A little after 2pm yesterday the magistrate overseeing Chelsea captain John Terry’s prosecution for a racially aggravated public order offence relating to comments made to Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand when the pair met in the Premier League last season recorded a verdict of not guilty. Terry was alleged to have used the words “f***ing black c***” towards Ferdinand – words he admitted uttering – but with no evidence to prove beyond doubt that Terry was lying about the context there could be no proof of guilt.
While various television reports have lazily suggested that former England captain Terry has emerged from the case with his reputation intact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The developing story from court has been tweeted blow-by-blow by journalists and the public was party throughout to the cases put forward by both the prosecution and the defence. Football supporters and the wider public can make their own minds up without having to prove guilt, which the magistrates hearing would have required.
The matter may not be over for Terry. The Football Association has indicated that it will now take the opportunity to hold its own investigation into the matter. There’s a decent chance it will merely cite the court’s verdict and move on, but it’s also worth noting that the FA investigation wouldn’t have as high a burden of proof as a magistrates court, so Terry might not be out of the woods yet.
Whatever now happens, once the matter does close I hope people move on and embrace the new season with its ugly predecessor confined to history. The 2011/12 Premier League season was overshadowed by the allegations against Terry, a similar but different situation involving Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, and the reactions of the media, FA and a disturbing number of idiotic supporters.
For all the apparent wrongdoing and very serious allegations made, what has frustrated me most about these cases has been how so many football supporters have shamed themselves with their reactions. It happened that the two cases involved players from opposing teams, allowing the fan response to be divided along club lines.
When Terry was alleged to have racially abused Ferdinand, many Chelsea supporters leapt to his defence, backing him to the hilt without the slightest consideration of what might have actually happened. He wears the blue of Chelsea, therefore he is innocent. The same thing happened in the Suarez case and it happened on all sides.
Some fans of other clubs were quick to assume guilt on the part of Terry and Suarez before any hearings had occurred, happy to write off the potential innocence of the players in question purely because they played for a club they don’t support. Personally, while I am no fan of Terry, I would rather they had both been proved completely and undeniably innocent because I don’t want racism to be involved in the game.
The issue of racism in football is a very serious matter and has been hugely affected by campaigning, hard work and general societal change over the years. It was, in the past, a common and highly visible problem. In England it is now quite rare to hear any manifestation of racism on the terraces, with the debate thankfully moving on to the effects a more subtle racism has on the progress of black or Asian coaches and administrators relative to their white counterparts. At least, it had moved on.
Racism as an issue or a series of related issues should transcend club rivalries. Sadly, we have now seen that it does not always do so.
And just to make the whole thing even more unedifying for the game, we got a nauseating insight into just how much a Premier League football pitch resembles a primary school playground. Tales of bickering and childish gestures turned the court case into a quite pathetic affair, and regardless of the verdict it leaves Terry and Ferdinand looking like a pair of petty, immature and frankly stupid children, and they’re unlikely to be in the minority. Well worth forking out fifty quid to watch them kicking a ball around, I’m sure you’ll agree.
(Photo credit: Julian Mason via Flickr)