John Terry's marquee sponsor Umbro has distanced itself from the England captain by removing from its website all key images of the player, who now faces a courtroom battle to save his reputation after being charged with racially abusing the Queen's Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand.
In another dramatic 24 hours in English football yesterday, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that there was a "realistic prospect of conviction" in the case of Terry, who is charged with "a racially aggravated public order offence" and will face court on 1 February. In the meantime, Umbro, which has had Terry as an endorsee for most of his professional career, has made a company decision to downplay its connection with the player.
The website of the sportswear company, which is owned by Nike, features only one picture of Terry and a search of his name yields only three results. England team-mates such as Joe Hart, Gareth Barry and Darren Bent are all featured on the UK homepage, as well as Michael Owen, but Terry, who remains the England captain, has been omitted.
As manufacturers of the England kit, Umbro has always sought to be the boot sponsor for the team's captain. It sponsored Alan Shearer when he was captain before David Beckham, who was an Adidas player. It is understood that Terry's contract with Umbro is due to expire at the end of the season. An Umbro spokeswoman declined to comment last night.
Following Luis Suarez's eight-match ban and fine from an independent commission on Tuesday, the announcement on Terry meant that there will be pressure on the Football Association to decide whether the Chelsea player will be able to continue as the England captain. As of last night, the governing body refused to make any comment on the issue although it is understood that it has made no firm decision on Terry's future.
When Steven Gerrard was charged with assault and affray at the end of 2008 he was permitted to continue playing for the national team on the basis that he was innocent until proven guilty. He was later acquitted. Fabio Capello took that stance with Terry when he was called up by England last month, playing in the second friendly against Sweden.
However, the FA has a prerogative that these highly charged issues have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and there is no guarantee that Terry will be able to represent England when they play the Netherlands on 29 February unless the legal process has been completed.
Although Terry is due in court on 1 February, a not guilty plea will mean that the case is adjourned and it is almost certain not to have been resolved by the time of the friendly. He is charged with a summary offence, which does not carry a custodial sentence, but he could be fined up to £2,500 if found guilty.
The CPS case against Terry also means that it will be difficult for the FA not to charge the player when the legal process is completed. Its investigation was put on hold while the CPS investigated and will have to resume once the court case has finished.
Within minutes of the CPS announcing their decision yesterday, Terry issued a public statement reiterating his belief in his own innocence. He said: "I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible.
"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."
There was a robust defence of Terry from his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, who said at his press conference, before the CPS statement, that he would support the player "whatever happens". Villas-Boas said: "We know exactly his human values and personality, so we will support him whatever happens. I've not the right to say that their justice is wrong. He is fit and available." In the aftermath of the CPS announcement, Chelsea said that they had "always been fully supportive of John in this matter and there is no question that we will continue to be so".
The allegation relates to Chelsea's game at QPR in October when footage of a dispute between Ferdinand and Terry seemed to show the latter using the phrase "black c***". Terry said he used the phrase but only in the context of rebutting Ferdinand's accusation that he had called him that.
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