You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Luck of the Irish?

By now, unless you're living in Osama Bin Laden's cave, you've heard about the sorry way in which Ireland went out of the World Cup qualifying at the hands of the French. Well, at the hand of one Frenchman.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an Arsenal man through and through and Thierry Henry is a legend for to Gooners as well as a fabulous player and competitor. He also apologised to the Irish and suggested a replay was the fairest option to resolve the incident (are you reading this Diego Maradona?*). It's pretty much all you can expect a footballer to do, short of checking into a halfway house and writing a tell-all book about Raymond Domenech.

Naturally, the French Football Federation (FFF) disagrees. They responded to Irish requests for a replay by giving their morning coffee particularly close attention and moving their weekly Riviera vacations up two days to take advantage of the lack of proles on the beaches.

UEFA (The European Federation) was even less helpful, greeting the Irish requests for a replay with reminders that "President Michel Platini is French and do you think he's crazy insane as well?" As of this evening, they aren't returning my phone calls on that specific detail.

So, Ireland took the remarkable step of privately asking the world body, FIFA for permission to join the World Cup as a 33rd team. That's right, they asked to expand the 32 team tournament to 33 teams.

Now, I'm incredibly sympathetic to the Irish cause here, not simply because I'm of at least some small Irish extraction (if Mum's got her story straight), nor because I spent a glorious week with the family in Ireland last June, sipping Guinness and Murphy's stout and driving the hell out of the magnificent Irish countryside. I think they were wronged in the playoff, much in the way Katie Holmes feels wronged each morning when she wakes up and realises she's no longer on Dawson's Creek, if you know what I mean.

However, asking FIFA, the world's second largest collection of officious, self-important, double-dealing bureaucrats after the UN,** for permission to add a 33rd team to their showpiece event is simply barmy.

It's barmy at one level because you couldn't expect normal sensible people to rearrange the structure of the current finals to fit in an extra team, however aggrieved.

But it's barmy on Dr. Crippen levels to privately ask a collection of thick, irresponsible clods like Sepp Blatter and company to change up the tournament and not expect them to turn about and blather about it in front of the world media, grinning like Enterainment Tonight reporters speculating about David Beckham's love life. Of course this is exactly what they did, with all the insouciance of cocktail banter.

Still, FIFA do have to give an official response, which they are now preparing. It just so happens that I've come across an early draft containing the reasons for which Ireland will be denied the mythical 33rd slot at the 2010 South Africa World Cup.***

FIFA - Fédération Internationale de Football Association

Offical Notice to:

Football Association of Ireland,
AKA Cumann Peile na hÉireann
AKA Them blokes wot lost on the chuffin 'andball1

Dear Irish Chaps,

After careful consideration of your request to be included as the 33rd team in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, including a vigorous discussion over drinks and foie gras, and a Swedish massage, we regret to inform you that there is absolutely no way we can accomodate your request, not even were you to include the customary generous donation to the FIFA executives retirement fund (See enclosed envelope and Swiss bank account number).

We realise that your federation, including the plucky Liam Brady, feel hard done by the results of the playoff with France and we know that the gift basket and Starbucks coupon can hardly make up for that. Still, we do have a tournament to run (it's funny to remember that but yes, we are in charge of the whole thing. Why just the other day, in-between press conferences and mudbaths, I was telling Sepp how strange it is that all these meetings and luxury hotel stays result in those exciting games. Then Maurice came over to give me my rub down... but I digress). Including your team in the tournament would create a dangerous precedent for the hundreds of other national federations who feel they too have been wronged in some way by international football officiating.

Still, we wanted you to be able to see our side of things. So here are the specific
reasons the request has been denied:

  • With all Europe's top mathematicians and physicists loitering over at the Large Hadron Collider, we couldn't find anyone who could work out exactly how to divide 33 teams into groups. Isn't 33 some sort of prime number or integer or some math thingy like that? Way above our pay grade.

  • Henry's handball was totally unintentional. He clearly lost his mind and thought he was his friend and compatriot Tony Parker. Could happen to anyone. Why, just the other day, General Secretary Valcke insisted he was Groucho Marx. It took an hour to scrub that greasepaint moustache off of him.

  • The hotels in South Africa are all booked. Seriously, we'd have to put you up in tents or at homes of the members of the South African delegation. They're not going to put up with us and that at the same time.

  • Given that the nation of France supplies 100% of the champagne used at FIFA functions, we're not about to piss those chaps off. There's a reason we all speak French instead of Irish over here at FIFA, and quite frankly, Guinness is just a bit heavy for our kind of parties.

  • We are seriously concerned that if we allow you in, Zinedine Zindane may come out of retirement to head butt us. The FFF has officially warned us of this possibility.

  • FIFA has recently developed a reputation for being distant and unresponsive to the needs of footballers around the world and dammit, we've worked hard for that rep. We're sure you understand.

  • Roy Keane asked us not to.


Your Chums at FIFA

1. Special English translation provided by University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and Rinkworks.

*Of course not. Hardly anyone is these days. I must add though that this answer assumes Mr. Maradona can read at all.
** And just ahead of the International Olympic Committee on numbers alone.
*** Lucky me!

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