Wednesday 24 May 2017

Chelsea's philosophers of the absurd keep coming back for more

Those who believe they have right on their side will have been cheered by the almost karmic retribution administered to Ashley Cole last week. It may not have been sequential but karma is funny like that.

No sooner had Cole's World Cup been put in jeopardy through injury than he was having to deal with stories that he had sent "racy" picture messages to a woman other than his wife.

There was, of course, a perfectly reasonable explanation for the pictures. Cole provided this, laced with some of his characteristic humour, the humour last seen when he shrieked "they're taking the piss" after Arsenal offered him 50 grand a week instead of his preferred 55.

Cole explained that, through bad luck and forgetfulness, a phone that had once been his had ended up in the hands of a friend of a friend who couldn't believe his luck when he found naked pictures of Ashley Cole on the phone and then used them to woo a page three model.

In an unfortunate coincidence, the pictures of Ashley were taken in the England team hotel and the model received them the night before England played Andorra at Wembley.

"I can't believe I gave a phone away that still had stuff in its memory. I thought I'd deleted it. It seems I was wrong as someone has used it to pretend to be me. I would laugh if my foot didn't hurt so much."

There was, presumably, a highly paid adviser behind this egregious statement which may be the only thing that would engender some sympathy for Ashley.

Of course his foot hurts bad so Fabio Capello may not have to enter the moral maze this time but, having dealt so swiftly with John Terry, there will be calls for him to act as expeditiously if there has been any alleged betrayal of England's darling Cheryl Cole.

Unlike John Terry, Cole has not upset the fabric of the team and he was not captain, but upsetting the woman -- or even having some explaining to do -- whom England now adores is surely worthy of some condemnation.

These are tricky times for those who hold to the idea that sport reveals character. If it does, how do we explain Maradona? They have always used Camus's line 'All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football' as their mantra. Camus never said what exactly he had come to understand about morality and obligations from football, he just said he knew about it thanks to football. He wouldn't be Camus without having a deep strain of ambivalence, especially about morality and obligations.

Capello would have been better off being ambivalent too. He dealt with the Terry matter in 12 minutes, allowing an orgiastic outburst of praise in the media for his machismo. But the media is obsessive compulsive. Each thought is followed by a compulsive reaction and each time they give the impression that once this matter is resolved, they won't need to go through the routine again.

Capello fed their compulsion in dismissing Terry and he was not tough, but naive in thinking that would end things. The OCD will return if it is engaged with, soon it will be demanding to be heard again

Now they wonder what will be done about accommodating Terry and Wayne Bridge in the same side. It is another morality tale. Like Camus, Cole and Terry seem to be equally ambivalent on these great subjects. In fact, you could say that all they know about morality and obligations, they owe to the tabloid press. And, in their own way, the press also reveal a lot about character.

* * * * *

There is a heart-warming coda to the John Terry story: On Wednesday night, I talked to an old friend for the first time in many years. He is a Liverpool supporter but his eldest son, now seven, is growing up as a Chelsea fan.

My friend took his son to Stamford Bridge last season and something of the wonder of sport was renewed as, after an afternoon spent in silence at the game, he told his father as he walked down the King's Road that it "was the best day ever".

Of course, there is an edge to this story. The boy's hero is John Terry and since the scandal of Terry's affair with Vanessa Perroncel broke, the parents have concealed the truth about the hero from their son.

The rolling news channels were avoided, the newspapers were monitored and they sent him to school each day with some anxiety. What stories would he hear in the playground? They thought they were successful but they detected some almost imperceptible change in his feelings for Chelsea and JT.

Innocence was lost and they, maybe even more than their son, wanted it back.

They thought they were protecting him from the callous truth, or what they thought was the truth. On Wednesday night as I talked with my friend, I mentioned that I wasn't sure what exactly Terry had done wrong in this instance as Perroncel was, of course, the former partner of Wayne Bridge.

"What?" my friend exclaimed. "She wasn't his girlfriend?"

"Nope, ex-partner. The timeline is key," I informed him sententiously.

Clearly, in their understandable efforts to protect a child's innocence some pertinent facts had been overlooked.

"You're sure about this?"

"Don't take my word-- check the News of the World."

With this information my friend let out a little whoop. All was right with his world. He imagined a scene where he would now burst into the bedroom of his sleeping son, wake him up, cradle him in his arms and say, "It's all okay, son, everything is going to be okay. She was his former girlfriend . . . his former girlfriend . . . there's a timeline."

Innocence would be regained. My eyes welled up as he outlined the possibilities. It was like Jimmy Stewart finding Zuzu's petals in It's A Wonderful Life. Everything was going to be okay. Who says there are no role models anymore?

dfanning@independent.ie

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