Terry's new direction reaps reward

Four years after standing trial, Chelsea's centre-half is made England captain. Sam Wallace charts a fascinating journey
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Later this month will be the fourth anniversary of what John Terry might class as his moment of epiphany - in August 2002 he and two others were acquitted of a serious assault on a night-club bouncer. The decision followed seven tense hours of the jury's deliberation during which Terry will have considered his life taking a very different route. If found guilty, prison loomed. Instead, today he is the England captain.

The Wellington Club incident, that took place on 3 January that year, is a story that will probably stalk Terry to his retirement but he could never be accused of not having learned from it. A 21-year-old from a Barking council estate made good, he had fallen into questionable company and was on the brink of throwing it all away. He has made mistakes since then, but Terry has never again endangered his precious talent to quite the same extent.

Within a year of Terry's acquittal, Roman Abramovich had taken over Chelsea and begun to transform them into a serious force. One year later Jose Mourinho arrived and made Terry his captain in Chelsea's centenary season, one that ended with him lifting the Premiership trophy. He had become a first-choice centre-back for England at Euro 2004 and this summer he picked up the Premiership trophy again. For the nostalgic football fan he is something of a throwback, a courageous, physical defender with an aptitude for leadership.

Terry has come a long way since he appeared on the steps of Horseferry Road magistrates courts, a wan, startled looking figure in a grey suit who had been bailed until the start of the trial. He is a traditional English centre-back, the latest in a line that includes Terry Butcher and Tony Adams but at Chelsea he has been moulded at a very international club.

England's new captain is an endearing, honest soul who, despite his bravery on the pitch, can occasionally appear jittery and nervous of saying the wrong thing in front of the press. His long-term partner Toni Poole gave birth to the couple's twins before the World Cup although his reported dalliances outside that relationship have been embarrassing and damaging. If there was a case against Terry becoming the new England captain then it was the fear that his private life might not stand up to the increased scrutiny.

His childhood, similar to that of many of the England team, was tough, and he has hinted before that there was not much spare cash around for his parents, Sue and Ted. What was never in doubt was the ability of the younger son John - his older brother Paul plays for Yeovil Town - who played for the famous east London boys' club, Senrab, while he attended Eastbury Comprehensive. He was scouted by Chelsea at an early age but they were not alone.

Sir Alex Ferguson was so keen to sign Terry that as a boy he was chauffeur-driven up to Manchester in the company of another famous Essex resident who turned out for United. Even David Beckham's influence could not sway Terry away from Chelsea and it was there that his bravery and willingness to fly into the tackle were developed.

The Chelsea team that Terry first broke into was a strange mixture of influences. On the one hand there were more traditional English players like Morris and Dennis Wise and contrastingly a whole procession of famous European names ending their careers with a lucrative Premiership swan-song. Terry often refers to the professionalism of players such as Gianfranco Zola and Marcel Desailly as key influences and he only established himself in the team in the 2001-02 season after Frank Leboeuf's departure.

Terry's approach to captaincy is very much his own. Judging by his readable matchday programme notes, which, unusually for a footballer, he writes himself, his life at Chelsea is a constant quest to play practical jokes or win the competitive video game tournaments he organises. He spends much of his time castigating his friend the team's Scottish masseur, Billy McCulloch, or ridiculing new players who, under Mourinho, have to introduce themselves to the squad by singing a song.

In short, he is a typical English footballer. In a recent behind-the-scenes photograph collection of Chelsea's players, Terry was pictured ushering his team-mates into the masseurs' room to observe the drool William Gallas had produced falling asleep during a massage. Terry likes a laugh, and after England's summer, that will be no bad thing.

He came from the same area of Barking that produced the late Bobby Moore, but Terry lives far away from there now in Oxshott in Surrey, where a whole community of Chelsea players have settled near the new training ground in Cobham. He is a regular in the bookmakers around there and some of the sums he is alleged to have spent are a little alarming before you consider that Terry's £100,000-a-week wages can take the hit.

He is loyal, too: his agent is Aaron Lincoln, a friend and former kit-man at Chelsea. An autobiography is due out later this year and his diary of a season published last summer gave an interesting and unexpected insight into the man. Like how he takes his tactical dossiers home to scrutinise them, or worries about what to say in a rousing team-talk. He may yet have to change and learn as he adapts to the England captaincy, but when he looks back to four years ago, Terry will acknowledge that his most important development is behind him.