John Terry, Ashley Cole and Three Little Words…

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.

Big Black - Songs About Fucking

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”.)

There are 16 comments

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  1. Cunningplan

    It’s great to read a much more balanced view of the whole saga rather than the sanctimonious guff that’s been written elsewhere. I will hazard a guess that RA won’t take much notice of what the FA decided in their hearing with regard JT.

    I say that on the basis that he views the British legal system to be more rigorous and just (he said as much after his recent case) than our pitchfork carrying brigade at the FA, so if they found JT not guilty then it should hopefully be the end of the matter.

  2. nigel reid

    Enjoyed your piece.

    Sadly, I fear proper justice will now never be served in this lamentable farce. Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, but Terry and his advisers have failed to get out in front of this runaway train at every twist and turn. They put their faith (and money for lawyers) in due process and have been drowned  by a tsunami of media and public condemnation.

    It no longer makes any difference what Terry said or didn’t say. The court of public opinion has spoken. The problem with ‘context’ is that the further we travel from the scene of the accident, the less important it becomes.

    The ONLY road left open now is to demonstrate an act of real public contrition. After all, he doesn’t deny saying the words and as such should apologise for using them in whatever context. We all say things in the heat of battle that we later regret, but it’s important to acknowledge that we still understand our wider responsibilities.

    All is not lost. Terry can begin to make amends any time he wishes. Apologise to Ferdinand and his family, apologise to his (our) club and to the fans and accept that any use of racial epithets is inexcusable, irrespective of ‘context’.

    Anything less than a proper apology, or attempt to hide behind legal definition, will be seen as mere semantics. Each day that passes without an apology will continue to bring him, the game, the club and even the supporters, into disrepute.

    The only three words required are the three he should have used at the beginning of all this. It’s not too late and ‘sorry’ doesn’t have to be the hardest word.



    • Blueboydave

      So should JT seize the opportunity to do a Nick Clegg-like Auto-tune job and try for an i-tunes download hit?

      JD, a rare bit of calm writing on this stormy topic, but what I’m dying to know is what your English teacher did that may or may not have provoked you into calling him a cunt?

  3. Petew

    While I always knew the FA would get him, I was genuinely surprised by the written report. After the finely balanced, thoughtfully argued court judgement I foolishly expected the FA would serve up something similar. Instead they gave us a staggeringly partial and one-sided account that effectively read like a prosecution case, full of conjecture, logical leaps and factual inaccuracies and which never, as far as I can tell, even contemplated in any guesswork that would have been in Terry’s favour. So Ferdinand evidence was taken as gospel without cross-examination – even the bits that were proved wrong in court – while things like Ashley Cole’s motivation in going to court to reluctantly testify against an old friend was never even considered. Instead, they labelled Cole a liar without giving him the opportunity to defend himself. Even their point-by-point account of the initial contretemps was full of mistakes (all of which favoured Ferdinand).

    A Liverpool fan warned me it would be a stitch up, but I was still astonished at what passes for legal argument with the FA. I think it was the stuff about body language that really did it for me. I can’t take seriously any argument that brings things like that in play. 

    The fact that the press lapped it up did not surprise me. As a journalist myself I know how many of them work: they begin with the verdict and then work backwards to find the evidence that backs them up. This is what the FA did. It’s what most hacks do. 

    I am still personally undecided about what actually happened, simply because the evidence is inconclusive. There are no witnesses. The defence story is certainly possible. Nothing really proves or disproves it. So in that context, you have to be very, very sure of your ground if you are going to label a man a racist (and that is effectively what they have done), and I don’t think body language and an amended draft witness statement really amounts to sufficient evidence. It’s not even enough on ‘a balance of probabilities’ to be honest.

    If the FA had delivered a more reasonable, accurate, account of what happened while still finding Terry guilty, I’d say that we should apologise and move on, but the laughable bias of their report makes that a little harder as it is tempting to shout down its finding from the rooftops. Conversely, it also makes it easier to ignore, which is what I think CFC should do. No apology, no statement, nothing the press can pick apart (if only they lent the FA such scrutiny), just ignore them and carry on, serve the ban (pitiful that it is), and get our revenge on the pitch. Just imagine their faces if Cole and Terry get their hands on the FA Cup again this season…

  4. mark_25

    It’s good that Ash has expanded his vocab beyond twat to now include contrition and unreservedly.

    I wish the press focussed more on the knob part of “fuck off, fuck off, … fucking black cunt, fucking knob-head.” because knob jokes come to hand so much more easily.

  5. BrianBirdieBhoy

    I cannot honestly say I am. C.F.C fan, but coming from north of the border, those initials mean a lot more to me, in that they refer also to my beloved Celtic.
    I digress…. A wondrous piece of writing, very well delivered. As I said, I couldn’t give a flying feck about J.T. and his over inflated wage packet and ego! Far less Ashley Cole and his “Tweet”. But Mother of God, do your press know how to whip up a maelstrom over nothing at all!
    Personally, not that any person cares, the English F.A. are a bunch of twats…. No they’re not… They’re a bunch of cunts!
    What in Gods name is all the feckin hoo ha about? I just don’t get it!

  6. bluebayou

    There is much fulminating over the question of racism in football and Chelsea are now firmly in the sights of the media. How they discipline Terry, Cole and Barnard, whether Terry remains Captain, will be seen as indicators of just how compromised Chelsea are on matters of race. The Observer has said that if Terry, Cole and David Barnard are not sacked then the club and it’s fans, if they don’t demand it, can’t be credible on racism in public life again.

    One of the the questions’ facing football is that while the percentage of non-white players is way ahead of the equivalent percentage of the population the same cannot be said of coaching and management positions.

    As it currently stands, Chelsea’s Director of Football (Emanelo) and one of the senior coaching staff (Newton) while they may not characterise themselves in such simple terms are, for the purposes of this discussion, black. I haven’t checked every Premiership club but would be fairly sure that this is not the case at all the “bigger” clubs. And no, I’m not patting us on the back or claiming the moral high ground, merely pointing out that simplistic diatribes about the club are wide of the mark and that while it is not groundbreaking Chelsea seem comfortable with putting black people in positions of responsibility on the footballing side. And those people seem comfortable working for Chelsea.

    Of course the simple counter is that this is all so much window dressing and that given the money on offer, players and staff alike are keeping their heads down and taking it on the chin, while a club traditionally awash with racism ploughs on..

    The FA have, in as many words, accused the Chelsea Club Secretary of lying as far as I can tell. Barnard holds an important position within the club that makes him a key figure in carrying out a number of tasks that have important legal ramifications, if I understand the post correctly.

    Can Chelsea continue with a person who appears so compromised? How did someone of such experience come to make such a definitive witness statement that could lay him open to such a charge?

    Or is there another side to this story?

    If Chelsea back Barnard, which they surely must if he is to retain his position, then they are calling into question the commission’s decision to set Cole’s evidence aside as unreliable. And in many ways that may be key. Because it is not the aspect of Cole’s evidence that they seized on (what he thinks he may have heard Ferdinand say) that is important. It is Cole’s evidence that Terry voiced concern about what he thought Ferdinand was accusing him of and secondly that he contradicts Ferdinand’s version of the dressing room conversation, while also recollecting what was said differently to Terry (thereby avoiding accusations of collusion) that gives the FA a problem.

    Having elided over the clear evidence that the conversation took place sooner rather than later after the game, in contrast to Ferdinand’s recollection, they would be forced to confront the fact that when added to his omission from his original statement to the Police of his provocative words, Ferdinand’s version of events is not as completely reliable as they suggest in their summary.

    I am not accusing Ferdinand of lying or fabrication, merely pointing out that evidentially there are very few givens in the whole case despite the FA’s contention that there are. The Chief Magistrate was careful to say that it was Ferdinand’s contention that he did not utter the words Terry claimed to
    be repeating, that was key part of his evidence and was to be believed.

    The rest of it is about how believable is Terry’s claim that he thought he was being accused of saying something. Whether Ferdinand actually utters the words is to some extent irrelevant. It is any evidence that Terry genuinely thought something was said that is key. Undermining Cole, through perhaps destroying the reputation of an established member of Chelsea’s football management was the way to do this.

    Then again they basically said Mike Phelan lied in his evidence over the “Battle of the Bridge” (Evra v the Chelsea groundstaff) and he’s still in a job. But telling an untruth accusing someone of racism is clearly less of an issue with the press than the other way about or they would have made a bigger fuss at the time.

    I don’t pretend to know what really happened. When it all started I assumed it was simple and straightforward and Terry had managed to nail his own coffin shut.

    But the longer this has gone on and particularly the nature of much of the “so-called” evidence, the ignoring of how speech is really patterned, the demonisation of individuals on both sides etc. etc. has left me feeling uncomfortable about it all.

    I am equally uncomfortable with the fact that questioning this incident places me in the eyes of some as an apologist for racist abuse and a contributor to a situation that could dissuade people in future from reporting incidents of racial abuse.

    And that is the problem with ethics and morality. It can be complex and difficult. To many this is a very simple situation but not for me.

    • bluebayou

      If  the Kaiser’s voice and the whole of Tony have returned (one was in France) we should be foregathering in the Shed tomorrow evening.

      Apologies for the prolonged absence.

  7. Vik Sohonie

    Insightful piece, good to read a piece by Mr. Dyer after some time, if i’m not mistaken.  A special rung in the most fetid attitudes of the the power be remains reserved for Chelsea, and I think players thrive on the fact that CFC is club everyone’s loves to hate. 

    Also, pugnacious is definitely one of the greatest words in the English language.

  8. WorkingClassPost

    Finally got a chance to sit down for an England game that might be worth watching and it’s rained off!

    Saw most of Belgium v Scots instead. Hazard came on to shake things up and Courtois looks well able to join the first team whenever he’s needed.

    Can’t say I’ve been too bothered about the FA thing. 

    Tried to read their report, but abandoned it after the first dozen or so pages which laboriously attempted to justify their decision to re-write the original verdict. Expected nothing more, having seen Garth Crookes’ interview just after the court case, when he boasted that the FA would take it on, and that JT would be found guilty because the FA would not be constrained by the ‘burden of proof’. Guess we now know what trial by committee looks like.

    I must admit to a certain amount of prejudice towards GC, having never liked him as a player, but now I find it quite an unpleasant experience to look at his hateful little piggy face when he pops up on TV.

    Thankfully that’s no very often, these days.

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