Football is a sport; it is not real life. For sport to be meaningful and fulfil certain needs that human beings have, it needs to have rules. If it didn’t have rules, it would be meaningless. A bit like real life often is.
The problem is that there are twenty two players and one referee and if the players all abandon the rules at the same time he couldn’t cope – he’d be overrun by the chaos. So most of the players play by the rules because if they didn’t, the game would become chaotic. And meaningless. Neither the players nor the spectators would get anything out it.
On the pitch there’s an implied, but fairly strict, rule: ‘the only way to get anything out of this is to play by the rules’ and, generally, this rule is observed - there is a taboo against breaking it.
When the rule is broken and it affects the result in a significant way, there is outrage. Cheating in ‘real life’ is ubiquitous which is why we turn to sport for a return to the ‘fairness’ that we all crave but can’t get in the real world.
That’s the whole point of ‘sport’. It represents the justice that we cannot get in reality.
The valued human virtues of talent, skill, endeavour, wisdom and courage are all necessary components of victory in a football match. If a team of eleven men can so bond together and employ these virtues in an heroic fashion, they can beat anyone. They can become godlike. That’s why we watch.
Cheating is the absolute antithesis of phenomenon. Which is why we hate it.
Henry diminished himself and his country last night. France’s participation in the World Cup has now become meaningless. They could go ahead and win it and the only consequence would be that they would be reviled for it. But the Irish were not diminished by their defeat – they were ennobled. They displayed and employed all the virtues and were cheated of their deserts. And we love them for it. They were the real winners.