Just another day for most divisive footballer of his generation
John Terry received yesterday’s verdict in a manner befitting a man who has seen it all before, writes Sam Wallace
It will not have escaped John Terry’s attention that the worst few days of his career over the last week took place just a hundred yards from arguably his proudest moment as a footballer away from the pitch.
Six years ago next month, at a press conference at the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road, the then newly-appointed England manager Steve McClaren announced Terry as the successor to David Beckham as captain of the national team. "John has all the attributes an international captain needs," McClaren said that day, "leadership, authority, courage, ability, tactical awareness and a total refusal to accept second-best."
This week Terry was on the south side of Marylebone Road just a few yards down from the Landmark Hotel, in Westminster magistrates’ court, up on a charge of racial abuse and fighting for his reputation.
Today, having been cleared of the charge by district judge Howard Riddle, Terry rose from the dock with barely a hint of emotion, pulled his suit jacket around him and left the courtroom. Minutes later he walked through the media throng on the pavement outside without comment although one associate said later that he was emotional and close to tears.
Once again he had come close to a very serious stain on his character and once again the man they call “Teflon Terry” had carried the day. It has been a feature of his career ever since he was a young player breaking into a Chelsea team far removed from the club they are today, reigning European champions and powered by the billionaire Russian Roman Abramovich.
Since that day in August 2006 that McClaren made Terry captain, the player himself has lost, regained, lost, regained and finally lost the England captaincy. It has been an extraordinary six years by anyone’s imagination. And to think that the received wisdom behind the original choice of Terry as England captain was because it was thought he would be less high-profile than his headline grabbing predecessor Beckham.
Terry first gained notoriety when as a 20-year-old in 2001 he was one of a group of Chelsea players including Frank Lampard, Jody Morris and Eidur Gudjohnsen who were accused in the News of the World of drunkenly abusing American tourists at Heathrow airport on 11 September during a drinking binge on the day itself.
The club’s former sub-standard training ground - before Abramovich’s money built them a plush new complex in Cobham, Surrey - was next to Heathrow and the players had decamped there to a bar there after a flight to a European game was cancelled in the aftermath of the attack. The players were forced by the club to make a public apology.
The following year, Terry faced his first serious court case, along with team-mate Jody Morris of assault and affray, for attacking a bouncer at the Wellington nightclub with a bottle. Terry, facing the possibility of a prison sentence, was acquitted. The same year he was thrown out a nightclub in Essex for urinating in a bottle.
When the Italian coach Fabio Capello took over from McClaren as England manager in 2008 he decided to pick his own captain, effectively removing the job from Terry. It did not take him long to decide that it was Terry who was the right man.
It was Terry’s sacking as England captain in 2010 for an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the former girlfriend of his erstwhile team-mate Wayne Bridge that became the most notorious episode of his private life. It was this affair that was the subject of Anton Ferdinand’s provocation of Terry in last week’s court case. Terry has always denied strenuously that it took place but never has he been forced to acknowledge it as often as he did in court.
Capello sacked Terry in February 2010 to put out the media firestorm around the player four months ahead of the World Cup finals that year. Remarkably in March last year, Capello announced that Terry had served his punishment and re-appointed him as captain. He was due to lead the country into this summer’s European championships.
When this week’s case was adjourned until this month and it became clear that he would go to the tournament with the allegations still hanging over him, the Football Association took matters into their own hands and stripped Terry of the captaincy for a second time in February. Capello quit over the issue and Terry once again protested that he was the wronged man.
There have been other unsavoury episodes. A News of the World sting that discovered Terry was conducting unofficial tours of the Chelsea training ground for cash organised by a reputed ticket tout. Terry claimed he was giving the money to charity. In 2010 he was reported to be hiring out his private box at Wembley despite it being against Football Association rules.
Friends of the player talk of Terry’s great acts of generosity and his willingness to give up his time for charity, in particular the Help for Heroes cause. Chelsea’s Surrey training ground is not far from Headley Court the rehabilitation centre for severely injured military personnel and Terry is said to be a regular supporter. Certainly there was no shortage of players and coaches, past and present, from Chelsea willing to give their support to him in court.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home stadium, a banner on the Matthew Harding stand proclaims: “JT: captain, leader, legend”. He is, as the prosecutor Duncan Penny said in court, the most successful captain in the club’s 107 year history. Giving evidence, the Chelsea club chairman Bruce Buck said Terry had an “uncanny mental strength” to perform on the pitch regardless of problems in his private life.
Once again this week “JT”, as he is known at Stamford Bridge and Cobham has come through another very close shave. It would be a push to say that this is a man who can claim an unblemished reputation but what will matter most to him was that he was acquitted today by Mr Riddle of having made a deeply offensive racist remark.
It seems inevitable that Terry will one day manage Chelsea but before then he has two years left on his playing contract at the club and, at 31, and with a remarkable ability to push himself on physically, he will believe that he has a few more years as a top level footballer just yet. Providing, that is, he can keep himself out of trouble.
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