‘It was a catastrophe for Ireland’: France handball referee says he wouldn't speak to Henry

‘It was a catastrophe for Ireland’: France handball referee says he wouldn't speak to Henry

Ten years on from the handball that knocked Ireland out of the World Cup, the referee involved says he would not speak to Thierry Henry, should they ever meet.

Swede Martin Hansson missed Henry’s handball in the build-up to the William Gallas winner which saw France through to the finals at Ireland’s expense on November 18, 2009.

Hansson now describes the night as “the worst performance of my career.”

In an interview with The Athletic, Hansson describes the abuse and death threats he received after the incident. But in the immediate aftermath of the match, he felt the officiating team had performed well.

“I really thought it was one of the best games of my career. It’s not so often, as a referee, you look forward to extra-time but, for this game, that was how I felt. I really thought I had had a good game.”

He then describes how a Fifa official told him of the crucial error and admits he “broke down completely” before an FAI official visited the officials dressing room.

“We knew what it meant for Ireland… He wanted to shake our hands. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, “of course it is a mistake but we blame the player, we don’t blame you. It’s big, big cheating from the player.’ That was unbelievably good of him.

“It was a catastrophe for Ireland. They were so close to the World Cup, and it’s such a big thing. Fantastic people, too.”

While VAR would ensure Henry’s sleight of hand could not be missed now, Hansson believes the Frenchman hasn’t endured enough scrutiny, compared with the how he suffered.

“It could never happen now. Not just because of VAR but also because, within half a year, they appointed the additional assistant referees behind the goals. It was (the Henry incident) that meant them starting that project.

“Of course, if we had the technology in place back then it would have been better for everyone. But what I would really like to ask is: where is the discussion about players cheating?

“It’s not a very big discussion, is it? If the referee makes a mistake, the television company wants to speak to the referee to ask what happened.

“Never, though, will they put a big star in front of the cameras and ask, ‘Can you please watch this screen here? You are obviously cheating, so what are you wanting to say about that, hey?’ I have never heard that question.”

The death threats Hansson endured meant his family had to temporarily leave his Swedish home.

“My sons were nine and 11 at the time. They had no idea I had been threatened. For them, I was just their father and a football referee, not the kind of person who would ever be threatened.

“I had a lot of support. Referees from all over Europe were texting me. Many more than I would ever have thought.”

Hansson now works as a UEFA observer, monitoring refereeing performances. He hasn’t met Thierry Henry since that night at Paris. If he ever does, he says: “I won’t speak with him.”

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