What will we learn from Terry's winning ways?
TIPPING POINT:How long can it be until the type of loathsome attitude exhibited by John Terry is seen here too as winning at any cost gets precedence, asks BRIAN O'CONNOR
JOHN TERRY can be a bit of a s**t sometimes. No one I reckon can quibble with that. After a decade of unfortunate headlines about parking his Bentley in a disabled spot, parking himself on Wayne Bridge’s other-half, taunting Americans just after 9-11 and racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, it is in fact generally assumed ‘JT’ is not the most elegant of men. But he is confident in his inelegance. And that can never be underestimated.
Those of us possessed of a similar s**tty quotient, but lacking the armour-plated self-belief to carry it off completely, know precisely how far confidence can get you, with work, with school, with hot women whose judgement is a bit wonky.
Mark Twain said you need only two things in life: ignorance and confidence. And that mix is a glaze on the cream dolloped on top of the pie that the fortunate few who remain unacquainted with the concept of doubt are allowed munch through life.
Terry, it can also be assumed, is just such a stranger to uncertainty. And as well as being his strongest plus point, it is also the former England captain’s biggest minus.
Even now it would be nice to think he could alter the habits of a lifetime and issue a brief statement apologising to Anton Ferdinand for calling him a “f***ing black c**t.”
It wouldn’t fix things, nor would it turn back time, but it would exhibit a little class and might dilute a lifetime of shame for himself and his family. Purely from a self-interest point of view – a view Terry is no stranger to – it is the way to go. In less than 10 years, his playing days will be over. If he doesn’t go into management, that will mean the end of having thousands of fans chanting aspersions on his mother’s character and all the rest of it. But the reputation of being racist is going to follow him far longer.
Except that’s not his way. Instead he is still mulling on an FA appeal, a step most impartial observers reckon has FA chance of succeeding, but which would be characteristic of the man.
It’s impossible to feel sorry for Terry. His words were horrible. Pointing out how they were said in the heat of the moment is no excuse, although it does provide a hint of context. Owning up immediately, proclaiming his idiocy, and begging Ferdinand’s forgiveness would have saved everyone concerned a lot of grief, maybe even salvaged his England career into the bargain. But that isn’t Terry’s way. Because the blind spot of all dumb arrogance is an inability to admit fault.
That knee in the back of Alexis Sanchez at the Nou Camp last year summed it up.
Terry’s initial look of ‘who-me-guv?’ when pulled on it was worthy of Rada. Then came the wronged man bit, until a Chelsea official whispered in his shell-like it didn’t look great on telly, after which Terry informed the world it was an aberration and everyone knows he isn’t the type to try it on. There was never a chance it could be what it actually was: a deliberate act of crass stupidity reflective of a win-at-all-costs mentality.
Even the manner of his retirement from England duty was designed to leave the impression of a man wronged, a victim, taking one in the back for the greater good, for ‘Enger-lund’, powerless in the face of the PC brigade, all of which is a perfect pose for the terraces where PC is mostly pronounced with all the sneering disdain of VD.
And there’s a good chance Terry actually believes all this. It is after all self-belief that has made him the player he is, the player whose chest swelled when all others in an England shirt appeared to cave. That’s why Capello was his biggest fan and why Roy Hodgson tried to change his mind about international retirement.
The problem is though that it is crap. Terry is only a victim if you believe boorish self-indulgence is worthy of sympathy.
Of course being a Premier League superstar means he can continue in the delusion for as long as he is valuable to whoever is controlling the purse strings.
Only when the legs go will it strike home with a vengeance that what happens on the field doesn’t always stay on the field. Not everything is defined by the “resul’, Gary”. Not everything is forgivable if you “do the business where it caaaants”.
The reputation you develop inside the lines can follow you outside, long after the score-line is forgotten. And that isn’t some morality tale that can be blithely dismissed as being confined to the supposed moral cesspool of the English Premier League.
Just as the inadequacy that defines people by their ethnicity isn’t confined by code, race or nationality, neither is the impact when a win-at-all-costs attitude is allowed to flourish. It is certainly something some of our GAA luminaries might do well to consider.
During the course of this year’s championships it is noticeable how institutionalised systematic cynicism has become. Pointing that out is not to advocate some idealised past where a quintessential nobility punched through less noble motivations with all the heft of a Páidí Ó Sé left-hook. Anyone who doubts the presence of hard-men back in the day need only look at the YouTube pictures of how Micky O’Sullivan got taken out in the 1975 All-Ireland final by a succession of Dubs out for blood.
But what’s different now is the absence of even the merest fig-leaf of embarrassment surrounding some really questionable tactics. If a team doesn’t indulge in ritual hauling down, tearing and pulling at an opponent in possession, they are accused of naivety which in the cute-hoor world of Gaeldom is worse than being called any kind of a c***.
The result has been an increase in diving and play-acting, irritations that pale completely in comparison to stories of some of the sledging that is reputed to be used in attempts to secure that proverbial “edge”, that vital “1 per cent” and all the other trite justifications for what is simply cheap behaviour. Players increasingly encouraged to engage in a blinkered whatever it takes attitude on the field have been known to come out with some disgustingly personal stuff. No crystal ball is required to picture how such an attitude can spill over into racism.
Jason Sherlock and Seán Óg Ó Hailpín have both spoken of their experiences at inter-county level. Wexford star Lee Chin experienced abuse during the summer.
Maybe the abusers would be shocked to be described as racist or maybe they wouldn’t. Terry vehemently denies he is, seemingly oblivious to the impact of his words on a fellow professional. It’s not hard to picture him dismissing them as “banter” or “a bit of stick”, euphemisms that can be swapped with the more Irish version of “slagging” but which still crucially ignore the issue of context, both in the specific and the general.
No matter how many medals and awards Terry has accumulated, he could end being defined by last week’s verdict long after the lustre has faded from the gongs.
Closer to home, it might pay some GAA worthies to heed the warning and realise there is life outside the lines and after the final whistle. And that reputations once gained are hard to lose. Or maybe they’re too confident in their ignorance to realise quite how s**tty some of what is going on actually is.