John Terry takes back the word he once gave

The England defender retired from international football only months after swearing allegiance to the England cause, writes Duncan Castles.
John Terry says the English FA's pursuit of racism charges made playing for England untenable. Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
John Terry says the English FA's pursuit of racism charges made playing for England untenable. Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

You would be forgiven for wondering if words have much meaning to John Terry.

Abhorrent racist language can be said to a black opponent in a sentence – the Chelsea captain claims – that was intended to deny he had used the very same words abusively.

The phrase "I will never turn my back on England" can be intoned to a best-selling newspaper as the centrepiece of a double-page spread on his commitment to the nation's cause at last summer's European Championship and eternally beyond.

Less than four months later he does just that by declaring his "position with the national team untenable".

The reason for Sunday night's about-turn? Terry was a few hours from an English Football Association hearing widely expected to hand him a hefty ban for those racist words he had said to the Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand last October.

Terry considers himself innocent. He escaped judicial punishment earlier this year principally because video footage of the ugly altercation with Ferdinand obscured his face just before he uttered the most offensive phrase.

Terry claimed he was actually denying saying the words. Judge Howard Riddle found him not guilty because there was doubt, yet delivered the telling caveat that "Mr Terry's explanation is, certainly under the cold light of forensic examination, unlikely. It is not the most obvious response. It is sandwiched between other undoubted insults."

The FA hearing operates in a different manner with different priorities.

As the eight-match ban given to Luis Suarez in December demonstrated, intention subsumes to the governing body's zero tolerance for racism.

"It is not necessary for the FA to prove Mr Suarez intended his words or behaviour to be abusive and insulting," its commission reported then. "The question is simply whether the words or behaviour are abusive or insulting."

In Terry's case there seems no question they were. And, by his own evidence, no question he said them.

Announcing his withdrawal from England duty the night before his FA hearing opened carried a tinge of cyclist Lance Armstrong claiming innocence of doping charges while refusing to officially challenge them.

Will this be the last of Terry's crimes and misdemeanours? More than a decade littered with club fines, court appearances and front-page embarrassments suggests otherwise. Is a technically excellent defender now limited in pace and agility worth all the bother? Many would argue not.

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Published: September 24, 2012 04:00 AM


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