One of the most embarrassing and distasteful sagas of the absent English summer has finally drawn to a close with the utterly unsurprising news that Chelsea captain John Terry has been cleared of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand during an English Premier League match last November.
Despite some fairly damning TV pictures seeming to show John Terry uttering the alleged racist language, his defence team successfully argued that he had done so in a challenge to Ferdinand’s accusation rather than as an abusive and aggravated attack. By establishing that element of doubt, however tenuous it may be, the prosecution case was never going to be deemed sufficiently conclusive as to satisfy the English legal requirement in criminal proceedings that guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. And so Terry skipped gleefully into the sunset, his angelic reputation salvaged and ready to fight another day.
There are few players who polarise opinion within the English game more passionately than John Terry. Within the bowels of Stamford Bridge and among the Chelsea faithful he is their talismanic captain, the warrior, the heart-on-his-sleeve symbol of their club and the innocent victim of a sustained campaign of media witch hunts. Outside of West-London and Terry is perceived as a thug both on and off the pitch, a spiteful character who virtually owns Stamford Bridge and who can get away with just about anything he likes. But if their are any rivals for the honour of most disliked EPL footballer then Luis Suarez, the spiky, confrontational and thoroughly unpopular Liverpool striker, must be very high up on that list.
Coincidentally Suarez also found himself facing allegations of racial abuse earlier in the 2011/12 EPL season, with serial accuser Patrice Evra alleging that he had been racially abused by Suarez during a typically hostile Liverpool vs Man Utd encounter. There was no substantial or credible third party evidence to support either Suarez or Evra but, after a somewhat brief inquiry, the English FA, spurred on by a bloodthirsty media hell-bent on making an example of Suarez, found the Uruguayan guilty of using inappropriate language towards Evra and duly hit him with a substantial fine and an eight-match domestic suspension. In what was essentially a “he said I said” situation, the FA were satisfied that the available evidence was sufficient to arrive at a guilty verdict under their less stringent “balance of probabilities” requirement.
Which brings me back to John Terry. The FA rightly postponed their own inquiry into the Terry/Ferdinand incident so as not to unduly affect or influence the ongoing criminal proceedings, but surely they are now duty bound to reopen that inquiry? In passing judgement earlier today the presiding Magistrate stressed that while the use of the offending language was not in doubt – either by the court or the attending parties – he could not eliminate the doubt that Terry’s legal team had introduced to the case. While he expressed his own misgivings as to the validity of Terry’s argument he did concede that sufficient doubt had been raised and thus the “beyond reasonable doubt” criteria could not be satisfied.
However, as proved in the FA’s handling of the Luis Suarez incident, the FA’s determining requirement is a good deal below that required in a criminal court. In fact the FA’s criteria seems to be little more than a 50-50 stab in the dark! And bearing in mind that Terry’s own defence did not at any stage attempt to deny his using the most offensive of racial slurs – although they did question the context in which they were used – then it would seem from the outside that the FA’s inquiry ought to reach a similarly speedy and decisive verdict as was reached in the Suarez case. Unless of course the FA decide that being an England international and a former England captain somehow entitles a person to preferential treatment over a Uruguayan import?
It will be interesting to see how the FA wriggle and squirm their way through the coming days and weeks with the reminder of the precedent set in their hasty dealing of Luis Suarez surely casting a very relevant shadow over their inquiry into John Terry…