John Terry charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand
John Terry is facing up to his biggest battle yet as he attempts to clear his name of the racism charge that has been levelled against him.
The Crown Prosecution Service this afternoon confirmed that Terry will go before West London Magistrates Court on February 1, charged with a racially aggravated public order offence over comments allegedly made during Chelsea's Premier League encounter with QPR at Loftus Road on October 23.
Terry has already claimed innocence and repeated that assertion in a statement released within minutes of the CPS announcing their decision.
However, he must also be aware that if he is found guilty, it would be virtually impossible for him to remain as England captain.
"I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible," said Terry.
"I have never aimed a racist remark at anyone and count people from all races and creeds among my closest friends.
"I will fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence. I have campaigned against racism and believe there is no place for it in society."
Yet Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, has told Scotland Yard that after reviewing the evidence, including previously unseen footage that was handed in last week, there is "a realistic possibility' of securing a conviction against the 31-year-old.
"I am satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute this case," said Saunders.
"He is now summonsed with a criminal offence and has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice his trial."
The Football Association have given a brief response to the latest development, which came less than 24 hours after they handed Liverpool's Luis Suarez an eight-match ban and a £40,000 fine for comments made to Manchester United's Patrice Evra seven days before the Terry incident took place.
A statement on their official website, www.thefa.com, read: "Further to the announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today [21 December] regarding the allegation against John Terry following the Queens Park Rangers v Chelsea fixture on Sunday 23 October 2011, The Football Association will not be making any comment at this time."
Terry was caught by TV cameras appearing to mouth an obscenity at Anton Ferdinand, which he said afterwards had been "taken out of context".
No stranger to controversy in his career, Terry will be aware of the potential consequences of failing to prove his innocence.
The FA stood by him during the most recent England internationals, with Fabio Capello making him skipper for the friendly win over Sweden at Wembley in November on the basis that Terry was "innocent until proven guilty".
That stance is unlikely to change now, not least because England do not have a game until February 29, when they tackle Holland.
However, having taken such a strong line with Suarez and led the condemnation over the recent comments from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who suggested in a TV interview that arguments of a racial nature that took place on the pitch should be settled by a handshake, it would be impossible for them to endorse Terry as skipper if a guilty verdict was recorded.
The FA have worked tirelessly with anti-racism bodies for decades and are prevented from launching their own action against Terry until the criminal case has been completed.
For Chelsea however, the matter is far more immediate.
And, having continued to pick Terry since the row first exploded into the public domain, Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas sees no reason to alter that stance now.
"I will be really supportive of John Terry whatever the outcome of the situation," he said.
"He has my full support, the club's full support.
"He represents this club to a maximum level and we're very grateful to have a player of his quality in our team, in what he represents in terms of history and achievements a the club.
"We know exactly his human values and personality, so we will support him whatever happens."
And, after overcoming an injury sustained during an open training session on Monday, Villas-Boas confirmed Terry will skipper Chelsea in their Premier League encounter with Tottenham tomorrow despite the likely reaction from Spurs supporters.
"John is selected for tomorrow's game," said Villas-Boas.
"A Premier League pitch is a difficult environment but it won't be a problem for a player of John Terry's experience."
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