It was a predictable affair at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court this morning. Chelsea skipper John Terry entered a plea of not guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence – allegedly calling a fellow professional footballer a “black ****” – and a trial date was set. It was always going to be this way. Despite video evidence seen by most of the world, despite an admission from the player himself that he had used the words but only in a non-racist context, today was a mere formality.
Terry’s legal team also effectively set the date for the hearing, several being discussed according to reports but considerations extended to Chelsea’s fixture list, the Olympics and – most pertinently of all – England’s run at the European Championships. With the date set as the 9th of July, it freed John Terry to travel to the Euro 2012 with the England squad and as captain no less.
Now, this isn’t a call for some return to the Stalinesque days of the Gulags, to lambast those who are accused and to disrespect the fundamental principle that all just societies should be founded on – namely “innocent until proven guilty” – but there’s no way that John Terry being included in the England squad is a good idea.
It perhaps wouldn’t be so cut and dry if the insanity that had occurred in 2010 where John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy because he had broken the “bro code”. Yes, having an affair with the ex-girlfriend of a player who should have been nowhere near the England squad anyway was deemed a punishable offence and he was stripped of the captaincy. There were no denials at the time from any involved party, but little evidence either. Football might well be about bigger issues than just 22 men and a spherical object but a bit of marital infidelity? If that was worthy of a demotion in your place of work there would be too many Indians and not enough chiefs in the British workforce.
However, since being accused of racism the standpoint has been entirely more supportive. From the FA, from the England manager, from the morons who chanted “you know what you are” at Anton Ferdinand on two occasions… Innocent until proven guilty, yes. Right to continue representing your country? Absolutely not.
Overlook the fact that representing England is both a privilege in terms of what it does for a player’s profile and bank balance thanks to lucrative sponsorship deals and ignore the fact that the England team is meant to represent the highest values of its domestic game. Those are more abstract issues that can be debated to no end until the cows come home. The simple truth is that with all the distraction that the trial will cause, along with internal disruption within the squad, leaving Terry out of the squad is the best course of action for all parties, himself included.
Ever since the press – be it rightly or wrongly – got their hooks into him he has been a shambles anyway, a troubled mind always one lapse of concentration from conceding a goal. Chelsea have gone from defensive stalwarts to leaky lightweights with Terry’s dip in form a huge factor in that. If it wasn’t for the fact he was captain, if an England squad was picked on form, the reality is he’d not be included anyway.
But he is and that means the biggest problem they have now is that, after such shows of public support, they are stuck having to publicly back their man while repeating a mantra of “innocent until proven guilty” as if that is simply the be all and end all of the issue. There are way too many components to consider and repetition of such dogma won’t alter that.
If it wasn’t for the fact he was captain, if an England squad was picked on form, the reality is he’d not be included anyway.
Internal disruption amongst the players is a real issue. While some black players may have come out and regaled the press with tales about how John Terry lent them a tenner when they were short and always invites them over for Sunday dinner, it’s just as likely some now look at their captain with a very different set of eyes. Add that to the fact that the alleged victim’s brother might not just be part of the squad but also his centreback partner and you can see the horrorshow shambling out of the dark future well in advance.
Not to mention that the press and lazy pundits won’t stop asking questions about whether or not it’s a problem. England’s the one nation where the media will actively go out of their way to disrupt the squad at every given turn and they don’t need the extra ammunition that will come from it. You can just hear it now can’t you, the sound of mammoth twat Clive Tyldesley saying “and one has to wonder if that wouldn’t have happened if his mind wasn’t elsewhere”.
Further problems arise if Terry then returns from an England campaign only to walk into a guilty verdict. That would mean that the last time England went to a major tournament they were captained by a convicted racist. Those looking to portray the game as still harbouring racists will have a field day. It would be an ugly message to have sent out unwittingly, as we try and desperately stamp out racism not just in the modern game but across society as a whole.
If the issue is emotive enough for the FA to recognise that maybe the two players in question shouldn’t be shaking hands before they play, surely it has to be a serious consideration to leave him out of the team for the same reasons. It’s not a statement of belief in his guilt but it would be standard practice in any other line of work. Stand accused of stealing biscuits from the communal area in the office and you’ll be suspended pending an investigation and potential disciplinary hearing. If football really wants to hold itself up to the highest standard then it needs to start mirroring this, rather than constantly trying to be creative in their application of principles.
The England squad has enough on its plate. By the time the tournament starts the same media that will tear strips off them for their almost inevitable failure will have whipped the nation into a patriotic frenzy. You will not be able to get through a day without encountering a moron with a St. George cross painted on his face, or reading a story about some local council telling someone to take down a flag. The weight of expectation will bear down on the players like it always does.
Let’s not forget, that the talismanic, temperamental time-bomb Wayne Rooney will be out for the first two games, several supposed first choice squad members are failing to tie down regular games for their club and are returning from injury. If the squad underperformed at the World Cup because of stories soon to break in the press, because of super-injunctions and slyness, this could well contribute to a spectacular collapse the likes of which even England fans haven’t seen.
Of course, in the aftermath, if Terry were found innocent there would be the matter of a player having missed out on the opportunity to compete at what would likely be his last European Championship, if not last major tournament representing England entirely. That would be unfair on the player. Yet, with the baggage he brings, guilty or innocent, the smart play is to leave Terry at home.
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