Ian Burrell: Terry saga is a warning to all footballers

The PR Battle
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For so long used to living as they pleased, without fear of retribution, Britain's elite footballers will surely have looked aghast at the sight of John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy. It may even get them to think differently about their public image.

Terry turned too late to Phil Hall, the former News of the World editor turned PR man, who is fire-fighting on his behalf. "It was a difficult brief," Hall admitted last night, after Fabio Capello, the England manager, had seized back the captain's armband.

By the time Hall was called in last week, Terry had already commenced legal proceedings in an effort to prevent the News of the World publishing details of the player's extra-marital fling. So when a judge overturned an earlier super-injunction to block reporting of the affair, the story became an issue of freedom of expression, meaning it was reported in the quality press as well as in the tabloids.

"Once the privacy action failed, the newspapers saw the story as an opportunity to grab the moral high ground in the battle that now seems to exist between celebrities and lawyers on one side and journalists on the other," Hall complained. "It's like an acrimonious divorce where neither seems to see the other side's point of view."

As a result, the Chelsea centre back has been subjected to a media savaging. Yesterday's news that Vanessa Perroncel, the lingerie model with whom he had the affair, had decided not to sell her story provoked speculation that she may have struck a deal to maintain her silence. Nonetheless more damaging revelations are expected tomorrow.

The publicist Mark Borkowski, a Chelsea supporter, said the Terry case would send a "shiver" through football. He said he would have advised Terry to hand the armband back before being stripped of it and said advisers should have been aware of the dubious PR value of the footballer accepting a "Dad of the Year" award from Daddies Sauce last summer. "Where else in the world do you get the scuzzy standards British football has got? The players have too much time on their hands and they are surrounded by sycophants," he said. "They think they can throw a lawyer at it and away it goes. I hope this will have woken players up to the nature of some of the people around them."

Hall, who has represented other football clients, agreed. "There are footballers who are like small corporations in their own right, in terms of their revenues and responsibilities to stakeholders – and yet they surround themselves with very junior staff," he said.