x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

It is just an insult to intelligence

What irritates me is the media hypocrisy that feeds off the passionate nature of football only to recoil in horror when such silliness is dissected in the a courtroom.

John Terry arriving at court. The verdict is expected Friday.
John Terry arriving at court. The verdict is expected Friday.

We will probably learn today whether John Terry is guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, of Queens Park Rangers, during a Premier League match.

But while the Chelsea and England defender's fate hangs in the balance, spare a thought for his co-accused, English football, which has already been hanged, drawn and quartered.

According to despairing media coverage of the trial, English football is in disgrace.

"Day richest league fell into the gutter" was a typical headline (that one from The Times) following the first day of evidence.

How the scales fell from our eyes as we learnt that - gasp! - professional footballers trade obscenities and schoolyard insults.

They mock imagined failings of personal hygiene, with Terry wafting his hand near his nose to suggest that Ferdinand had bad breath.

They mock perceived weight issues, with Terry puffing out his cheeks towards the well-upholstered QPR goalkeeper Paddy Kenny.

They even mock lurid tales of marital infidelity, with Ferdinand taunting Terry over his alleged affair with a teammate's girlfriend.

What baffles me is that none of this information is new. Nor is it hidden. Millions of us watch incidents of this type every week, in grounds and on television.

It does not require a PhD in lip-reading to know that players swear - or any lip reading skills at all when Wayne Rooney is bellowing filth into a live broadcast microphone.

An experiment involving football referees wearing live broadcast microphones, as some rugby referees do, was quickly abandoned due to the foul language on pitch, notably Arsenal's Tony Adams' expletive when calling referee David Elleray "a cheat".

Nor are insulting gestures anything new. I remember watching Tony Warner, then keeping goal for Millwall, make the "bad breath" gesture to an entire stand of Birmingham City fans.

Many more will recall Robbie Fowler's crude mime towards Graeme Le Saux, referencing rumours that he was homosexual. Rumours, by the way, based entirely on the fact that Le Saux chose to read The Guardian, a left-leaning broadsheet newspaper. Football, childish?

I do not dispute that grown men should know better than to trade such inane banter, although I would question whether footballers' insults are really so much worse than those famous and celebrated cricketing "sledges", most of which touch on identical themes (weight, marital infidelity) but with marginally less profanity.

What really irritates me is the hypocrisy of a media which feeds off the frenzied and passionate nature of football - selling newspapers and satellite television subscriptions on the drama of feuds and bust-ups - only to recoil in horror when such silliness is dissected in the cool and unforgiving sterility of a courtroom.

Fans are equally guilty, too, gleefully grasping the freedom to vent crudities we would not dream of repeating in polite company.

How many of us would like to hear our match-time comments transcribed and analysed with legal rigour?

People who cry shame at English football are the equivalent of schoolchildren who stand in a circle chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!", then turn to the teacher and say: "Sir, I cannot believe they are fighting."

Terry's alleged crime was to spice his insults with racism. If true, then he certainly overstepped the mark. We should acknowledge, however, we all played a part in creating the atmosphere in which he took that fateful step.


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