James Lawton: A game happy to roll along in the gutter of no limits
At what stage does a major figure say the sport’s values have slipped desperately?
John Terry was cleared, as the drift of the evidence in Westminster magistrates' court always suggested he would be, but wouldn't it be nice to say that a huge indictment had also been removed from the shoulders of English football?
It hasn't, of course, because if racism has been rightly engaged but not proven, we have seen that football more generally is plagued by more than one important issue.
There is also a poision that seems to have gone into its very roots.
Racism will always represent the prime target in any cleansing attempt but we know, perhaps more graphically than ever before, how much work is required before a wider decency is imposed.
We are not talking about the superficiality of mere bad language but the moulding of relentless, bone-deep animosity – the idea that anything goes in the pursuit of some advantage, starting with sexual goading, a process augmented from the stands, which Terry specified in one case included chanting of the alleged proclivities of his mother.
Long before the end of this week's case even some of the game's most ardent supporters must have been wondering if, given the extent of its descent into the gutter, it was still worth the candle and certainly something to which you would take a young son or a daughter.
A persistent reaction is that there has always been "industrial language" in football, always an inclination to work on the equilibrium of an opponent, to impose physical hurt and at the same time hoodwink match officials. It is true enough but then it was also commonplace for bananas to be tossed in the direction of black players and for the uttering of monkey taunts which caused such offence in Poland so recently. In the violent football age of the Sixties, players earned scarcely more than a £100 a week. Today the estimated wage of a top player like John Terry is around £130,000 a week.
But at what point do these professionals begin to reflect, in their behaviour and their discipline, such extraordinary material progress?
At what stage does a major figure in the game – some exalted manager like Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger or a renowned pundit like Gary Lineker or Alan Hansen of the proprietorial television say that indeed the values and standards of the national game, the one awash with wealth undreamed back when the formidable Norman Hunter carried the nickname "Bites Yer Legs", have slipped to a desperate level?
When will we get a consensus that football has a duty to look at itself and see what an example it is setting to the young people of this country?
There is little indication of such an imminent initiative. The Professional Footballers' Association stands shoulder to shoulder with the FA in the excoriation of racism but there is also the question of a collective failure to respect the dignity of any opponent, whatever his pigmentation.
On the day of Terry's acquittal we also learned that Joey Barton, rather than being sacked for his outrageous behaviour in the last game of season, might be farmed out to the Championship, possibly to Blackburn Rovers, where he could help his temporary club before returning to the cause of Queen's Park Rangers. You may say this represents the most outrageous cynicism. Football will tell you that it is simply good and practical business.
In football the imperative has for some time been to gain an edge, at whatever cost to the idea that this is a game that sometimes might just put a principle before some short-term gain.
Perhaps the ultimate example came at Manchester City last season when Roberto Mancini asserted that Carlos Tevez had forfeited all right to represent the club that had treated him so generously. Yet soon enough the manager agreed that Tevez, while preserving some of his value, might also strike some vital blows in the title run-in. Few disagreed and now who can say that such moral neutrality is not at the heart of this sense that football is lost in all but the accruing of profit and some passing success.
The Terry trial, in all but its central purpose, shed more light on football than we can have imagined or feared, not so much in the revelation of the instincts of some of its players – much about those were already known – but the absence of anyone who seemed to recognise the scale of the abyss.
Such a deficiency can never have been more apparent or sickening in what it said about the lack of anything approaching a collective responsibility. Football seems to think it can roll along in its own sweet and lucrative way, answerable only to itself.
Football may be right – and that is perhaps the most depressing reality of all.
Bonfire of the vanities lit by Olympic flame row
You can make any case you want for either Daley Thompson or Sir Steven Redgrave to light the Olympic flame. Both are among the great British Olympians, Thompson giving the image of the super-athlete immense projection with his decathlon gold medals in Moscow and Los Angles, Redgrave over 16 years and five golds in separate Games defining the qualities of dedication and physical courage which set ultimate standards in sport.
However, the fact that the issue is apparently boiling up behind the scenes – with organisation chairman Lord Coe backing his old team-mate Thompson and Lord Moynihan of the British Olympic Association favouring Redgrave – is yet more disquieting evidence that these Games are being shaped as much by the cult of personality as any overwhelming force of sweet cohesion.
David Beckham's failed pursuit of the Olympic football team captaincy was one fiasco and now we are told that he will be compensated for the ensuing embarrassment – and his huge celebrity contribution to the landing of London's bid – with another high-profile involvement in the bearing of the torch into the stadium.
The Thompson-Redgrave debate will now be settled, we are led to believe, behind closed doors. Discussions should proceed at some speed and perhaps recognise the fact that in the past Redgrave, while making himself in the eyes of many the outstanding British Olympian of all time, has always carried himself with proper levels of dignity –something which Thompson might have some difficulty in claiming.
However, despite the tongue-in-cheek remark of his friend and team-mate Steve Ovett that he was merely the winner of "nine Mickey Mouse events and a slow 1500 metres", Thompson was indeed one of the nation's great performers. Whoever lights the flame will know precisely what he is igniting. This should, sooner rather than later, shrivel up the latest controversy.
Will Froome break ranks and steal Wiggins' glory? We'll soon find out
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The word among the cognoscenti is that it simply will not happen, that the concept of service in a bike team is as implicit as it is in a matador's entourage. However, such speculation moves along a fascinating plot briskly enough. It is also refreshing to know that in this aspect of the story we will know the truth of it and nothing but.
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