The Calvin Report: Terry's white boots belie a grubby week

 

Say what you like about John Terry – and we will – he's a trouper. This was a fist-pumping, badge-kissing, legend-enhancing reaffirmation of character. The man has the durability of a cockroach, the nerve of a test pilot and the chutzpah of a street politician.

Once the most significant of Chelsea victories had been confirmed at the Emirates, Terry marched towards the away fans at the head of his team. He suddenly paused, as if to savour the chants of "only one England captain" and deliberately pulled off his white boots.

We knew what was coming: The Grand Gesture. Terry hurdled an advertising hoarding and gave the boots to two boys in the front row. The faithful were so beguiled they forgot their habitual follow up refrain of "f*** the FA".

No matter, the point had been made. Even Roberto Di Matteo, who could make the Gettysburg address sound like a recitation of the Cobham telephone directory, was as animated as he gets. His resting pulse rate must have soared beyond 40 beats per minute.

"John was the right choice today," he acknowledged. "He showed his leadership qualities and what a good defender he is. There's a lot of talk about the negative side of things, but he does lots of positive stuff."

By the time Terry headed to the tunnel he had only a small dishonour guard to deal with. "Scum" they spat percussively. For all the impact they made, they could have been throwing sweet-scented garlands at his stockinged feet.

Arsenal being Arsenal, most of the fans were eating overpriced pizza when Terry's name was read out 15 minutes before kick-off. The boos had an edge, and a greater intensity than those aimed at Ashley Cole, but failed to match the vitriol which rained down at Loftus Road a fortnight earlier. The Emirates remains a little too gentrified for taste.

As for Terry, you know the routine by now. The scrutiny begins in the tunnel where, promisingly for those on outrage watch, he was ignored by the Arsenal players. Judging by the subsequent handshakes, perfunctory yet perfectly observed, they simply couldn't be bothered.

Terry kept a consoling arm around the shoulder of the mascot, Thomas, throughout the process. The boy had his arm in a sling – the result of a captain's Chinese burn, perhaps? – but a beatific smile on his face.

It took 90 seconds for the home crowd to summon the first chant of "John Terry: We know what you are." What kept them? They maintained the booing of Terry's every touch for a quarter of an hour until it became boring, totally meaningless. As gestures of contempt go it was the lightest flick of a lace handkerchief across Terry's weathered face.

They only remembered their tribal duties when Gervinho, the man with a billboard for a forehead, equalised three minutes before half-time. In the second half, they were too preoccupied by Arsenal's limitations to care.

Di Matteo attempted to inject a hint of drama into his selection policy, but there was never any doubt Terry was going to play, even though Sky panicked, and changed their pre-match advertising on Friday evening to concentrate on a mythical confrontation between Gary Cahill and Lukas Podolski, rather than Terry and the German.

Yesterday's match was closer to a pantomime than the Victorian freak show we had every right to expect. Instead of an appearance from football's answer to the Elephant Man, the nation had to come to terms with Captain Hook, straight from central casting.

The debate will continue – Jose Mourinho offered Terry a character reference from Madrid yesterday afternoon – but Terry's career is finite. Consciously or not, his professional obituary is beginning to be fashioned.

Neutrality isn't a realistic option, and conclusions will be clouded by personal preference. The praise, for his status as arguably the best defender of his generation, and the criticism, of his character flaws, will be shrill and ritualistic.

Terry will continue to live on the edge and dictate events through the force of his will. His shortcomings as a player, a lack of pace and agility, will increasingly become an issue, but his aura of authority will be the last thing he loses.

While his team-mates were celebrating taking the lead for the second time, Terry jogged back, barking what sounded like orders to the Chelsea bench. His powerbase at Stamford Bridge has been eroded, but it is still impossible to envisage him playing for another English club.

He was everything that David Luiz, his partner, was not – unflappable, remorseless, solid.

Mothers watching him at the Emirates would probably stop short of threatening troublesome children with his presence, but fathers, with an eye on the FA hearing, would also struggle to sustain the illusion that he is a man to be admired, and emulated. If you don't like him, he won't care.

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