John Terry is a more interesting and complex man than most of us think. Here is a man who – to many – embodies everything wrong with the modern footballer. The view is he is grossly overpaid, egotistical, he is a thug, he is rapacious, he is a cheat, a liar, a man-child. He believes the world, the sun and the stars revolve around him. The ultimate proof? His resignation from the England team hours before his disciplinary hearing started. How arrogant? Who does he think he is?
On the other hand, here is a footballer who a series of managers have built their empires around. Indeed, here is a man who many of the most respected managers in the game have consistently staked their reputation upon even when the rest of the world looks on aghast.
For all his troubles in the past – the ”affair” with Veronica Perroncel (an affair both have always denied and which, I believe, the various newspapers have published some level of retraction); his post 9/11 behaviour; his parking in a disabled bay; his not guilty after being charged with assault and affray; charging for private tours around Chelsea’s training ground; touting his FA box at Wembley - he has managed to walk on smiling and picking up the occasional trophy. He has generally been cheered on by adoring fans and supported by managers like Capello, Mourinho, Grant and Ancelotti.
The latest matter of controversy is the biggest and the one that won’t go away. It might be the thing we remember him for – like Baggio’s penalty, like Zidane’s headbutt. He has been found guilty of racial abuse by the FA. Those who hate him have their moment in the sun. What makes matters slightly more confusing for many is that a court of law has recently acquitted him.
So, what is what?
A lot of utter rot has been spoken about Terry’s trial. Many people who should know better (Krishnan Guru-Murthy, I’m looking at you) have talked bilge. Terry has consistently plugged the ”I was found not guilty in a court of law” line as if to pour scorn on any potential FA finding. Other people talk about ”contradictory verdicts”. This is nonsense. There is no contradiction between the verdicts because the FA and the court applied different standards of proof.
The criminal standard still uses the ”beyond reasonable doubt”. The Judicial Studies Board says that juries might be assisted by being told to convict on this standard they must be persuaded ”so that you are sure”.
The Civil standard – and the one used in the FA hearing – is ”the balance of probabilities”. If you want to sum this standard up you may say this is ”more likely than not”.
You don’t need to be a lawyer to see there is a difference between those two standards.
Indeed, Mr Terry gives us a perfect example to show the difference. Imagine Terry is alleged to attack a bouncer. It is perfectly possible he would be found not guilty because of ”reasonable doubt”. The bouncer, however, could successfully sue in tort for assault because the standard there is ”more likely than not”. (Ed: When I wrote this I had hoped to quote a Twitterer who originally used similar – though not exactly the same – analogy. I’m glad having researched it that it was Love And Garbage – I’d absolutely recommend following him).
This isn’t always and forever about football. Consider Ian Tomlinson, the man who died after an incident during the G20 demonstrations. PC Simon Harwood was cleared of manslaughter in July but was sacked for gross misconduct in September. Harwood was acquitted beyond reasonable doubt. When faced with the balance of probabilities at a police disciplinary procedure, he was found guilty and sacked. Racism is football is very serious. It is not as serious as the death of an innocent man at the hands of an officer of the state and I do not wish to claim it is. I hope, however, you see the point that what people seem to believe has only ever happened to Terry is relatively commonplace.
Moreover, it is clear Terry’s successful defence in the criminal proceedings (i.e. admitting that he did say the words alleged but was repeating those words) meant proof on the civil standard (i.e. the FA hearing) was almost inevitable.
But what about Luis Suarez?
It is always troubling when people complain about the disparity of sentences handed out. Cases are very rarely the same and, therefore, comparing Suarez’s sentence with Terry’s is always doomed to failure (and as the Terry report hasn’t been released it is difficult to comment either way).
David Davies said the Suarez case was ”the most complex they’ve (the FA) ever heard”. Even so, it is perfectly plausible that they believed Suarez’s behaviour was worse than Terry’s. Hence the difference in sentencing. Indeed, what we do know so far is that the FA seem to be of the opinion that (a) ever referring to someone’s colour or ethnicity is problematic – even if it is repeating the words (b) the number of times an individual says a certain word or words. To use a criminal example: sentences for assault differ from case to case because we acknowledge that some assaults are worse than others.
Suarez clearly is important here though. The FA could very easily have said that they didn’t want to put Terry in front of a discipline hearing. That they would accept the word of the court. The problem for them was that Luis Suarez had, earlier in the year, had a lengthy and very public ban and had been held to the standard of balance of probabilities. Liverpool fans, and many others, were unlikely to let this lie and the FA had to be, and seen to be, consistent. The FA had to act – and, admittedly, not just because of Luis Suarez. It is highly possible that had Suarez found himself in a court of law that he too would have been found not guilty.
What is the Football Association?
It is the governing body of English football. It is responsible for all aspects of the game at the amateur and professional levels. It has a responsibility to look into such matters and has a responsibility to investigate allegations of racist abuse.
Last year, a player in its league was accused of racially abusing a fellow player. It just so happened that the player accused was the captain of the England football team. Do people really think that the governing body of the game shouldn’t consider this matter – even if a magistrate has already considered it? Imagine, for instance, a doctor who was up in court on a criminal charge and found not guilty. Would we expect the General Medical Council not to even consider it? For the FA not to act would have sent out a terrible message and would have been negligent in the extreme.
One pertinent – and associated – question is why the England manager was allowed to pick John Terry for the Euros this summer? When John Terry was awaiting trial for allegedly assaulting a bouncer he was not allowed to be selected for England duty. I believe that other players who have found themselves in that situation have not been selected (although cannot recall if Gerrard was called up whilst awaiting trial). If Terry wasn’t allowed to be selected all those years ago, why was he allowed to be selected this summer? Was there a policy change on this matter? If so, when? Or was it simple expediency?
We await the publication of the report from the FA Independent Panel. We await to see whether Terry will appeal (I cannot see how he cannot appeal given the tenor and tone of his ). For what it is worth, I do not believe John Terry is a racist. Yes, there are the rumours about him abusing Ledley King (although I have never been able to find any substantive evidence so we must – absolutely must -assume his innocence) and there is this case which is not quite as simple as many are making it. It is one of life’s sadnesses that sometimes people who aren’t racists say racist things and sometimes racists keep their mouths shut. For many, however, this will be the way that they can crucify a person – and a player – they never liked.
That isn’t to say I hold any great affection for him. I don’t think I’d particularly like him. I don’t want to go to the pub with him. I doubt we have much in common bar, I suppose, an affection for dressing up in football kit whilst others are winning trophies. Whether I like, or feel I would like, the man is utterly irrelevant.
The Prism of Bias
The issue, of course, is that football doesn’t do subtlety and it rarely does understanding nuance. Every decision is viewed through the prism of bias and scrutinised endlessly.
Liverpool fans point to Suarez and say that he was unfairly treated compared to Terry. Manchester United fans point to Rio Ferdinand and say that he got a massively lengthy ban for missing a drugs test (which, I believe, he subsequently passed). They too will point out that the FA lobbied, recently, for Rooney to have a disciplinary action reduced because it benefited the England team. Chelsea fans point at Terry and say he has just been acquitted in a court of law – isn’t that enough. All will believe they are right. All will find justifications to make their case and find conspiracy theories against them.
We hear, from all sides, half-truths, interpretation or misdirection. We compare two cases that aren’t similar and decide that they add up to conspiracy. We should remember that no two cases are the same and we should rush from the temptation to simplify the complex and rush even further from the temptation to look through our tinted spectacles.
I’ve written before that Joe Cole and Michael Owen are the interesting ones of the golden generation but maybe John Terry really is. Most fans outwith Stamford Bridge view him as utterly repugnant. The fans within it see him as a captain, leader, legend. Many shake their heads as seasoned managers fawn… but we don’t ask why they do? What do some of the greatest managers in the game see in this man?