Saturday, September 29, 2012

Because you wouldn't want The Daleks every week

Barry Levinson's comedy Tin Men brilliantly pitched a feud between rival 'aluminum siding' salesmen Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss that erupted out of nothing. Literally nothing more than an accidental, innocuous and minor clash of car bumpers.

As the film progresses, the feud snowballs into all-out war between the two, a dispute made all the funnier by their ever-increasing, cartoon character-delinquent attempts to get one over the other. In real life, however, such feuds are anything but.

Twenty years ago I saw something similar develop between two news presenters at a national television station. What started as a clash of egos, accompanied by light banter, ended with the pair rolling down a newsroom corridor, like a (thankfully) clothed version of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed's drunken wrestle in Women In Love. The tussle ended with one newsreader going to hospital, both ending up out of work, and one or two others on the periphery posted KIA through collateral damage.

The saga of John Terry and Anton Ferdinand has anything but an innocuous origin. It's where the whole shabby mess ends up that matters now. The FA's verdict on Chelsea's never-say-die skipper is anything but conclusive, and has left the faultline that emerged almost 12 months ago at Loftus Road still fizzing away, the threat of steaming magma periodically bursting through the Earth's crust remains.

Since the intial incident between Ferdinand and Terry, the affair has surfaced and submerged again with similar consistency to the Daleks in TV's Doctor Who. Its writers know they can't be in every episode, so they hold back, introducing them like sink plunger-equipped pantomime villains when their entry will have the greatest shock value. As a result, when I was a child, a Dalek Doctor Who episode was always a bonus, like discovering the green triangle in a tin of Quality Street. You'd have weeks of 'ordinary' baddies and then - they're back! To which you'd scurry behind the sofa. It was an event, long before some fool invented the phrase "appointment television".

The difference between the Daleks and the Terry-Ferdinand saga is that the recurrence of the latter has never been met by people scurrying for the protection of living room furniture. I don't know about you, but the way it has dragged on has just become tedious, not helped by the fact that the original contretemps was a case of two players who should know better, getting into the kind of rival sledging that takes place on every football pitch and at every level of the game.

The matter should have been addressed and solved as soon as it occurred, especially by the FA, who - typically - farted around while the police investigated, the Crown Prosecution Service prepared charges, the England manager walked out, a criminal court acquitted Terry, the Euros took place, and then the opening qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, only to then haul in Terry, fine him a week's wages and give him a four-game ban.

Which means that the FA's pursuit of disciplinary proceedings against Terry smacks, if nothing else, of extreme bumptiousness. John Terry has become the FA's own Al Capone, Public Enemy No.1, English football´s adminstrator a pathetic version of Elliott Ness, vowing, Boy Scout-style to bring down Capone come-what-may and then only doing so on tax charges, punching the air like Tim Henman in pumped-up self pride: "now we've got him!".Well, no they haven't. Terry is now preparing for martyrdom and the faultlines continue to hiss away.

I'm a Chelsea fan, as most people know, and I've had my doubts and suspicions from the very beginning. Is Terry racist? No. Did he address Ferdinand with a racist word? Ferdinand and YouTube-watching lip readers say yes. Did Ferdinand use the word in the first place to provoke Terry? According to Terry, yes he did.

Verdict? You try working it out. A criminal court failed to reach a guilty verdict and the FA, by the sounds of it, couldn't really, either, but had to act. Mainly because they'd done bugger all so far, more than 11 months since it all began. If stamping out racism is as important to the FA as they keep saying it is, they should have been on Terry's case on October 24 last year, not trying to seek their pound of flesh almost a year later.

While Terry considers appeals and a possible High Court review, Ferdinand continues to fight for his corner via Twitter - the Ferdinand family mouthpiece of choice - by saying "the footage don't lie". Ignoring the less serious charge of grammatical error, Ferdinand should just keep quiet now.

Yes, Terry's punishment is lean (for once, I find myself agreeing with Sir Alex Ferguson on something...), but punishment it is. For the good of he game, both Ferdinand and Terry need to drop it and try and move on.

Anton Ferdinand and John Terry will never be friends. John Terry will never be the most popular footballer in England. He never was, why should he ever be - whether acting as a lightning rod for Chelsea's wealth or the money flooding football in general, or for his various misadventures (including one involving Wayne Bridge's ex). Few though can or should deny JT's sterling contribution to the Chelsea and England defence, boot-defying contributions that have at times defied logic.

We Chelsea fans are regularly - and, I've got to admit, quite justifiably - accused of myopia when it comes to Terry, or indeed anything else this team commits. Nothing new there: Manchester United fans all believe the clocks at Old Trafford are tuned to Swiss perfection, and many Arsenal fans share the selective vision of their own team manager.

Terry, though, will be forever regarded a racist. Some stains can´t be removed. But if he is, surely he'd be using the sort of "industrial" language he became charged for on a regular basis. In this Twitter age there would be dressing room tweets about Terry calling so-and-so a such-and-such, interviews in French newspapers surfacing in which a Chelsea player complains about Terry's offensive attitude towards the club's black players. Odd, then, that we haven't read any of this.

I deplore racism, but I'm equally ill at ease with people exploiting an issue for a cause. If Terry used a racist word in his exchange with Ferdinand, then he should have been punished immediately and with the same weight as that meted out to Luis Suarez.

I'm not blaming the FA to deflect attention away from Terry. I'm blaming the FA because of their bureaucratic ineptitude in installing anything resembling consistency in the game that we can all recognise and all who play the game can adhere to. In giving JT nothing but a slap on the wrist, they're admitting that they had nothing to impose a heavier sanction with, or they realised that this far out from the original incident, this is the best they can do.

What will it have achieved? Nothing. Football will still be perceived as a festering bed of simmering, bile-dripping inter-player, inter-team and inter-fan hostility.

Little more than a month ago I posted about how, following our glorious summer of running and jumping, football was back like a snarling attack dog wearing the chavviest, flashiest diamond-studded collar. Some critics felt that I'd over-simplified the differences between football and the Olympic spirit that beautified London like a fragrance over the summer. Well, I stand by my statement. The feral beast is showing no sign of going away.

No comments:

Post a Comment