In 1971, the late, great Peter Osgood was handed an eight week ban and a £160 fine by the Football Association for collecting three yellow cards in a season (this apparently incorporated a suspended ban for collecting five bookings in the previous season). Yellow cards were trickier to come by back then, of course; you’d certainly need to do a bit more than craftily waft your elbow at an opponent’s face or stamp on a gravitationally challenged Uruguayan…
The history books (well, Google) lack a handy PDF file with the disciplinary panel’s reasoning behind the ban – it just seems as though Ossie’s collection of cards over the course of two seasons ruffled a stuffed blazer or three at Lancaster Gate and a two month slap on the wrist was issued.
It’s probably a good thing that footballers couldn’t tweet back then.
@king_ossie9 FA? #bunchoftwats and I don’t care if @alf_ramsey reads this either! so says @racquel_welch too. are those my shorts darling?
Suffice to say if footballers had access to Twitter in the early 70s, at the rate the FA are issuing fines for inappropriate tweets Wembley Stadium would have been paid for several times over before the first brick was laid, even taking inflation into account.
(I mean, in the context of recent events, £45,000 for a post-trial choc-ice seems a bargain, doesn’t it?)
OK, it’s easy to satirise (or at least ham-fistedly attempt to) Chelsea’s currently uneasy relationship with the FA. And that brief glance at history tends to show that things haven’t really changed, even if the quantum of the fines and the means and immediacy of response to events have.
We’ve had one new manager and two trophies in the meantime, but it is still the three words said by John Terry at Loftus Road almost a year ago and the subsequent fallout that dominate the back page headlines. Even at his most pugnacious and antagonistic, the mighty Jose Mourinho couldn’t summon up a scrap with legs as durable as this one.
The media are, as ever, driving the debate. Which, in context, is about as sensible as leaving Jimmy Saville in charge of a girls’ school dormitory. To be fair to the hacks (not that they deserve it), most of them don’t have the nous to do anything but follow the trawler in the hope that Terry, Cole or anyone else throws another kipper in their direction. It’s all too easy to churn out a few hundred words of bloated opinion every day when the subject steadfastly refuses to die, albeit that it generally seems to be the hacks themselves who are keeping it on life support. England captain (as was)? Racist comment? Witness accused of contempt of court angrily tweeting at the FA and then apologising? It’s the gift that gives more column inches than Joey Barton with a grievance, an iPod full of Smiths albums and a few Nietzsche quotes.
The panel’s judgement, fairly predictable even back in the days immediately following the incident before the CPS flew in two-footed, has certainly raised as many questions as it has eyebrows.
Having read the panel’s report, there are certainly holes worthy of picking over in more detail, which others have done so; Dan Levene eloquently blogs on the subject here – I don’t agree with all of the points that he makes, but his opinion is measured and informed, unlike the thoughts of many of his contemporaries based in Wapping. Overall, the key issue for me is burden of proof – when deciding such serious matters on which reputations and careers are potentially at stake, the current criteria applied by the FA look deeply and worryingly inadequate.
Let’s ponder the FA, for a moment. One of the many things that they will have been concerned with is precedent. I imagine that the reason Anton Ferdinand wasn’t charged with any offence for his remarks to Terry during the game is simply that if you charge one footballer who calls another a cunt along with a few choice observations about who he’s been nuts deep into extra time with, the FA’s email server will be in meltdown come 9.05 every Monday morning. That doesn’t make it the right decision, but with 22 blokes on each of the x-thousand football pitches across the nation every week, in practical terms someone is going to have to work out who to charge for use of rich and descriptive language and who to ignore. It’s hardly a satisfactory state of affairs, though.
Which brings me on to the broader question here, in terms of precedent. What the FA considered was broader than just Terry’s case; the identity of the player was almost irrelevant in the grand scheme – this was all about putting a very firm marker down. So let’s consider the following question:
Would the FA allow the use of the words “fucking black cunt” on a football pitch to be justified by the context of the words preceding them, or the addition of a question mark after them?
Rightly or wrongly, it’s really a yes or no question, isn’t it? And deep down, I think we all knew the answer they were going to come up with. There was simply no chance of this particular can of worms falling into the minuscule 0.5% of cases where the FA don’t get their man.
Do I think that some of the evidence in support of their case against Terry is flawed? Is it ridiculous in the light of the court’s not guilty verdict? Are the processes in need of examination to ensure that similar situations don’t arise in the future? Yes to all of those questions.
I appreciate that my somewhat wordy take on this is probably over-simplifying a very complex, emotive and serious issue, but I’ll throw my wholly inadequate analogy into the mix (well, everyone else is doing it), for what it’s worth.
It all brings to mind the time I called my English teacher a cunt. He simply didn’t believe my protestations that I was merely quoting D.H. Lawrence and that he’d missed the rest of the sentence. And even if he did, he wasn’t about to say so in front of 30 other kids who knew a good loophole when they saw one. Give ‘em an inch, and all that.
Do I think JT said what he did in anger or by way of inquiry? If I’m honest, mostly the former, occasionally the latter, but having seen the footage as it appeared after the game and the way the story built in the hours and days that followed, Terry was always damned from the moment the words left his mouth, whatever the context.
As others have observed at length elsewhere, there came a point fairly early on in this particular saga where the nation decided (or rather had their preconceptions confirmed) what they thought about Terry. Neither the court’s not guilty verdict nor the panel’s damning report made much difference to the public’s view of one of English football’s most successful, but controversial characters.
So, what happens next? Roman Abramovich’s silence on the subject is predictably deafening. Of course, guessing what the Russian thinks about anything is about as futile as betting on which row of the Shed Upper one of Jesper Gronkjaer’s crosses was going to land in, but when past events have reached a perceived tipping point, he doesn’t hesitate to act and he acts decisively. Quite what that point will be in respect of matters Terry (and to an extent, Cole) only he will know, but I suspect it won’t take too much to prompt a quiet call from a wealthy sponsor if the current furore doesn’t die down soon.
As for the FA, the contradictions just keep on mounting up. Tweets seem a far more pressing matter than stamps, dives and elbows – while their rules governing the use of social media are clearly and correctly being followed, it’s looking more Wembleyshambles than omnishambles in North London and the mind boggles as to what will happen next beneath the arch.
Finally, I know you’re all dying to know the answer – did I really call my English teacher a cunt?
Well, only I know that for sure, just as only John Terry knows what he said that afternoon at Loftus Road last October. On the balance of probabilities, detention and a bollocking was probably apt punishment for me. For Terry? A four game ban and a fine has done little to quell outrage amongst the ranks of the punditry and the Fourth Estate, so who knows which way they will instruct the mob to direct their pitchforks next?
(With thanks to Rick Glanvill for his assistance with information on the Peter Osgood ban.)
(Image courtesy of Gary William Murning Online: Good Enough for DH Lawrence — or “Cunt”.)