Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: John Terry can't lead England if guilty

Kick It Out is an entirely laudable campaign to hose away the last effluent evidence that racism has any longer more than a scabrous toe-hold in English football.

Unfortunately, the banning of Luis Suarez for eight matches by an independent regulatory panel and the charging yesterday of Chelsea and England captain John Terry by the Crown Prosecution Service tells us more about the problem than we probably wanted to know.

The trouble is not so much the threat of lingering prejudice, absurdly in such a cosmopolitan game, as disturbing indications that a majority of football followers in this country see the issue not as a rare unifying force but another opportunity to exhibit the most raw and one-eyed tribalism.

Yesterday we were told that voters in a Sky News national poll were running around two-to-one in favour of the belief that Suarez has been harshly treated. Quite apart from any concern about the foundation of the Suarez conviction – a matter on which the Football Association has a duty to be more revealing over the next few days – is the worry that many are refusing to register the seriousness of the offence and its utterly insidious potential.

Put another way, there must be alarm that many around English football would struggle to identify a moral issue – as opposed to a partisan one – even if it came in the form of a disabling, two-footed tackle.

The confidence of the CPS that a conviction can be obtained against Terry when he goes to court in February is guaranteed only to escalate the controversy that has erupted so prodigiously in the wake of the Suarez verdict.

Terry, as he has from the moment of his confrontation with Anton Ferdinand in October, was yesterday declaring both his innocence and his intention to fight "tooth and nail" to prove it. Despite this, the FA is now obliged to consider the possibility of its worst-case scenario – a conviction for England's captain of a racist offence and an appalling onset of déjà vu.

Terry has, of course, once before been ejected from the captaincy on the grounds that his off-field behaviour had created serious division in the dressing room. Now, at the approach of next summer's European Championship, he is at risk of being found guilty of a crime that would make his leadership of a squad which in its last outing contained seven players of mixed or entirely non-white origins just about entirely inappropriate.

This is so even if the majority of English fans, or at least the most voluble of them, were yesterday insisting that the crimes which put Suarez and now Terry in the dock might have been dismissed in the way of an ill-timed tackles or some dissenting backchat to the referee.

Some even got round to disinterring the Blatter Solution, the idea from the Fifa president that the racially abused should play on until the final whistle and then, like good resilient chaps of the world, shake hands with those who offered them the abuse.

The FA has brought a ton of pressure on itself by proceeding against Suarez, as it was against Terry until a QPR fan reported him to the Metropolitan Police, but if there have been times when the FA's collisions with Sepp Blatter have provoked the suspicion that it was operating from something less than outright moral indignation, there is no question that it has gained the higher ground on this occasion.

For some the only issues in the Suarez and Terry cases have been those of innocence or guilt, the alleged crimes themselves having never been seen as less than poisonous to the good health of the national game. That this appears to have been less than the majority view over the last 24 hours is surely as dismaying as the possibility that racism, in any identifiable form, might in the future be seen as something less than heinous if it happened to be practised by one of your star players.

For the FA, and the Fabio Capello who acted so swiftly the last time he believed Terry had surrendered the right to captain his country, there cannot be much doubt about their obligation. They have taken a hard position and it has brought some obvious difficulties. If Terry is found guilty, the decision is of course automatic. He goes.

In the meantime, there are grounds to believe that as England contemplate their warm-up preparations for the European finals, his suspension from national team duties – without prejudice, as they say – might not be too grievous an offence against natural justice. Whatever the outcome of the racism charge, there is some reason to believe that the edited reruns of the affair at Loftus Road which were aired for much of yesterday's rolling news did not exactly portray Terry as a natural-born leader of superior judgement.

It was one of the bleaker conclusions on a day when moral certainties were not exactly bouncing against the walls.

Belfast Telegraph


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