I used to work with a Chelsea season-ticket holder called Mike. Mike once walked into the office with a new hairstyle that looked vaguely familiar: “Haircut, Mike?” I asked. “Yeah, I’ve had a John Terry cut.” Everyone turned and looked. Mike had actually walked into a hairdressers, shown them a picture of John Terry, and asked if they’d cut his hair like that. Mike was 25 years old.
Such is the devotion that John Terry can inspire in Chelsea fans. He’s a hero. Terry signed for the club at 14 and has been there ever since, playing 554 games over 17 years. He’s the brave-hearted centre-half, a leader who’s loved as much for the way in which he plays the game – total commitment, ever willing to put his body on the line – as for his ability.
To others, he’s the epitome of the problem with English football. It’s the blood-and-thunder approach, the reason England won’t win a major tournament for at least another generation; he’s technically poor, and even those brilliant last-ditch tackles are often the result of bad positioning.
Terry’s a man who divides opinion before you even get to the off-field issues. In 2001, days after the 11 September terrorist attacks, he was fined a fortnight’s wages for drunkenly taunting some American tourists at Heathrow airport. In 2010, Terry, a married father-of-two, was stripped of the England captaincy after an affair with the girlfriend of his best friend and team-mate, Wayne Bridge. Terry reclaimed the captaincy in 2011, only to lose it again, amidst the allegations of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. There are enough other rumours and allegations that Terry’s nickname for a long while was ‘Teflon Terry’, as nothing ever seemed to stick.
Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers once said: “You don’t just sign good players, you sign good people.” A great principle, but one that is at odds with the majority of managers. Birmingham City striker, Marlon King, has convictions for fourteen offences, two of which have led to prison sentences. During his first imprisonment in 2002, his club, Gillingham, not only continued to pay his wages but supported his appeal and played him two days after he left jail. In 2003, police stopped King chasing after two women, a belt buckle wrapped around his fist. In 2008, King sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman, punching her in the face, breaking her nose and splitting her lip. King served another nine months, and within days of his release started a trial at Coventry City.
That Marlon King and others like him, continue to find clubs to pay their huge wages is evidence of a moral vacuum that is beginning to subsume football, and partly shows how little we expect from footballers. But the Terry situation seems worse in some ways, maybe because he was England captain for so long. It’s a role that comes with responsibility, automatically making you a public figure.
There’s no doubting John Terry’s leadership quality. He took the Chelsea captaincy at 24 years old and is the club’s most successful captain. His 34 England caps as captain puts him equal-fifth on the all-time list, and it’s universally agreed that he’s a man who inspires and gets the best out of the team around him.
Paul’s letter to Titus contains what is usually considered Paul’s final instructions to church leaders, a list that could be equally applied on a football field or in an office. He says a leader should be: “not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry. He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself.” Even the biggest Chelsea fan would admit that Terry has fallen short of that.
Maybe I expect too much. Maybe it’s naive to hope that just because a person is a good enough footballer to captain England, he should equally be a good enough person to captain England. I don’t know. But I can’t help but think that football would be far more palatable if all teams (Liverpool included) followed Brendan Rodgers’ advice.
Image by Julian Mason, Wikimedia Commons.