Before I moved to Italy, I worked at Chelsea for a season. In fact, it was the long hours and bad pay that characterised my working at Chelsea that pushed me in the arms of this maddening, crooked republic. That, and that the fact that editorial control was stricter than Pravda, critical letters from fans were shoved to one side while even the tiniest negative remark regarding a team performance or a player would be struck out by the communications bods down the hall. Having said that, every now and again something outrageous would slip through unexpectedly; so it was that December when I was barracked for suggesting that one of our strikers had missed an 'easy chance' (or a 'sitter', I forget), while the front cover for that month's issue of the club magazine was being laid up. On the cover this festive edition was a picture of Claude Makelele, well-known for having a preposterously large plonker, smugly grinning at the reader above the strap-line 'Pull Maka's Cracker'. The upshot of this amusing anecdote is that I worked at the club for a while, and I can imagine the scenes as the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand scandal broke: mass panic, closed meetings and all publications kept in the dark until an official line was agreed on. That official line would then be repeated in all publications, after which there would be no more mention of all this nasty racism business.
Only it didn't go away. Soon after at Chelsea's Champions League group game at Genk a small group in the away end started singing ' Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are', apparently suggesting that Ferdinand was, as per Terry's alleged outburst, a 'black ****'. Friends of mine who were at the game said to me that a) the group singing it was no more than 50-100 people, and that b) they thought that they meant 'liar' (Liverpool fans say that their abuse of Patrice Evra was for the same reason – whether you believe that or not is up to you). Chelsea fans came back to England from that game faced with accusing tabloid hacks, clicking lenses, and slapped with the racist tag, while the club hung them out to dry. At the same time they've shown unconditional support to 'JT', and notwithstanding the cheers and chants at matches, has caused some friction between club and fans. The QPR pantomime might have been and gone but the whiff that accompanies his every appearance.
Regardless of what you think of him as a man, the efforts from some quarters to denigrate him as a player over the last strike me as extremely cheap
I'll admit that as a life-long Chelsea fan I'm biased but personally I find it hard to square the John Terry I read about in the papers with the person I met a few times during my time at Chelsea. Out of all of the players I always found him the most open and friendliest when quotes were needed (one time during a manic kids Christmas for mini Chelsea fans he saved my bacon at the last with a much-needed quote*), and he also recently did something thoughtful and kind for a very close family member of mine, which I won't go into here but which made it obvious to me that he's not the complete horror many people think he is. Given that, I often feel that I should at least chip in defend him a bit, even when it's looks – to my eyes at least – like he's been caught doing something despicable. As a football fan you'll forgive your best players quite a lot – diving, disgusting tackles, cheating on their spouses, even flirting for the attentions of your rivals – as long as they put in 100 per cent every week, and Chelsea captain Terry has done just that. He's been an exceptional player *** for us over the last decade. However, if it is true that he called Ferdinand a 'black ****' (such an ugly, vicious, loaded insult) then drop me out, as the current vernacular goes; I don't think anyone capable of saying stuff like that should be captain of any football club, let alone one of such a mixed team, in such a mixed city, supported by fans who for a good 20 years had a cadre of fascists in their number. I don't accept racism from my fellow supporters, and I certainly won't from our players.
So on to Swansea, where once again Terry will be pelted with taunts from opposition fans: 'One racist captain' will probably be aired, as will a host of others, as the Swans supporters make it heard that they're not having any of this racialism nonsense. In the meantime the race and class prejudice that hums under London's happy-clappy, multi-culti façade will be ignored, every one will pat themselves on the back for shouting 'boo hiss' at the nasty Chelsea man and nothing will be done to alleviate the crushing poverty (of both money and opportunity) that afflicts the capital's poorest areas. Areas where the vast majority of London's black community live, cheek-by-jowl with their white counterparts. People like John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, as it happens. Oh, and we'll probably lose.
*As a side note, it's hard to explain just how big Terry's face is when you get up close to him – it's like a serving plate. Oh, and other popular hate figure Ashley Cole spent ages messing about with the little 'uns**, basically letting them attack his face with paint brushes.
**For a split second I mistook Shaun Wright-Phillips for one of the kids.
*** Just think how rare it is for a player to come from the youth team to become captain, and be a key figure in, the best team in that club's history. Regardless of what you think of him as a man, the efforts from some quarters to denigrate him as a player over the last strike me as extremely cheap.
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