Lord Triesman, a fatuous old fellow at times – you will remember he made a somewhat ignominious departure from the Football Association after confiding “state secrets” to an unreliable lady friend – has just favoured us with his trenchant views on the John Terry case.
Terry and those like him, Triesman insists, should instantly face suspension as soon as they are charged with a racist offence. Thus echoing the views of one of those irritating “anti-racist” gadflies who tend to pipe up on such occasions. Wholly ignoring as the FA and Bernstein did, when taking the England captaincy from Terry in exactly those circumstances – the tradition in English law that a man is innocent until proved guilty.
I have no desire to make a martyr of Terry. Heaven alone knows he has abundant form, quite apart from his allegedly racist outburst. Late last season, there was the ridiculous petulant foul at Nou Camp, which in a vital European match, reduced Chelsea to ten men against Barcelona. There was the time that he, a millionaire, tried to extract money from Chelsea fans for showing them round the training ground. On the sombre occasion of the 9/11 atrocity, he and other Chelsea players in a Heathrow bar jeered at the shocked American tourists there. Yet the whole sombre shoddy business of his trial in court and his punishment by the FA constitute a paradoxical and tangled story.
In the first place, one was startled to learn that far from the Metropolitan police pre-empting the FA in bringing Terry to justice, or what stood for it, they actually asked the FA whether they would permit them to proceed with the case. It should surely never have happened and though it may seem that justice was eventually done by the FA’s committee, it was not surprising, amidst the volume of criticism for Terry, to see the words “kangaroo court” emitted. And it is true that when such an FA tribunal sits and judges, there is a minuscule chance of the defendant being exonerated.
Yet should the FA, having feebly and foolishly allowed the police to have first shot, have taken up the case at all once Terry had been cleared, however contentiously, at the Westminster Magistrates court which might well had it been in Scotland delivered a verdict of “not proven”. There is in fact an FA regulation which stipulates that once a court of law had pronounced, its verdict has to be accepted. But look below this regulation at the equivalent of the small print, and you find weasel words; that in exceptional circumstances the FA may still proceed; which, indeed they did. Double jeopardy is another phrase which one has heard.
This business of pre-empting judgement surely flies in the face of traditional English justice. Bernstein was surely far too quick to take the England captaincy away from Terry, simply because he had been charged with the racist offence: Fabio Capello honourably resigned as England’s manager in consequence; even if one was hardly sorry to see him go.
The case as presented at Westminster court was a bizarre and confusing one. The words Terry used were, indeed, both obscene and racist, but as we know, his defence was that he was merely parodying what Anton Ferdinand had said to him. For his part, Ferdinand declared that he hadn’t even heard what Terry said. His back was turned.
Comparisons, odious as always, have been drawn with the Luis Suarez affair, the “negrito” insults to Evra being punished with an eight match suspension, where Terry only got four, though where Suarez’s fine was £80,000, the much richer Terry had to pay £220,000. But note that had this millionaire been found guilty in the Westminster court, where fat cat QCs grew fatter still, then the fine would have been only a risible £2,500.00
What distresses me is that these two cases distort the general picture of the English game, in which racism, vile and endemic in past decades, has been largely reduced. Bananas aren’t thrown on the pitch as they were in Liverpool, when the gifted John Barnes first played there. Nor would you find the Hearts section of the crowd at Celtic Park viciously abusing Paul Elliott, the black Celtic centre back, till their club’s own captain had to come over to tell them to behave. Things, thank Heaven, have changed.