By Liam Twomey
Chelsea’s clash with QPR at Loftus Road this Saturday provides an untimely and unwelcome reminder of one of the darkest episodes of last season, with John Terry and Anton Ferdinand set to come face to face on the football pitch for the first time since the racism row between the men reached new heights of publicity and controversy at Westminster Magistrates’ Court back in July.
Terry was cleared of racially abusing the QPR defender that day, with Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle concluding the prosecution had failed to prove their case – namely, that the Chelsea skipper had used the word “black” followed by an extreme swear word in a racist context – beyond reasonable doubt.
|JOHN TERRY RACE ROW TIMELINE
| QPR 1-0 CHELSEA
|23/10/11||QPR beat Chelsea 1-0 at Loftus Road in an ill-tempered game which sees Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba sent off.
| POLICE LAUNCH INVESTIGATION
|1/11/11||The Metropolitan Police begin their investigation into allegations of racial abuse by Terry of Ferdinand.|
Under police caution Terry is interviewed by the Metropolitan Police.
|TRIAL DATE ANNOUNCED
Terry learns he will stand trial on 9 July, after the Premier League season ends and also after Euro 2012.
The FA confirm Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy. Chairman David Bernstein phones the centre-back to break the news.
FA confirm there will be no handshakes when Chelsea take on QPR in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge because of the legal case between Terry and Ferdinand.
|ACQUITTED IN COURT
The case is heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court and Terry is acquitted.
|CHARGED BY FA
The FA confirm they have charged Terry with racial abuse. The defender denies the charge.
But despite reaching a legal resolution the conflict rumbled on, with the Football Association announcing they too would bring a charge – which Terry once again denies – and Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, being punished for labelling Ashley Cole a “choc ice” on Twitter after the left-back had given evidence in support of his Blues team-mate.
On the pitch, too, the tension has been evident. The pre-match handshake customary in all top-flight matches was cancelled before the FA Cup and Premier League clashes between the two sides earlier this year after Ferdinand and several other QPR players made it clear they would not contemplate touching palms with Terry.
It is a situation which appears unlikely to change this weekend, and senior figures from both clubs have reportedly been locked in talks to calm the poisonous atmosphere surrounding the fixture while an additional police presence is expected at Loftus Road. Both players have injury concerns but, should Terry make it onto the pitch, he will surely endure his most hostile reception yet.
But the Chelsea captain has bigger problems. He may have been acquitted in a court of law, but on September 24 he must fight his corner in a situation where the burden of proof is considerably less. The FA’s three-man Independent Regulatory Commission are within their rights to reach a guilty verdict “on the balance of probabilities”, just as they did with Luis Suarez in December.
Having been cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence, Terry now stands accused of the same charge as Suarez – that of using “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour which included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race” towards a fellow professional.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that, if found guilty, his punishment will also be of a similar scale. Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000. If his defence fails him this time, Terry would be foolish to hope for more favourable treatment.
Of course, in any case, it is debatable how much impact this sanction in itself would have. A multi-millionaire is not likely to miss £40,000, and for a player at a club which regularly plays between 60 and 70 matches per season in all competitions, missing eight is not a devastating blow.
Yet disciplinary action from the FA could well stand to hit the 32-year-old hard in the pocket too. His sponsorship deals, which reached a peak during his first spell as England captain, fell away badly when he was stripped of the armband following reports of an affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel in January 2010, and have taken a further nosedive with the racism row.
Umbro, who have been associated with Terry since he was 18, removed his face from their campaigns back in February and have not offered him a new deal to replace the one which expired in the summer, while Chelsea sponsors Samsung have also seen the need to stress their endorsement is of the club rather than individual players.
| CHELSEA LATEST
|5/1||John Terry is 5/1 to score against QPR with bet365|
But potentially far more damaging is the impact such an outcome would have on his career and reputation. Both Chelsea and England have 'zero tolerance' policies towards racism and long-standing associations with campaign groups such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card.
If Terry were to be found guilty, both would likely come under huge pressure to put an end to his playing career at club and international level. Anything less might leave them open to accusations of hypocrisy of the highest order on one of modern society’s most sensitive and important issues.
For the Blues, losing Terry would be a bitter blow. But for the man himself, the price of a guilty verdict would almost certainly be even higher. The managerial ambitions he clearly harbours would surely be dead in the water, while his legacy as one of the most universally-despised English footballers of his generation, forged by a succession of controversies over the years, would be complete.
When Terry runs onto the pitch at Loftus Road on Saturday, he will do so as determined as ever to ensure he emerges victorious. But, deep down, he will know his most crucial battle is yet to come.
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