The Last Word: One knee-jerk reaction leads to another

Terry may be a pantomime villain but that does not mean he isn't entitled to a bit of fair play

John Terry has his rights. He deserves to be treated like any other man, any other player. In court room as on football pitch. Ah, if it only were so simple.

The reaction to Terry's sending off last week was inevitably hysterical. If Gary Cahill had seen red in such numbskull fashion, there would have been the appropriate lambasting but no calls for the reintroduction of the death sentence.

It's a smear we always throw in his direction, but it applies both ways – it's one rule for Terry and one rule for the rest. That's just where Terry is at the moment; one straw away from the donkey's back collapsing. Fleet Street may as well Photoshop those ears on him now.

Except from a football standpoint it isn't fair. True, he did himself the very reverse of a few favours when he came out and declared that his knee in Alexis Sanchez's spine was an act of self-defence. That was as absurd as Brutus claiming Caesar had backed into his knife. Yet Terry isn't the first footballer to make a dumb foul and follow it up with an equally dumb justification.

But he is the worst, or so the outrage signifies. Popular opinion seems to be adamant he would have no right to lift the Champions' League trophy should Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in next month's final. The Londoners would have won the tournament in spite of him and not because of him. But if you believe that, you must also have it that Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic should also be excluded from the presentation. It's up to Chelsea who they select to raise the cup above their head first, nobody else. Unless, that is, you want football to be at the forefront of the nanny state.

And there would be a reason why they would stick with their club captain. It would take only a brief flick through Google to ascertain how important Terry has been in Chelsea's European campaign; just as it would to discover that this was Terry's first dismissal in almost two years. That's what Terry meant when saying, "I'm not that type of player". He had proof; it's called his disciplinary record. Yet for "player" the laughing world heard "man". And that's where the case of John Terry becomes the emblematicmess of the blurred lines of this modern sporting age.

The sex scandal, the family history,the betrayal of a best friend, the anarchy on national duty... all this was brought against him when Sanchez hit the floor and the replays displayed the extent of the stupidity. Of course, so was the impending case of alleged racial abuse. It just goes to highlight that a celebrity is guilty before being proved innocent.

But then, does it? Had Terry scored a 30-yard screamer to beat Barcelona, suddenly the charge against him wouldn't have held any place in the glorious aftermath. And that just underlines the absurdity in our perception of the central defender. Terry the accused before a magistrate and Terry the accused on the back pages are one and the same. They shouldn'tbe, but they are.

We will see this again today when Terry's Chelsea faces Anton Ferdinand's QPR at Stamford Bridge. Fortunately there is at least one wise head at the Premier League who eventually,after some heavy-duty prompting, saw the sense in separating the football from the legal. They were quite correct to suspend the pre-match handshake. That ridiculously ironic routine is supposed to promote camaraderie and sportsmanship in football. In this instance it will have achieved the exact opposite and might even have prejudiced the trial.

Having seen sense on this issue, the Premier League then made the ludicrous suggestion that QPR should have given Chelsea a guard of honouron to the field. That way madness would have lain.

But at least they got the big call – about the handshakes – right. So how can the footballing authorities bend that precedent and not the precedent which allows suspended players to go up and receive their medals in the Champions' League final? The truth is, they could have bent either, but that in the latter they rightly elected to resist. Where would they have drawn the line in the future.

Imagine the furore if a popular captain had been tamely sent off in the semi and denied his moment with the silverware? When the time comes to reflect and congratulate, a tournament is made up of games and hours, of goals and fouls, not single instants. To stop someone from climbing the podium for receiving his marching orders in the semi-final makes no more sense that doing the same to a player who committed the same misdemeanour in the first round.

It doesn't matter if a place in club football's most coveted showpiece was on the line or not. Uefa must judge it coldly, by the moment alone and not bring any external factors of what it meant, or might have meant, into consideration. That is for the masses to do and, boy, did we accomplish that with aplomb in midweek.

We always do when it comes to Terry, the pantomime villain of our blessed soap opera. The problem is there's a genuine case against him and there's football's case against him. They aren't intertwined; it just seems that way when we are apoplectic on the sofa. One is real life, one is football. It's insulting on both to confuse the two.

Comments