John Terry’s retirement from international duty on Sunday brought to an end the England career of one of the country’s most divisive ever players. To some, he is the lion-heart defender that typifies English fighting spirit; to most though, he is the pantomime villain they love to hate.
It’s true that Terry has consistently worn his heart on his sleeve for both club and country, and put his body on the line in the process. His bravery and commitment cannot be questioned.
But it’s true also that Terry has an impressively-long rap sheet. Let’s look at the highlights: being part of a group of players that drunkenly abused American tourists after 9/11; being involved in a bar brawl alongside former team-mate Jody Morris; allegedly cheating on his wife with the mother of Wayne Bridge’s child; supposedly offering guided tours of Chelsea facilities for thousands of pounds; celebrating Chelsea’s Champions League win in his full kit despite being banned from the final; and what is to most people the worst of all (sorry Wayne), allegedly calling Anton Ferdinand a “f**king black c**t” during a game against QPR.
The last point provides the setting for the latest chapter in the saga that is John Terry’s football career. He claims the FA’s pursuit of the case against him despite being acquitted in the courts has made his position “untenable”. The FA say it’s a personal decision and their action is not to blame for Terry ending his England career prematurely.
Clearly the FA should not be taking their own action after a criminal court has already declared Terry not guilty. He should not have to prove his innocence for the same offence twice, but that is exactly what he is having to do. There is some merit to his argument, it pains me to say.
However, notwithstanding the point that most people would say it was the calling Anton Ferdinand a “f**king black c**t” that made Terry’s position untenable and not the FA’s decision to pursue the case; the right outcome has been reached even if the means of getting there are in question.
Attend any England match and you will find supporters cheer almost every player regardless of club rivalries; listen also in to any pub conversation and people will praise even players of their most deadly rivals when it comes to watching England. Whether they support Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool, most England fans can bring themselves to reserve historic rivalries to cheer on the likes of Joe Hart, Jermain Defoe and Phil Jagielka when they are in the white of England. The exception to that rule is John Terry.
I can think of no other England player that has been universally disliked – no, hated – by the fans of each and every club other than his own like Terry has. Think of England captains over the years; the likes of Moore, Keegan, Lineker and Beckham. Kids wanted to be them in the playground and they were almost universally respected. The same cannot be said for Terry.
Many fans have an odd, if effective way of determining whether they respect a player or not. Regardless of their ability on the pitch or their demeanour on Soccer AM, fans will ultimately decide if they like a player based on the answer to one question: would you want to have a pint with him?
For players like Peter Crouch and to an extent even Wayne Rooney, the answer you’ll get from most people is yes. Good luck in trying to find someone outside of West London that would like to have a pint with John Terry. Not unless you happen to ask a pub full of alleged brawlers, adulterers and racists that is.
And whilst throughout his career he has been exemplary at ignoring public criticism and concentrating on his own game, you get the impression that this time, it really hurts. He’s been a pillar of strength for England over the years, and watching the team walk out at Wembley without him will be tough. But the Ferdinand incident has been the last straw for many and unfortunately for Terry, not many English football fans will be mourning his loss from the national team.
And as any chairman looking for a quick excuse to sack their team’s manager will tell you, once you’ve lost the fans there really is no turning back.