Sunday 27 May 2018

Time for players to clean up act on pitch

It may look now like a monumental waste of time, but the John Terry saga needed to go to court as a warning to footballers that racial language should never leave their mouths, either as an insult or as "sarcastic exclamation" -- the term Terry used to justify his use of those offensive words.

Football's five-day version of 'The Jeremy Kyle Show' cast the game in a deeply ugly light. It showed its vocabulary to be depressingly small and nasty. Verbal feuding is a familiar sub-genre of what we see on the pitch.

And British players seem particularly doomed to chafe away at each other in the 10-word lexicon of the Saturday night High Street slanging match.

A conviction for Terry would have ended his England career and rendered him a pariah at Premier League grounds. Instead he bounced out of court after being declared not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, who was described by the magistrate as "brave" for pursuing the allegation.

But there is much still to dread. First, some Chelsea fans will demonise Rio Ferdinand's younger brother for taunting Terry over his affair with the former partner of Wayne Bridge, his then-Chelsea team-mate, and for seeking redress on the basis of an allegation that chief magistrate Howard Riddle rejected after a week of examination.


Taking it out on Ferdinand would be intolerable. If he believed he had been called a "f****** black c***" he was within his rights to assert that belief in court. He was already being booed by Chelsea supporters before this case made its way to Riddle and has suffered enough. For years many black footballers accepted racial disparagement as a curse they could do nothing about. With football's assistance, society has tightened its definition of illegal abuse and tried to show offenders that there will be consequences.

Rio Ferdinand's support for Anton has been such that the relationship between the two England centre-backs is surely finished. This week Rio tweeted recommendations for the films 'Liar Liar' and 'Cock and Bull', which proved again that footballers are not good at understanding the nature of criminal trials. They are not to be commented upon in this way before a sentence is announced.

Neither Ferdinand brother is likely to feel comfortable with the outcome: Rio as much as Anton, after he was left out of Roy Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad while Terry took his seat on the plane.

Straight away after yesterday's verdict Twitter featured some surprised reactions from black players who continued to be sceptical about Terry's version of events. They are required to accept the verdict, but it would be naive to think it will not stir the fears of some black footballers and fans.

In Poland and Ukraine, Terry was a noticeably chastened figure. He let Steven Gerrard captain the side without interference. He was quieter on the pitch and avoided media engagements.

His performances, though, were not affected. Weeks after missing out on Chelsea's Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich (an occasion he joined anyway when it was over, in his kit) he defended close to his highest level in England's four matches.

But the whole party came home knowing there was a storm up ahead. England's younger black players, who were not under Terry's spell, doubtless looked on silently, wondering which way it would go.

Like the rest of us they listened to a whole week of effing and jeffing in court, in which football seemed to display verbal incontinence.

The offending words, though, were uttered by Terry. He admits that. His defence was that he had used them to deny saying them in the first place.

The Chelsea captain's appearance in court thus extended a miserable sequence for his family. In June 2010 his father Edward was given a six-month suspended sentence for supplying cocaine to an undercover 'News Of The World' reporter and in March 2009 Terry's mother and mother-in-law were cautioned for shoplifting from branches of Tesco and Marks and Spencer in Weybridge, Surrey.

These episodes, and others, have exposed him to much ridicule and loathing.

To Chelsea fans he is the house gladiator. The more the outside world assails him the more they declare their love. To them, there was never any possibility that he had broken the law. He was JT the Chelsea legend and unifier of all men.

Because of the nature of the case, Terry cannot hope for absolution in the eyes of the whole public, despite his acquittal. There is work left to do.

In no circumstances -- not even "sarcastic exclamation" -- should any citizen think he can use the phrase Terry employed with impunity. Even to deny saying it in the first place, most sensible people would not throw it back at the "accuser," because they would recognise the words to be toxic, dehumanising.

Last season brought us this long court drama and an eight-match ban for Liverpool's Luis Suarez for using language against Patrice Evra that broke the laws of the game. On Twitter and elsewhere black footballers were racially abused. Euro 2012 was disfigured by racist singing and monkey chants.

There is a war on, again, against this kind of dangerous spite and prejudice. Footballers themselves can help by being a lot more careful about what they say on the pitch. They have been warned. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport