Once upon a time it was assumed in this country that a man was innocent until proved guilty. And until John Terry is finally, next July, proved guilty of racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, if in fact he is, then surely he must remain innocent.
So why the hysterical campaign to deprive him of the England captaincy and to describe him as a “toxic” case?
Terry granted, is hardly a beacon of moral rectitude, a shining example to football’s young. His private life has been scattered with what one may call controversial situations but, like Gilbert and Sullivan’s flowers that bloom in the spring Tra la, they’ve nothing to do with the case. Might as well disqualify Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, from the captaincy when there was surely concrete reason given his eight-month suspension for avoiding that drugs test, not to mention certain holiday episodes.
It still puzzles me that the Metropolitan Police rather than the FA should be dealing with Terry’s alleged offence, apparently on the grounds that a single fan reported the supposed racist outburst to them, which legally it seems obliged them to act. But in the last analysis, though I may here be treading on dangerous ground, what does the England captaincy matter?
In Italy, for example, the captaincy of the azzurri never mattered at all.
It simply went automatically to the player with the most caps. I recall a somewhat ludicrous occasion many years ago when both the Fiorentina full-backs, Aldo Magini and Sergio Cervato, picked for an international game had exactly the same number of caps. Magini got the nod because he’d won just one more ‘B’ cap than Cervato.
The truth is that in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t matter a damn who captains a soccer team, whereas in cricket it matters very much. When a cricket team is in the field it is the skipper who makes the crucial decision on who is to bowl and when, and the skipper who deploys the field.
In this football age when the manager calls the tactical shots captaincy is a mere honorific. Of course, there have been captains of major influence. Ferenc Puskas for Hungary being one; though this in the 1954 World Cup finals turned out to be a two-edged sword. Kicked and injured in Hungary’s opening match against Germany, he was still not fully fit when it came to playing Germany again in the Final. But he talked his way in and a team which had still been playing so impressively without him, duly lost the game, in which he was plainly below par.
Danny Blanchflower, in the 1950s, too, was at right-half an inspirational captain for Northern Ireland and Tottenham, adept at working out tactics while on the field. When irate fans invaded the pitch in Belfast after a torrid game against Italy, it was Danny who at once consigned each Italian player to the guardianship of an Irish one. Yet even he was dropped after a cup semi-final by the obscure manager of that time, Jimmy Anderson, for daring unsuccessfully to bring the big centre half, Maurice Norman, up into attack.
Gary Neville recently shared with Paul Scholes a celebratory dinner given by football journalists, but one still finds it hard to warm to him.
He was pungently nicknamed Fred Kite by David Lacey after the dim Trade Union leader so devastatingly played in the film by Peter Sellers, when he tried to call out the whole England team following Rio Ferdinand’s suspension. And his rough treatment at Old Trafford of Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes, indulged by a flaccid referee in Mike Riley (now boss of bosses) stays in the mind.
And if he must on TV excoriate Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin, as “the most disinterested player in the league” he night try to use the word “uninterested” to convey his meaning.
By Brian Glanville