John, don't fall into Suarez trap… just say sorry
22:35 GMT, 27 September 2012
22:35 GMT, 27 September 2012
So, as expected, John Terry did not successfully call heads eight times in a row and has been found guilty of using racially aggravated language by the Football Association.
He now has two choices. He can say sorry, try to move on and hope that others will let him; or he pick at this like a festering sore until it risks poisoning his entire system. This is known as the Luis Suarez option.
Decision time: John Terry made a terrible misjudgement
Correctly calling heads eight times straight carries the same probability as getting off an FA charge, and Terry may well go to his grave protesting his innocence in this matter.
He may believe, falsely, that he is the only victim here and that the body bringing the action against him is hopelessly compromised on a variety of levels. He will consider the not guilty judgement of the Chief Magistrate of Westminster to supersede any FA verdict. None of that matters now.
Throughout, Terry has made his point. What matters from here is that he admits that the events on October 23, 2011, should be nobody's idea of an acceptable exchange in civilised modern society, and apologises. Whatever his explanation, to end up shouting those three words down a football pitch at another human being is a terrible misjudgement.
By at least admitting as much, by acknowledging he was wrong and would not make the same mistake again, the first step to rehabilitation takes place. Liverpool learned this the hard way over Suarez. There is no textbook governing what Terry should do next; but there is certainly one that teaches what he shouldn't do.
Toxic: Liverpool handled Luis Suarez controversy badly
On January 3 this year, Liverpool
announced they would not appeal against Suarez's eight-match FA ban for
racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United, yet did so in such
an aggressive and clumsy way that it made their position 10 times worse.
'I will carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn't done anything wrong,' said Suarez, in the most toxically memorable passage. The rest of the statement attacked the FA, its process and Evra, the wronged party. There was no contrition.
By then, the story had already made the newspapers on John Henry's side of the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, the controversy merely grew from there with Liverpool's reputation suffering considerable further damage. So that statement becomes the template: of everything Terry must not do.
He wishes to see the full statement explaining the FA panel's decision, before deciding whether to appeal, and this is his right. Clearly, there will be passages that can be picked apart with legal argument, just as there were in the Suarez judgement.
Terry could appeal on the grounds that article 6.8 of the FA Rules and Regulations suggests his case should not even have been brought, once he was found not guilty in Westminster Magistrates Court. That was his strongest argument legally, and it was ignored. Terry may now be advised that a higher court, perhaps the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, would take a more sympathetic view.
Yet what if it did What would then be proved Terry's detractors will continue to believe he got off on a technicality and was fortunate, his supporters – the vast number at Stamford Bridge, certainly – that he has been the subject of an FA power play. The battle lines have been drawn for some while now. Nothing that happens in any court from here will change those perceptions.
Terry is a man who divides opinion and this verdict will not alter that. There will be those who feel he has been unfairly pursued, others who think he has been treated lightly in comparison to Suarez (the size of his fine seems to be a reflection of his weekly salary, rather than a technical judgement).
The fans who regard him as leader and legend will be unmoved by the full verdict, however damning, those who despise him will not soften even if he were to be vindicated in a remote appeal court in six months' time. He will be called names and taunted by opposition fans, but he has lived with that for most of his career anyway.
Nothing much has changed. Any healing process will not be served by a fresh round of legal argument.
It would help if the FA tied such punishments to some form of re-education, rather than turning every offence into a financial bonanza. That way Terry might understand why using the words 'f****** black ****' in any context is unacceptable, rather than just writing a cheque to absolve his sins. Donating the 220,000 fine to a charity of Anton Ferdinand's choice might be a start, also.
Yet the most significant move from here is Terry's. He has paid enough lawyers, agents and image consultants to be steered in the right direction, beginning with a simple and sincere statement of regret.
He may, as his brief reaction quote makes clear in rather restrained fashion, be full of disappointment at the verdict, but he must know it could be worse. And it could most certainly get worse if he fails to heed lessons learned the hard way at Anfield.