For most fans, players, and managers, the international break presents an irritating distraction from the business of the English Premier League season. For John Terry, this past week has been a chance to escape from the mayhem back home. Well, almost.
Terry played in England's 1-0 victory over Sweden yesterday, his 34th as England skipper, but is currently under investigation by the Football Association and Metropolitan Police regarding racist insults allegedly hurled at Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea's match against QPR on October 23. Journalists tried to quiz Terry on the investigation, but were quickly gagged by a FA official.
Video footage of the incident is inconclusive, with internet posts of the defender suggesting he called Ferdinand a "f***ing black c***". Terry denied the claims, saying people "leapt to the wrong conclusions" about the context of what he had said. Terry's version of events was: "I thought Anton was accusing me of using a racist slur against him. I responded aggressively, saying I never used that term."
There were no second thoughts from Fabio Capello when it came to selecting Terry for international duty. Innocent until proven guilty, maybe, but Terry should not have been involved in the side while under investigation. Luckily for the Chelsea captain, he didn't have to face the embarrassment of lining up alongside Anton's brother in the England squad.
Regardless of the outcome of the FA's investigation, the incident has tainted English football and exposed it for what it sadly is: somewhat backwards and afraid of leading the way when it comes to marginalised groups.
Players like Terry should not be bastions of society anyway. Premier League footballers are, by and large, not exactly stand-up types. But as the Twitter backlash to Anton Ferdinand displayed, the fans won't take the issues seriously while the game's governing bodies pay lip service to "fair play" ideals. It is only a minority of fans - amongst the majority of hugely passionate, decent, and loyal supporters - but problems like racism and homophobia still exist in professional football.
Manchester United's Patrice Evra has also accused Liverpool striker Luis Suarez of racism.
It's not a good look for the world's most popular league. Outside of England, race rows are nothing new. Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos was targeted in an away game at Krylya Sovetov, where spectators tossed bananas at him and subjected him to monkey chants. Samuel Eto'o for years endured the filth at Barcelona and Inter Milan.
England might point to a cleaner record when it comes to racism, but they are still in the dark ages when it comes to being in touch with society. It's not just the eye-watering contracts that are signed that keep them in their own bubble. There are currently no openly gay professional footballers in England and Wales, a staggering statistic when there are 4,000 players. Justin Fashanu was the only pro English footballer to come out and suffered years of abuse before taking his own life in 1998. Swedish player Anton Hysén is only the second professional footballer to come out in the world ever, after Fashanu.
The Terry affair may be a storm in a teacup, but if he is found to be guilty, the FA should at least have the guts to crack down hard on the man leading the country's most cherished sports side. English football needs to get back in touch with reality if it is going to stamp out bigotry and bring its stars back down to earth.
- Herald Online