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John Terry - The Man to Reinvigorate the Football Association's Respect Campaign?

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Didier Drogba. Ashley Cole. Michael Essien. Ramires. Florent Malouda. Nicolas Anelka. William Gallas. Salomon Kalou. John Obi Mikel. Claude Makelele. Marcel Desailly. Mario Melchiot. Celestine Babayaro (remember him? Retired two years ago but still only 33) The list of black players who count John Terry as a former or current team-mate is a long one. Many have contributed to a decade-long haul of trophies, and while the Chelsea dressing room has been accused of many splits over the years, racial divide is not one of them.

Indeed, several put their names to a character witness statement for the recent court case. Cole even appeared in court, surely knowing it would be an unpopular move in the black community to support his club captain. It doesn't smack of a man uncomfortable with the colour of someone's skin.

Moreover, how could John Terry ever have assumed, as was alleged, a sense of superiority over another race, the definition of racist, given his experiences in a Chelsea shirt? Over the years he will have seen first hand the merits of players from all over the world, with Drogba (Ivory Coast) and Essien (Ghana) particular titans of the successful Abramovich era. Without them Chelsea would not have won half they have.

Even his personal nadir on a football field provides a symmetry to the alleged race angle. John Terry fluffed a penalty that would have won the Champions League. Didier Drogba didn't. Superior race? In line with the verdict delivered in court, I believe that John Terry, for all his flaws, is not a racist.

How then, to explain what came out of his mouth during his on-field spat with Anton Ferdinand on that fateful October night at Loftus Road last season?

He argued in defence that he was responding sarcastically to a perceived Ferdinand accusation. Chief magistrate Howard Riddle certainly found it unlikely that the QPR defender could have cooked up such a slight in the heat of the moment. Yet, as Mr Riddle painstakingly pointed out in his 5,000- word verdict, there was insufficient evidence to suggest Terry was lying. His story has always been consistent. Hence the acquittal of the racially aggravated public order offence charge.

Looking at the court transcripts it's clear the two are laying into each other with a series of insults. Bad breath. Accusations of infidelity. Physical shape (though that was directed at Paddy Kenny). In effect, it's the language of the playground. It's the end of a fractious game which Chelsea are surprisingly losing. At that moment in time, Terry and Ferdinand can't stand each other. The tone is coarse and disrespectful. It's ironic that most of the words, when reported, need to be asterisked out - save the one that resulted in the court case.

As Garth Crooks pointed out, John Terry shouldn't be expressing himself in such a way whatever the circumstances, which gets to the nub of the issue. Not only was he Chelsea captain, at the time he also held the captain's armband for his country. An armband he had already once been stripped of. For a country whose governing body felt the need to orchestrate a campaign that speaks about 'the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place'.

At a time when so much can be picked up by television cameras, at the very least you would have thought John Terry, in his second incarnation as England captain, would have been aware of his wider responsibilities. He may have been acquitted of the racist charge but his tone is terrible, whatever the provocation, the high state of emotion mid-match or the belief that banter is part and parcel of the game. Is this not less about race, more a complete lack of respect and dignity, and outright nastiness?

Whether this should have reached the court, football's dirty linen has been aired in public and it's not pretty. But could this be, as Gordon Taylor suggests, a watershed moment in the FA's Respect campaign?

And, preposterous as it sounds, I think John Terry could play a part.

For sure, his language is appalling. Yet a genuinely remorseful nature, a pledge to learn and improve his ways, to campaign about the pain of verbal abuse (how must it feel to have several thousand Scousers chanting about your mother?), could change perceptions. Some of the most effective communicators with prisoners are ex-convicts, ex-addicts with drug users. How much more meaningful does it feel when discussing a problem with someone who has experienced what you're going through?

Ryan Bertrand, a young (black) Chelsea player has spoken about what an effort Terry makes with the youth players. They look up to him. His successful playing career shows he has many outstanding characteristics.

John Terry has much to give, to give back even, but it needs to come from within. Does he wonder why he is so divisive, why the court of public opinion was so angry at Friday's not guilty verdict? He is a multi-millionaire and multi-award winning footballer, but how much for a multi-dose of self awareness?

An apology to Anton Ferdinand and his family would be a start, followed by a commitment to a more respectful and humble nature, and a missionary zeal to spread a new culture of respect. Why should such banter be acceptable? If genuine, he could simultaneously improve his public image and breathe new life into the FA's Respect Campaign, which has taken such a battering in the last week.

So John Terry - racist? No, John, I don't believe you are.

But you need a little something to make you sweeter. A little respect. Please.

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