Terry learns from past to become example to others

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The Independent Football

Rio Ferdinand's failure to take a drug test, and the England players' subsequent threat to strike, have been widely viewed as evidence of football's declining morality. At first sight it may, therefore, appear unfortunate that the man who will replace Ferdinand this evening has not led a pure and blameless life. However, this tale is one of redemption.

John Terry has twice attracted unsavoury headlines. In 2001 he was among four Chelsea players fined after their drunken behaviour at a Heathrow hotel on the night of 11 September upset grieving American tourists. He said lessons had been learned, and added notably "we have to be careful".

It transpired he meant being careful where he drank, not how much he consumed. Chelsea's party animals moved on to private drinking clubs and, four months later, Terry was charged with affray, actual bodily harm, the unlawful possession of a weapon and wounding with intent after a fracas at the Wellington Club in Knightsbridge. The possible penalties included life imprisonment. At the trial, in August 2002, he was acquitted of all charges.

Terry this time learned the right lessons. Determined to reform, he gave up drinking, stepping off the wagon just once for a glass of champagne on his birthday. Abstinence has been rewarded. At Stamford Bridge he broke up the seemingly impregnable central defensive partnership of William Gallas and Marcel Desailly. This not only attracted interest from Arsenal and Newcastle before Roman Abramovich secured Chelsea's finances, but also caught Sven Goran Eriksson's eye.

An England call-up arrived in February and a first cap, against Serbia and Montenegro, followed in May. This season he is the only man to play all 90 minutes of England's three internationals.

It is a long way from being incarcerated in solitary confinement to dry out, as Terry was after the Wellington incident. Looking back he said: "Being in that cell was horrendous. I was woken up three or four times in the night by fights in the corridor. I was crying most of the time, thinking about my family, the football club and what would happen to me.

"When my solicitor told me the charges carried penalties up to life imprisonment I was in total shock. I knew I was innocent but it was still worrying that my future was in the hands of 12 people on a jury. If they had any preconceived ideas about me, or the prosecution did a really good job, I knew my career could be over."

After he was cleared Terry took a look in the mirror. "I knew I had to sort myself out," he said. "I've obviously made mistakes but I've really knuckled down since. I'm doing extra work in the gym and watching what I eat and drink. If I'm to make the most of my career I've got to focus on the football and not let outside influences get in the way."

This will be the most intimidating atmosphere Terry has played in. He does have some forewarning having travelled, as a reserve, to Istanbul when Chelsea played here in the Champions' League three years ago. "We had it all," he said, "including having bags of urine thrown at us, but we won 5-0." He will also draw on his experiences with the Under-21s, notably a match in Greece two years ago. On a night of growing frustration Terry, though captain, lost his head after being dismissed in injury-time for a reckless two-footed tackle.

"Since then he has grown up as a footballer and a man," Eriksson said yesterday. "He has made huge progress."