All the excoriating condemnation hurled at John Terry by the Football Associations FA commission may well have been justified, but there is still a worrying and debatable aspect to it. Making one believe more than ever that the FA severely undermined their own moral if not legal position by so wrongly and weakly agreeing to the request – not please note the command – of the Metropolitan police to have first bite at the case. Which meant as we all know too well now that it would be held in the Westminster Magistrates Court, where the burden of proof is far more stringent and demanding than it would be at an FA tribunal, which in any case had recently relaxed the criteria for proving guilt.
Half-baked attempts have indeed been made by the FA to demonstrate that the apparent conflict of interest does not exist but to those of us unconvinced by such apparent casuistry, it seems a distinction without a difference.
True, what transpired and ended in such anticlimax in the Magistrates Court seemed somewhat hard to credit. Terry’s own convoluted evidence, brushed aside by the FA commission, that he was, with his outburst of obscenities and seeming racism, merely parodying what Anton Ferdinand himself had accused him of. A Scottish court in such circumstances would perhaps have brought in a verdict of Not Proven, but once Terry had been cleared, acquitted or whatever you want to call it by a seemingly puzzled magistrate, that should arguably have been the end of it. The FA had had their chance and had missed it.
By bringing in the verdict that they did, they seemed to neglect their own rules. It was fairly recently in fact that the burden of proof had been diminished, while there exists a clause which seemingly prevents the Association from taking action after a decision has been taken in a court of law. Only for such a clause to be dubiously mitigated by a further clause which enacts that in certain special circumstances the FA can proceed with action. Not surprising that the words double jeopardy have been heard; if Terry intends to appeal, he seems notionally to have a case.
In the meantime, the commission has covered him with obloquy, which may or may not be well deserved, but seems quite irreconcilable with the mitigating verdict used in the Westminster trial. That Terry is a recidivist, that his career, how ever successful and impressive on the field, whatever his absurd excess in Barcelona, is blemished by so many crass episodes, is beyond doubt. After the Commission’s report, it looks darker than ever. Yet the FA are surely hoist with their own petard when the second key finding of their report states that “an internal briefing document prepared for FA Chairman David Bernstein and General Secretary Alex Horne (oh for a Stanley Rous when you need him!) reveals “it would be expected/anticipated the FA decision (sic), will reach the same conclusion as the courts.” So why did it not?
There is also the bizarre paradox that despite finding Terry guilty of using obscene racist insults, it was accepted that he was not a racist, I have no idea of whether he is or not but it would have been interesting to know just how the commission reached such a conclusion not least as they found his explanation “improbable, implausible and contrived.” Which apparently the Westminster magistrate didn’t.
In the meantime, Ashley Cole has embroiled himself in his attempts to exculpate Terry, though what business it was of Alan Shearer, in one of his supremely un ungrammatical appearances on Match of the Day, to declare that Cole should be dropped from the England team it is hard to descry. Nor can one forget that, shortly before the 1998 World Cup, Shearer, playing for Newcastle United at Gallowgate, was impugned for spinning round in a semi-circle near the touchline to plant a boot in the face of an opponent. A spineless FA body exculpated him on the farcical grounds that he was merely trying to disentangle himself; so he was free to play in France in the World Cup. Let him who is without guilt cast the first stone, as it says in the Bible.
Altogether a horrid, complex and contradictory affair and whatever Terry’s trespasses past and present, I am sorry he is giving up in an England team which still seriously needs him. As for racism, whatever may occasionally happen at Millwall, there is, thank goodness, now no comparison with what happens so deplorably in so many other countries, not least in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain and sometimes in Italy where, not long ago, the Juventus fans would chorus, “If you jump up and down, Balotelli will die!” while neo fascist fans of Lazio distinguished themselves recently at White Hart Lane by abusing two black Tottenham players.
Had the FA exercised its undoubted right to be the first to put John Terry on trial, there would be none of the confusion and controversy which exists today. The old expression, give a dog a bad name and hang him, seems worryingly relevant. If Terry, as the commission suggests, is at the least a non-racist liar, why did the Westminster court discharge him?