Since Ashley Cole's occasionally chaotic private life became a preoccupation for gossip columns and glossy magazines, the sixth most-capped footballer in the history of the England team has retreated back from the spotlight, declining virtually all interviews.
Yesterday, as he walked into courtroom one of Westminster magistrates, with his team-mate John Terry behind the glass wall of the dock, and was sworn in by the clerk of the court, Cole, 31, one of the most successful players of his generation, had no willing press officer or agent to turn away the request for answers.
Cole's appearance as a witness in Terry's trial on allegations of racial abuse against Anton Ferdinand was always likely to be a key moment in the trial. Like Ferdinand, Cole is mixed-race and, as with Terry, he has played alongside Ferdinand's brother Rio – a "close mate", he said in court – in the England team for the last 11 years.
By his own admission yesterday, Cole "did not want to get involved" in this trial. He said that when the Football Association had first approached him for his account of events at Loftus Road on 23 October he had wanted to issue what he described as a "neutral statement".
Asked by the defence counsel George Carter-Stephenson QC towards the end of his questioning whether he felt there was a "conflict", Cole replied "Yes ... obviously JT is my team-mate and Rio, I have known him and his family for a long time."
But if the expectation was that Cole would be cowed by his day in court it did not take long for a man regarded as one of the best left-backs in the world, and demonised in other quarters, to assert himself. When the chief magistrate Howard Riddle told Cole that the court would "prefer it if you stood", Cole, by then seated in the witness stand, said he would rather sit down.
Dressed in a dark three-piece suit, wearing a diamond stud in his left ear and sporting his relatively recently-adopted Mohican-style haircut, Cole gave the rest of his evidence sitting in his chair.
He told Carter-Stephenson that Terry was a friend whom he might play a round of golf with or go out for a meal, although in the case of the latter usually in the company of other players. He described Terry as "one of the best captains around... inspiring" and also a "friend to everyone".
Cole said that he believed Ferdinand had said the words "'Bridgey'", "black" and "c***" during his confrontation with Terry during the game in question between Queen's Park Rangers and Chelsea. Terry claims that he sarcastically repeated the words "f****** black c***" back to Ferdinand when his opponent accused him of being racially abusive.
When Cole first had to utter the word c*** in court he hesitated and instead spelled it out one letter at a time. Riddle instructed him that he should say the word in its entirety. "You don't have to be shy." he said, in an attempt to be reassuring. Smiling, Cole replied, "I'm not shy".
Watching the footage in court of the evidence, Carter-Stephenson asked Cole why his mouth dropped open at a crucial point in the exchange between Terry and Ferdinand.
"I was either very hot or not happy at the words he was saying," Cole responded.
As for the conversation that took place in the away dressing room at Loftus Road after the match, Cole said that he could not remember much of what passed between Terry and Ferdinand. "I iced my ankles and had a shower," he said. "I was looking forward to going on a night out."
It was when he was cross-examined by the prosecution's lead counsel Duncan Penny, a Scot with a direct style, that Cole showed the kind of defiance that has characterised his playing style. He was not prepared to give Penny an inch, and if he was, then Penny was damn well going to have to work hard for it.
In reference to the sexual taunts from Ferdinand towards Terry, Penny said to Cole: "JT [Terry] should be respected". "That's got nothing to do with it," Cole replied. "He [Ferdinand] shouldn't be doing it on the pitch," Penny said. "Some people might think it's cool, I would say not," Cole replied. "It's humiliating," said Penny. "Inappropriate," said Cole. "Humiliating?" repeated Penny. "Same thing," responded Cole.
Penny also touched on Cole's own experience of having his private life as the subject of newspaper front pages as he explored the effect it might have on a famous footballer. "You've had lurid details of your life in the press, too. Not much fun, is it?" Penny asked. "No," replied Cole. "You don't like it," Penny said. "I'm a grown man," Cole said, "I can take it."
There was laughter in court when Penny sought to demonstrate the noise levels at Loftus Road that day in relation to Arsenal. "You've played for Arsenal," he said to Cole, "no one makes any noise at the Emirates do they?" Cole suggested that if he wanted to give an example of a quieter ground he would be better off with Wigan Athletic. "Let's not have that argument now," Penny said. "You're the one who brought it up," Cole responded.
When finally the prosecution cross-examination was over, Riddle thanked Cole for giving evidence – "I gather you didn't want to" – and said that he could leave the court. Cole departed the building soon after, accompanied by security. It could be some time before we hear him speak again in public.
Who was who in court
Witnesses giving evidence: Ashley Cole, David Richardson (Chelsea team bus driver)
Witnesses in support of Terry to court: Ray Wilkins, Bruce Buck
Statement: 'John Terry is not a racist': Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata & others
Statement in support of Terry: Ryan Bertrand, Jose MourinhoReuse content