Who would want their children to turn out like a Ferdinand or Terry
23:08 GMT, 14 July 2012
23:08 GMT, 14 July 2012
The post-match interview is a ritual
of modern football. It features a reluctant player, a docile inquisitor
and a parade of weary platitudes. The match is reviewed through a
rose-tinted lens; head-butts become ‘handbags’, vile insults are reduced
to ‘banter’, history is rewritten. At the close of this exchange, the
player is thanked for his candour and awarded a bottle of champagne.
Recently, I asked a television sports
executive why footballers are let off so lightly, why they are not posed
the kind of searching questions which other public figures expect to
face. He acknowledged that they get an easy ride but said: ‘If we
started embarrassing them, they wouldn’t agree to come on. Their image
is very important to them, you know.’
After the events of the past week, I’d
say they can stop worrying about that image because it is now hanging
in shreds from the rafters of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. We never
really swallowed the insulting fiction that the game is played between
old chums, who might differ over the odd decision yet revert to
back-slapping bonhomie at the final whistle. But we now discover that
the reality is even uglier.
Gutter abuse: The revelations at Westminster Magistrates' Court were not pretty
Thanks to John Terry, Anton Ferdinand
and their various associates, we know that an alarming number of
professional footballers inhabit a world in which gutter abuse is
routinely employed as a tactic and the F-word is set aside only when the
C-word springs to the tongue, and arrogant entitlement is a way of life
while dignity is a distant stranger. All of these things we had
suspected, yet it was strangely depressing to have those suspicions
vindicated in court.
Already the legal implications have
been scrupulously dissected, by eminent lawyers as well as learned
pundits who have watched an entire box-set of Rumpole Of The Bailey. The
Crown Prosecution Service have been roundly condemned for proceeding
against Terry, although this would seem to be refuted by the
magistrate’s observation that ‘it is clear that the prosecution has
brought a strong case’.
But I know little of these affairs and
if I remain confused by Terry’s stated reason for uttering those
appalling words — that he was quizzically repeating something he thought
that Ferdinand had said — then better minds than mine will supply
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No matter. Terry has been found not
guilty of the offence and his rackety reputation has avoided a further,
possibly fatal, blow. The game itself could not make a similar claim.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the
Professional Footballers’ Association, correctly believes that ‘the
searchlight’ is shining on football and footballers. ‘The players are
role models, whether they like it or not, and they must behave
accordingly,’ he says.
He may well have had in mind
Ferdinand’s extraordinary description of the crucial altercation: ‘He
called me a c*** and I called him a c*** back and he gave me a gesture
as if to say my breath smelled. I said to him: “How can you call me a
c*** You s*****d your team mate’s missus, you’re a c***”.’
When football’s apologists complain
that the national sport is wickedly misrepresented, they may care to
consider that piece of reportage.
In truth, the whole affair yielded
some memorable vignettes. There was, for instance, the character
reference which Terry received from none other than Jose Mourinho; the
shameless one endorsing the legally blameless one. It was the kind of
nugget which renders satire redundant. And there was Ashley Cole’s cameo
role in the witness box: ‘Am I supposed to laugh at that …
Personally, I don’t think I should be sitting here.’ And there was
Terry’s own, unwitting soliloquy: ‘Please, please, please, please,’
which will offer material for crowd chanting when the new season
Say please: John Terry was sniggered at in court
Yet mention of chanting crowds serves to remind us of football’s toleration of the intolerable. In the course of his cross-examination, Terry testified that a section of Liverpool fans sang an obscene song about his mother, yet this piece of moronic offensiveness passed unremarked, just another part of the match-day experience.
At Chelsea’s own Stamford Bridge, there are frequent, cretinous eruptions of ‘Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are’. And at Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger regularly receives the kind of squalid abuse which ought to result in criminal prosecution.
I recall Harry Redknapp enduring a disgraceful afternoon at Villa Park. Redknapp is not an unworldly man but later he spoke with genuine anguish and disgust at what players and managers are required to endure from malevolent fools. ‘And some of them have their children with them,’ he said. ‘Young kids, watching their fathers make those evil gestures and scream those words. If they did it in the street, they’d be arrested. Why should football grounds be different’
Redknapp was right and the Terry-Ferdinand case has demonstrated the depths to which the game has sunk.
In the hot seat Anton Ferdinand leaves the court after giving evidence on Monday
The Football Association are to conduct an inquiry to establish what action can be taken in the wake of the trial. The noises-off are not entirely encouraging; why, it has actually been suggested that Terry should be restored as captain of England, a role which he should never have been given and which he has deservedly lost on two occasions. But, frivolous diversions aside, there is a crying need for an intelligent reassessment of the disturbing standards which currently prevail in our national sport.
The FA are apparently considering charging both men with bringing the game into disrepute. Some would say that it is impossible to impugn something so patently disreputable. But it would at least represent an awareness of the problem. They could then go on to consider more fundamental questions, some of which might be occupying concerned fathers of young sons.
After reading those shaming accounts from the magistrates’ court last week, do responsible parents want their family to become involved in this game Are they willing to expose them to the jarring ugliness they will encounter in grounds across the nation Could they seriously propose some of these foul-mouthed louts as role models In short, would they risk their children turning out like Anton Ferdinand or John Terry
These are serious questions. If the game we have loved since childhood is to retain even a smattering of its self-respect, they demand urgent answers.
So it'll be 'Arise, Sir Bradley'
After a few attempts to cover the Tour de France, I came to a couple of conclusions.
The first was that this is the most demanding athletic test in the whole world of sport.
The second was that ultimate victory is reserved for the traditional cycling nations and that the idea of a British winner is merely a pipedream.
Hitting the heights: Bradley Wiggins (right)
So how to account for the presence of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at the head of the pack Since I am unqualified to explain, I shall simply celebrate a glorious achievement.
And if either man should deliver that triumph, then whatever happens at London 2012, the victor will sweep up every end-of-year sports award.
And he will deserve to.
There are a good many Australian fast bowlers who would take serious offence were you to describe them as civilised, courteous and agreeable. Especially if they were blindingly quick and relentlessly aggressive.
But Brett Lee is the exception.
Formidable: Brett Lee claimed 310 wickets in 76 tests and 380 in one-day cricket
In 76 Tests, he hurt a lot of batsmen, shattered a lot of reputations and made a whole lot of friends.
The most honourable of opponents, he will take our respectful good wishes into his retirement from international cricket.