Is John Terry a racist? Was his contretemps with Anton Ferdinand just an explosion of frustration at a remark about his alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend? A moment when restraint was cast aside and his anger burst forth on a football pitch, surrounded by black footballers with millions watching on TV? That is certainly what the prosecution in the recent trial tried to suggest, questioning Terry on his self-control; "you lost it, didn't you Mr Terry?"
I have watched Terry's career with exasperation at times. The allegations of dodgy dealings with the Wembley box, the supposed indiscretions with Bridge's ex, the nightclub ruckus. I have frequently felt him to be a less than pleasant fellow despite his undoubted commitment to his profession. In short, from a human perspective, I have rarely been a big fan of his. But there is a pattern and a level of vituperation for this player that extends from the very top of the game in the form of the FA through to fans and all the way to his fellow professionals. And it smashes all of the principles of natural justice and due process to smithereens.
Footballers become mindlessly childish in every respect when it comes to Terry. Wayne Bridge's behaviour as well as that of his colleagues at Manchester City in response to the tabloid reports that Terry had snuck through his ex's back door was breathtakingly puerile. This was a woman with whom Bridge's relationship had ended a significant length of time earlier. A clue perhaps came in the chuckling form of Craig Bellamy; "everyone knows what JT is like".
The handshake has now become the media insult du jour and players are lining up, literally, not to shake Terry's hand. As if this age-old greeting and sign of respect is something by which these learned, distinguished and dignified working class heroes live their lives. Fans love it, the media loves it; players want their names on the honour roll of those who wordlessly and without eye contact withdraw their hand as Terry passes them. They do this on principle, in response to the outrages seemingly committed by the former England captain. We are, they are saying, honourable men and you, Mr Terry, have broken our ancient codes of propriety and tradition. You are not one of us. Away with the facts or the evidence. We know what you are like Mr T.
So why all of this hate for Terry? Why does Terry endure months of opprobrium for a (denied) dalliance with a single woman when Ryan Giggs, for example, suffers no more than mild awkwardness for a reportedly eight year affair with his brother's wife, a situation that by comparison descends into bleak blackness when one considers the deceit and familial ramifications? Sure, Terry isn't to be applauded as a husband but what has it to do with anyone else and certainly the England captaincy? Well, we know what JT is like don't we?
The Ferdinand situation had, from the very beginning a special dimension of hatred. The emergence in court of suggestions that an acquaintance of Rio Ferdinand had encouraged the police complaint is, perhaps, a clue. It is as though there were those ready to pounce on Terry and what better than a race allegation with which to precipitate the final nail in his coffin? We know what JT is like don't we? But have rumours been circulating for years that Terry is a racist? Has he been seen at a BNP get together? Have pamphlets been found in his locker? Has there been an enduring suspicion that he doesn't like foreigners? Was his worship of Marcel Dessailly merely a professional consideration? We know what JT is like but do we know he is a racist as well as everything else?
It is a very curious situation that seems to go beyond club rivalries. Journalists have been extraordinarily inexact on the matter of the Ferdinand affair. Black players have, without thought, reacted with outrage, speaking with scarcely disguised contempt for the process of justice before the trial and then with spluttering disbelief afterwards. They didn't for a moment think that it would be worth hearing the evidence or more importantly considering the likely course of events on the day.
There was at no point a preparedness to consider Terry as innocent according to the facts. He has been guilty from day one and there has to be a concern for Terry that in all he does, this is the default position; he is always guilty and merely gets away with it. When we take this position on individuals it demonstrates one thing; an immovable prejudice motivated by what we can only describe as a deep hatred. We all do this in one way or another but in Terry's case, his attackers carry influence, they push and prompt behind the scenes, they gather together others and more or less cajole them into speaking out. "He called Anton a black ****. You will support us right?" And if they don't? Well then they are ostracised and called a choc-ice on Twitter. And the journalists lap it up.
It is indeed curious that a player like Terry who has led countless other players of all colours to glory, who imbues others around him with fortitude and who by any standard is a leader of sportsmen has also engendered such blind and mindless biliousness in others. I too have characterised him in less than flattering ways but I have a distinct prejudice against racists and I have seen nothing in him to suggest he is one. If he was proven to be one I would open the door for him on the way out. But from the moment I first saw the YouTube clip (the one before all the edited versions appeared) it seemed plainly obvious what the situation was and that his version of the events rang true. There is simply no way that he would scream such abuse on a football pitch full of black players. None of his pursuers would ever consider that of course; here was further proof that what they all knew about JT was true. It is time to bring the curtain down on this man. He has gone beyond the pale, overstepped the line and he won't get away with this one.
Terry has been tried and found not guilty in a British court of law. The FA's pursuit is possibly worse than all of the moronic trumpeting of players on Twitter and the "considered" analysis of a myriad journalists. Theirs is the political vengeance of a body who lost the best recent England manager who stood on principle over Terry's treatment. They, cajoled by lobby groups and frustrated by the findings of a criminal court, have cast aside their own constitution and rules and decided to reassert the charge that Terry is a racist. We'll get him. We know what JT is like.
The whole affair is shameful and worst of all, in all of the media ranting and self -congratulatory gurning of the unconnected non-handshakers, the most disgraceful thing is that it puts back the cause of anti-racism, giving those who DO harbour malice for men of a different colour every excuse to claim that hysteria and idiocy motivate those of us who try to fight hatred.
John Terry is no saint. But who is? Is he a racist? I don't know but did he scream racist abuse at Anton Ferdinand? No. And a court said so as well.
But we all know what JT is like don't we?
This blog post is also on www.bluetinted.com