Words we never say…

John Terry has been found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – does this verdict clear him though?

So it’s official, following a week of intense legal wrangling Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle has reached the conclusion that whilst John Terry’s language towards Anton Ferdinand was unpleasant, it wasn’t racist.

As far as legal action goes, Terry is in the clear.

Terry’s defence wasn’t that he hadn’t uttered racist words – indeed that he hadn’t traded several insults with Ferdinand – but that he was merely repeating to Ferdinand the contents of an accusation that he thought had been leveled at him.

Lip readers have not been able to prove contrary to Terry’s account, no one else on the pitch appeared to have overheard the exchange and Terry was assessed as a credible witness.

The court had to prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that Terry was guilty, this standard wasn’t felt to have been met and so the only option was to release Terry without charge.

This is likely the end of the criminal justice system’s involvement in the matter.

What remains to be seen is how The FA deal with Terry, how their course of action bares on their own Respect Campaign and the attitude of fans themselves.

First of all, from past experience when West Midlands Police officers comment on footballer’s conduct some fiery responses have been provoked from fans and senior football figures alike. Superintendent Payne’s blog on Wayne Rooney raised a response from Alex Ferguson himself and made the national news.

With this in mind, I’ll preface my thoughts with the disclaimer that they’re my opinion only and I don’t speak with any particular knowledge of the footballing world. I’d consider myself reasonably impartial – whilst I take an interest in law and order I don’t have a great deal to do with football and so looking at some things that happen in the ‘beautiful game’ through a policeman’s eye, I am weary that I run the risk of misunderstanding their context.

Having followed the trial up to its conclusion, I’m of the opinion that even if Terry’s behaviour was not proven to have been racist, it’s certainly was not in any way appropriate either on or off the pitch.

Professional footballers are the closest things to role models that many youngsters are likely to get. They’re worshiped, idolised and their images invade the consciousness of youth around the world.

With such a powerful status there’s an equally demanding responsibility to live up to their positions – to take heed of the respect that they find invested in themselves.

Verbal tirades against each other on live television do nothing to reassure me that certain footballers are interested in reflecting their profession in a positive light.

It’s all very well wearing the Respect Campaign logo on their sleeves but without action to back up their commitment, it all seems a bit pointless.

This stretches beyond the players. Standing between the opposing fans at Villa Park whilst attached to the Football Unit earlier this year, the one thing that struck me was the level of abuse traded between the two sets of fans.

Some paid no attention at all to the game and I watched two parents spend the whole of the ninety minutes screaming abuse at the rival fans, apparently oblivious to their ten year old son who was sandwiched between them.

Of course I’d hate to imply this impression is representative of all footballers or fans – I’ve no reason to think it is and know that the vast majority of those who pay to watch football, or who are paid slightly more to play it, do so out of a love for the game.

The impression I get from examples such as those seen at the ground and Terry’s well documented case is that it seems hard to describe football as ‘beautiful’ – it has an ugly side that The FA would do well to address.

I can’t see that this is a new issue – I think we see much less violence on the terraces than we did, say, back in the eighties and too can see that football is a passionate game.

In the heat of the moment words will always be exchanged that may raise a few eyebrows in the Post Office – a line is crossed though when these words are sufficient to land a player in a criminal court.

Likewise with racist or sexist chanting, a line too is crossed from banter to criminality and this not only spoils the game but damages the good reputation that football deserves.

Terry was charged under S. 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 accused of using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

I’m keen to see how The FA interpret S. 3(1) of their own rules, nearly identical in that it seeks to prohibit the use of ‘threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour’.

Terry is in the clear as far as criminal law goes, in terms of the ethics of the game though I think that Terry and others have a lot to answer for.

With a change in attitudes there’s no reason that football can’t be beautiful again – the John Terry case suggests a change of attitudes is sorely needed.

P.S. You can read more about how the police and Crown Prosecution Service arrived at the decision to charge Terry by checking out my blog from last year on that very subject. You can also find out more about the Public Order Act on another of my blogs from last March.

You can read the full text of the ruling here (be advised – choice language alert!) and to find out more about racism in sport, have a look at Kick It Out, Show Racism The Red Card and the FARE Network.

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