Michael Calvin: Posturing would have shamed a schoolyard
The Calvin Report: New low in Anton Ferdinand and John Terry's long-running feud
Sunday 16 September 2012
Duplicitous policemen, incompetent institutions and time-serving knights of the realm have conspired to create a scandal which scars the national psyche, yet football chose to concentrate on the type of posturing which would shame the schoolyard. It was absurd, predictable and utterly demeaning.
Searching questions about human nature have been asked in the aftermath of the Hillsborough panel's report. The Premier League's post-Olympic era began at Loftus Road with pettiness and theatrical vindictiveness. Business as usual, in other words.
For the record, Anton Ferdinand refused to shake the hands of John Terry and Ashley Cole. His QPR captain, Ji Sung Park, gave him moral support, refusing to acknowledge his opposite number in the line-up and the pre-match coin toss in the centre circle.
Terry was ritually abused, and responded as if bile were as nourishing as breast milk. Cole went into his default mode, and had the demeanour of a demented ferret. Ferdinand, a supposed prisoner of conscience, ended an afternoon of casual character assassination by limping around on a solitary lap of honour.
The level of debate during a goalless West London derby was summarised by a banner, brandished by a young girl, which looked as if it had been knocked up during a Friday afternoon art class. It read: "John Terry. We Know What You Said." It got her 15 seconds of fame on TV, I suppose.
Pantomime season began at precisely 2.24pm, when Terry led Chelsea out to warm up with a skip, a jump and windmilling arms. He went through some drills with Cole, before the pair posed for photographs with mascots from both teams.
Ferdinand, third in line as the teams filed out of a narrow tunnel before kick-off, also used the mascots as human shields. He ushered them forward and did a detour around Terry, who did not bother to extend his hand.
When the QPR defender passed him, Cole turned his head away in apparent disgust. Park's gesture of solidarity would have gone down well with his former team-mates at Manchester United, but Terry was indifferent. His defiance was in character – even his fiercest critics acknowledge his uncanny ability to compartmentalise calamity – but it may be hollow.
This was tempting fate on an industrial scale. David Bernstein, the FA chairman, was in the directors' box. Not for the first time, Terry was the central character in a charade which exposed the shallowness of the Respect campaign. The pre- match verdict of Mark Hughes, who described the pre-match handshake as being "fundamentally flawed" was vindicated.
Given the hype, referee Andre Marriner did well to control a game which, the pre-publicity suggested, should have been staged under the auspices of the United Nations. All we needed to complete the charade of political correctness was an anguished anthem by Bono.
That, thankfully, would have been drowned out by the trumpeting of the elephant in the room, Terry's date with the FA's disciplinary commission, on September 24. The FA have a history of hanging juries – 99.6 per cent of disciplinary cases last year found in their favour. Should Terry be found guilty by them of racially abusing Ferdinand in the previous league fixture between the teams at Loftus Road, his future as an England player would be untenable, despite the public faith of England manager Roy Hodgson.
Chelsea would come under pressure to reconcile their support for their captain with their corporate responsibilities. They banned a supporter for life from Stamford Bridge in May after he was found to have racially abused Didier Drogba.
Whichever way this case goes, we have a problem. At a time when respect for authority has never been lower, and the cynicism generated by institutions like the FA is at its height, it is a no-win situation. If Terry escapes punishment, accusations of favouritism will poison public debate. Social networks will seethe with recycled arguments about the balance of probability, which the FA found good enough to brand Luis Suarez.
The broader point about the tribal excesses of football supporters will add to the toxicity of the mix. The abuse was puerile, relentless. When the home crowd chanted "Ashley Cole, you're John Terry's bitch", the travelling supporters sang their names rhythmically. They launched into a chorus of "Only one lying bastard", only to be answered by a taunt of "John Terry, your family are scum".
In an ironic concession to humanity, the central characters ended the game in pain. Terry pulled up sharply after delivering a back pass. Ferdinand was thrown back on as a passenger in added time after appearing to pull a hamstring in attempting to cover a Chelsea counter-attack.
He was last down the tunnel, after throwing his shirt into the crowd. Out of sight but, regrettably, not out of mind.
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