x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bridge deserves a big hand

The defender's moral stance is admirable at a time when football seems to be totally devoid of honour.

The non-shake that gripped a nation: John Terry's hand is still out as Wayne Bridge moves on.
The non-shake that gripped a nation: John Terry's hand is still out as Wayne Bridge moves on.

You'll always remember where you were when you heard the terrible news that John Terry had been blanked. Sorry, my mistake, no you won't. You've probably forgotten already. I am getting confused between my JTs and JFKs. One is a Chelsea and England footballer who was snubbed by his former team-mate Wayne Bridge during a pre-match handshake on Saturday, the pair having fallen out over a woman. The other was an American president who got shot through the head in 1963.

You will forgive my confusion, I hope. It is just that the media in England is treating the Terry snub with the hysteria normally res-erved for presidential assassinations. They have already replayed the slow-motion footage so many times that I swear I can make out a second non-handshake in the background, on a grassy knoll. History does, however, offer a more fitting comparison. Like the Bridge-Terry palaver, it involves an uncompromising defender who refused to make a certain hand gesture.

The player was Stan Cullis, a Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-half selected to represent his country against Germany in Berlin in May 1938. Cullis was the sole England player who refused to perform a Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler before the kick-off. For this act of insubordination, which contravened a direct order from the British government, he was dropped from the team. Bridge, the Manchester City full-back, has not been dropped from the England squad for refusing to shake Terry's hand - he withdrew his international services voluntarily, on the grounds that he cannot contemplate playing alongside Terry.

But, like Cullis, he appears to be showing that rarest of qualities in a professional footballer: a willingness to sacrifice career advancement for the sake of his own moral values. OK, so they were making stands over very different issues. Terry coveted one French woman, whereas Hitler wanted the entire country. Yet Bridge and Cullis are, in some ways, cut from the same admirable cloth. So why have most people in the UK never heard of Cullis, while Bridge is being feted as a cross between Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for his moral fortitude?

Time is a factor, obviously. It is some 70 years since Cullis blanked Hitler, and just 70 hours since Bridge blanked Terry. The context of the two men's actions is also important. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king. At a time when English football is deemed morally bankrupt, anyone showing the slightest shred of honour will seem saintly. But there is a third crucial difference. Cullis played the game at a time when only true football fans followed the sport, which they loved in its own right. Nowadays it is so fashionable to "love football" that everyone follows the sport, whether they really love it or not.

In order to maintain the interest of such non-fans, who have made the sport rich, every match must be accompanied by a torrid soap opera of non-sporting issues: personal grudges, wars of words, old allegiances, jobs hanging in the balance. Anything but football to keep the mob amused. The Americans realised this years ago, which is why they get pop stars to pep up the Super Bowl. We may mock, but at least they are being honest. Besides, watching Beyonce shake her booty has got to be more fun than watching two blokes not shake hands.

Talking of virtuous footballers, another Premier League player received official Nice Boy status last week. Clarke Carlisle is 6ft 3 inches tall, shaven headed and often described as an "imposing" centre-half for the unfashionable Burnley FC. Roughly translated, this means you would not mess with him down a dark alley, and that the respectable matrons of Middle England would probably cross the road to avoid him. However, that was before he appeared on the TV show Countdown. Now they would invite him home for tea, cake and word-play. Countdown is a British institution. It is the nerdiest quiz show on television, based around making words from a selection of nine letters picked at random - although you are allowed to choose your own ratio of vowels to consonants, which is particularly thrilling. It also has a mental arithmetic round and a supposedly climactic end-game called the Countdown Conundrum, in which you must identify a word made from jumbled letters. I am not saying that all the contestants on the show are geeky, but Countdown is the last place you might expect to find a footballer. There is no glamour, no money, no women of easy virtue - even the Countdown clock, against which they race, is bereft of diamonds. But, most importantly, it is really difficult and footballers are alleged to be really thick. Many of them may not even know what a vowel is - although Portsmouth players must be familiar with three of them: IOU. Still, good for Carlisle, who proved stereotypes are not always true. He won, an unfamiliar sensation for a Burnley player. So, Clarke, here's a peek at the conundrum Burnley will surely face in May: REGELATION. Start the clock... Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan. sports@thenational.ae