Chelsea captain John Terry in row over pet shop appearance
The chance to meet John Terry must have seemed the perfect half-term treat for any Chelsea-loving youngster, and for their parents a good way to kill an hour.
Good enough to draw a crowd of around 250 to the opening of a reptile shop in a suburban street in Surbiton, Surrey. The queues were even longer than the annual line to collect Christmas turkeys from Jennings the butchers 50 yards down the road.
With the England captain due at 2pm the queues started to form by half-twelve, pushchairs and Chelsea shirts prominent. By 1.30pm police were there to help marshal the growing crowd and the café and pub opposite were doing a roaring trade. By 2.30pm people were getting restless. Then staff emerged from Reptile Kingdom, some in furry lizard costumes, with sweets to eat and snakes to hold. Of the England captain, however, there was no sign.
Eventually the fans left, but not without a parting shot. "He's the snake," said one angry mum, "I'm disgusted."
Katie Pugh, 17, said she was "devastated". She said she was chasing up a promise Terry had made to give her a shirt. Having failed to get his shirt when she had been a mascot at Stamford Bridge she said she met Terry again "a year and two days ago" at the Chelsea megastore in Kingston. She added: "I was in tears and he hugged me, took my address and promised to send me a shirt. But he didn't."
Pugh added: "He's in my bad books, but I'm still John Terry till I die. He's my life."
Cameron Mangan was less understanding. "He's Chelsea captain and he's let us down," said the 16-year-old. "He should be here."
Terry later said in a statement: "I had not agreed to attend the opening of this or any other shop today. I had been asked if I would consider the opportunity and declined on two separate occasions. I very much regret any distress or disappointment that may have been suffered by the public."
The shop's co-owner Terrence Clark, who had advertised Terry's appearance for a fortnight, responded angrily. He told The Independent: "That's an absolute lie. It wasn't a publicity stunt. He had agreed to come. You saw everything I did today, bringing out the snakes and sweets and stuff for the kids because I felt so bad. He was supposed to be there but he didn't show."