Glen Newey · A Brief History of Handballs
Philosophical theories of justice generally assign an important role to rectification, the putting right of past wrongs. Thierry Henry's handball in France’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland last Wednesday has offered a mass exercise in rectificatory justice, with many in the Republic calling for the game to be replayed. The Irish know what they’re talking about, having recently had to take the Lisbon Treaty referendum to a replay in order to get the right result. FIFA has spoilsportingly turned down the Irish FA’s pleas. The iniquity is blatant.
But why stop with the Henry handball? Why not rectify other instances of footballing injustice? English readers will need, in fact want, no reminding of the anguish of Maradona’s 'hand of God' goal for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup. That one should obviously be replayed. This time our boys would surely have a much better chance, now that Diego’s a recovering coke and hamburger addict and a tub of lard to boot.
And then there's the collateral damage from footballing injustice, such as England’s defeat by West Germany in the 1970 tournament. The Wessies’ winning strike always looked a bit suspect, with Gerd Müller’s leg well up. The point, though, was that Harold Wilson’s Labour government crashed to a shock defeat in the general election a mere four days later, a loss widely put down to the feel-bad factor following the game. They should rerun that election, too.
Finally, there’s possibly the biggest miscarriage of sporting justice of all time: England’s World Cup 'win' against West Germany in 1966. Not the goal they always show on the telly, but the one they never show, because it wasn’t really a goal (England’s 'third'). Yes, I know that Geoff Hurst stuck another one in the onion bag before the final whistle, but that was only because the Germans were streaming forward in a vain bid to cancel out the previous non-goal. So the 1966 final is ripe for a re-run. There is the slight snag that some players will have to be got not just out of retirement, but out of the ground. No matter. They could be replaced by cardboard cut-outs, or some of the surviving substitutes. It should be a great spectacle, as long as God doesn’t stick his oar in again.