdz weren't turned on.
Be that as it may, the most violent sport I have ever witnessed was my sons school rugby team, every game filled up Newcastle's three A&E departments, that was just the fathers. Rarely did a game go more than ten minutes before fur and feather started flying, I would watch from the safety of the car.
Agree with you regarding handballs Brit, sneaky, kind of cravatish.

The Old Batsman said...

Brit, wondered, in the light of the post, what you thought of Henry's comments about people watching the footage 'in slow motion' because the very fact it was slowed down made the handball look deliberate when in fact it was instinctive [according to him, that is]. It opens up a whole other area. Can slow motion footage *lie*??

Brit said...

Slow motion can definitely lie, OB, as it often makes late tackles look malicious when in fact they are just mistimed.

But that defence by Henry is fascinating. Effectively he's saying: it wasn't me, it was the Shadow...

Anonymous said...

His commiserating with the team after the game oozed slime. As an Irishman I think a suitable revenge would be for them to go on and win the world cup.


Hey Skipper said...

[Mike:] are those real things you listed there mike or did you just make them up?

Speaking for MB, SFAIK, they are real.

Anonymous said...

That was a bit harsh of me(@10:50) so to come at it from a philosophical angle as suggested by 'falls the shadow' Libet's experiments on decision making (Benjamin Libet/Wikipedia) are interesting in that they show or purport to show that we have made our minds up at an unconscious level significantly earlier than we imagine. When one thinks of the conditioning that a man like Henry who has known nothing but soccer from his boyhood who has absorbed like the pungency of the boot room the values of the professional game, then I surmise the conflict between the deep laid rules of winning and not touching the ball may have bemused. So he went the wrong way. It's a soul discovery event. Been there, done that, besmirched the shirt.

Brit said...

I think you have the nub of it there, Michael. Add also the pressure of the nation.