FOR the past year, I have often been the only person in a room defending John Terry, the captain of Chelsea Football club and former England captain, against charges of racism. I still believe, as the Football Association (FA) asserted last week, that Terry is not a racist, regardless of the outburst he made against Anton Ferdinand during an ill-tempered match last October.
But I now think the time has come for Terry personally – and for Chelsea as a club – to apologise for the sequence of events that has besmirched football, revived the issue of racism in the game, and is now undoing much of the good work the sport and the club have undertaken to encourage tolerance.
It is clear that Terry shouted an insult at Ferdinand – with his use of two hardcore four-letter words that you wouldn’t want a child to hear (and there are many children at football matches). He used one word you wouldn’t want any person of any age to hear because it was disparaging of the QPR player’s colour.
It remains a matter of some dispute whether Terry’s outburst came, as he says, in response to something Ferdinand said to him, or whether it was simply unacceptable abuse. But, whatever the truth of the matter, Terry should surely acknowledge now that saying these words has offended a great many people. It is time to say sorry.
Like many Chelsea fans, I have conflicted feelings about Terry. He occasionally does things that make me wince, such as in last season’s semi-final against Barcelona which led to his sending off.
And yet, he personifies so much that is good about the club. He never gives up, he is a great captain and leader of players, and he always seems to care about the fans. Without fail, he comes over to salute us after matches, while many of his colleagues traipse straight down the tunnel. He truly respects the fans’ effort and recognises the expense of getting to matches.
For Chelsea, the issue is complex. I have supported the club’s stance in standing by Terry so far. Chelsea have backed him through the criminal trial and supported him as far as they can in his case with the FA. But, notwithstanding the fact they are waiting for Terry to decide whether to appeal against the FA, it is time that the club reprimanded him. That doesn’t mean he is stripped of the captaincy, but they should say he was wrong to behave as he did and they should announce a zero tolerance policy should any other player stray.
Chelsea is a club where racists shamefully once booed one of their own players because he was black and where anti-semitic chants are still heard around the ground – despite the club’s insistence that it will ban those responsible. It is time the club and its sensible chairman Bruce Buck declared its determination to put an end to racist behaviour of all kinds. It can’t implement this credibly without also saying sorry for those three words said in anger by its captain last year.
David Hellier is deputy editor of City A.M.