James Lawton: Chelsea are morally derelict in their ongoing support of John Terry

Chelsea abhor racism to a point, as long as it’s not their captain accused

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The guilt drips poisonously through 63 pages of torturous legal documentation. The verdict is emphatic, the punishment is hardly a fly-swat and once again we have to wonder when we might next collide with something in English football that might just be mistaken for a hint of conscience.

If there is still such a thing, it's not likely to be found in John Terry's citadel of Stamford Bridge.

There, he is the man who can do no wrong. He is not JT the conniver, the reprobate, the author of gutter racist language, but the leader, even the emblem of their meaning. He is the untouchable who feeds on the love of his tribe.

Love, did we say? The quality of it can never have been so strained or one-eyed.

Terry gets a four-match ban for the cardinal sin of racial abuse – one more than had he twice kicked the ball away in frustration – and the game wonders if even his audacity will stretch to an appeal, another public washing of the soiled linen and the mutilated spirit of something which, while never perfect, once managed to get by without a regular dose of disinfectant.

Terry's colleague Ashley Cole, and main support witness, sends a message to the rulers of football which is at the same time so obscenely dismissive, so self-destructively arrogant, you speculate at what point, if ever, the swill of sewerage will abate.

When it is all sluiced on top of the central incongruity of that inadequate sentence you look in vain for the smallest sign of accountability.

Not, certainly, from the captain of Chelsea – who had to be shown film of his outrageous foul in a Champions League semi-final before retracting a mind-numbing version of an incident which would have been shocking from the rawest, most terrified recruit – and still less from the club which was crowned champions of Europe.

Chelsea now stand at the heart of an affair which scandalises, surely, every fair-minded instinct in the national game.

It is fascinating to know how the club will react to the latest behaviour of Cole but in the meantime it needs to be said that no organisation in football has ever more firmly placed itself in the dock on a charge of hypocrisy.

This is Chelsea's official statement on the life ban imposed on Stephen Fitzwater, a 55-year-old from Isleworth, west London, who yelled racial insults at Didier Drogba during the semi-final with Spurs at Wembley: "Chelsea Football Club and the overwhelming majority of our fans abhor all forms of discrimination and believe they have no place in our club or our communities. We would like to thank Chelsea fans for reporting this incident which occurred during the semi-final and others, as a result of which a number of persons have been banned for racial and abusive language."

Chelsea abhor it up to a point, of course, and just as long as their captain is not employing a phrase like "You f****** black c***". This, of course, isn't about justice or self-regulation or doing the right thing. It is tribal.

As you would expect, the Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo says "at the moment he's our captain and he's available to play".

Yesterday's FA report inevitably provoked suggestions that Chelsea had been involved in a form of cover-up in their attempts to make late orchestration of the Cole evidence but the niceties of this debate pale against the strong impression that Terry's captaincy is not already and not likely to be anytime soon a matter of urgent review.

When the FA stripped him of the leadership of England in the spring no one could say they performed the task adroitly, especially when the immediate result was the resignation of their £6m-a-year manager Fabio Capello. But if the FA was ham-fisted it was not morally derelict, which has to be the verdict on Chelsea's reaction to the FA verdict.

Chelsea's support of a man who has so single-handedly divided the football nation could hardly have been more implicit.

Some may talk of institutionalised loyalty but how do you separate that from a failure to recognise the line between right and wrong?

How is it abhorrent to hear racial cries on the lips of an anonymous fan and not when it is confirmed, by the weight of tightly argued legal submissions based on all available evidence, on those of a lionised leader?

It doesn't make sense, neither morally nor practically. A former chief executive of Chelsea once described the Premier League as a "bunch of one" but if the remark was scorned at the time, and proved crudely optimistic quickly enough, how much more damaging is such an attitude now when the good name of the whole English game hangs so perilously?

Chelsea have the most coveted prize in European football but now they attach to it the kind of ignominy another great football club, Liverpool, heaped upon themselves when they failed to understand all the implications of their blind support for Luis Suarez in that other case which was supposed to define the force and the depth of the FA's stand against the evil of racial abuse.

The FA justified the eight-game ban imposed on Suarez because his crime was more persistent but in its report on the Terry case the conclusion is unflinching. It is that the Chelsea captain made elaborate but unsustainable attempts to obscure the reality of what happened at Loftus Road last October.

When he did that he attempted to frustrate the FA's campaign to clear away an ugly relic. He sought to avoid the mildest form of the punishment his club handed, with such righteous indignation, to the obscure but malignant fan on the terraces of Wembley.

He didn't get away with it but his fall is hardly catastrophic. Four games, one of them possibly a League Cup encounter, can be no measurement of the offence we are told is one of the most serious in football.

You may say that in the end there are no winners – but that will not be how it feels when "JT", implacable in his self-belief, runs out to a thunderous ovation at Stamford Bridge. Like his team-mate Cole, he says he is answerable only to his own conscience – and maybe his own people. It is hard not to believe it is the defiance of not only the unrepentant but the damned.

But where is the truth in Pietersen saga?

Kevin Pietersen might have spared us all the sentimental musing about the meaning of the England shirt – and especially that dewy-eyed speculation about the day his boy Dylan marches out to the square wearing one.

The reality is that he treated this fabled shirt worn by the likes of Compton and Botham as the vehicle of convenience for his superb batting ability and then betrayed it in an unprecedented way.

The details of his texting to South African opponents in the course of a hugely important Test match are now apparently lost beyond recall so we have to rely on his assurance that while "provocative", the messages did not contain any derogatory references to his team-mates – or tactical information. Perhaps we can reasonably assume that they were not exactly evidence of unfettered commitment to the cause.

It means, of course, that in their time of need the England Cricket Board is pleased to go along with Pietersen's version of events. It can babble on about "reintegration" and Pietersen can do a bit more work on his rhetoric for when he gets back into the spotlight.

So why is the warm glow of a happy ending just a little elusive? Possibly because we have been told quite gut-wrenchingly almost everything but the truth.