FIFA paid Irish “bribe” to drop legal case after Thierry Henry ‘Hand of Gaul’ incident

Henry's goal started off a bizarre chain of eventsPhoto: Kari Heistad

Henry’s goal started off a bizarre chain of events
Photo: Kari Heistad

An extraordinary revelation has come from the Irish Republic this morning.

John Delaney chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has claimed that FIFA paid them off, as the FAI contemplated a legal claim over a refereeing decision.

In November 2009, France’s Thierry Henry had scored a key goal in Paris but many in Ireland thought the referee should have disallowed it for a handball.

While the laws of the game accept that the referee’s decision is final except for cases of mistaken identity, the FAI and supporters went into overdrive calling for replays amongst other things.

One of those other things was bizarrely a legal case against FIFA for the referee’s call.

Delaney said the payment, reported to be $5.5m, was made so the FAI would not pursue legal action.

He told the Irish state broadcaster RTE:

“We felt we had a legal case against FIFA because of how the World Cup play-off hadn’t worked out for us with the Henry handball.

“Also the way [Sepp] Blatter behaved, if you remember on stage, having a snigger and having a laugh at us. That day when I went in, and I told him how I felt about him, there were some expletives used and we came to an agreement.

“That was a Thursday and on Monday the agreement was all signed and all done. It’s a very good agreement for the FAI and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI, but I’m bound by confidentiality for naming the figure.”

Delaney did not mention the figure in answer to reporter’s question but seemed to confirm his guess:

“You’ve put a figure out there and fair play to you. It was a payment to the association to not proceed with a legal case.

“In there they signed a confidentiality agreement where I can’t talk about the amount involved. You used a figure there, well done to you, but it was a very good and legitimate deal for the FAI.”

The FAI found a form of words to convince themselves it wasn’t a bribe according to the BBC website:

“Ireland saw it as an ‘out of court settlement’ because they had begun the legal process, rather than a bribe.”

Henry’s goal came in a play-off game in Paris which was tied 1-1 extra time.

The goal gave the French a 2-1 lead with 22 minutes still to play. The FAI lodged a formal complaint over Swedish referee Martin Hansson’s decision to allow the goal and ignore the handball.

The then assistant manager of the Republic Liam Brady started the calls for a replay, while acknowledging that the referee’s decision is final. There was much precedent against it.


The 'Hand of Gaul'. Henry controls the ball with his hand prior to scoring.

The ‘Hand of Gaul’. Henry controls the ball with his hand prior to scoring.


Despite being eliminated from the 1986 World Cup by Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God”, England never asked for a replay. Neither did the Germans after an England goal which did not cross the line was awarded by a Soviet linesman, who later admitted he bore a grudge against the Germans having fought at the Battle of Stalingrad.

The list of countries denied glory after a wrong refereeing call may be far longer than that.

While calmer voices maintained that the rules of the game prevented it and it would lead to chaos if every wronged party tried this, the clamour continued.

But the Irish persisted and the argument for a replay took on a life of its own.

After FIFA withstood the demands, the FAI took to pressuring the French Football Federation into offering one.  Few in Ireland dared to speak up although former Ireland captain Roy Keane pointed out that Ireland had benefited from a poor decision to award a penalty in an earlier qualifier against Georgia, and the FAI hadn’t offered a replay to the Georgians:

“Ireland had their chances in the two games (against France), and they never took them. But it’s the usual FAI reaction – ‘we’ve been robbed, the honesty of the game…’

“There was one match against Georgia where Ireland got a penalty and it was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen which changed the whole course of the game.

“I don’t remember the FAI after the game saying we should give them a replay.”

Ireland won the game 2-1.

The FAI’s demands became even bizarrer. They then apparently privately demanded the South Africa World Cup be revamped to extend it to 33 teams and they be allowed to automatically qualify.

Although the request was ridiculous, Blatter’s manner of making it public and rejecting it irked many:

“They have asked, very humbly ‘Can’t we be team No33 at the World Cup?’ They have asked for that, really,” he had said at the time in a tone many found dismissive.

Many thought the Irish were looking for future favours like better seeding or high profile money spinning friendlies to be brought to Dublin as a pay-off but there was never any proof that they were using the natural sympathy arising from the incident for personal benefit.

Until today.


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