By Jay Jaffa
The long-awaited conclusion of the Football Association's investigation into John Terry's altercation with Anton Ferdinand was announced on Thursday afternoon and unsurprisingly left the the football world asking: “Is that it?”
A four-game ban and a fine of around €277,000 was handed to the Chelsea captain and although that certainly constitutes 'punishment' it is far from what was expected, and indeed hoped for by many within the game.
For this is nothing to as haughty a character as Terry. Running down his rap sheet is like ticking off boxes on a list of petty crime offences. He was alleged to have cheated on his wife with the partner of Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge, charged with assault and affray on a nightclub bouncer (of which he was eventually cleared), was filmed allegedly taking payments from undercover journalists to be shown around the club's training ground, mocked American tourists in an airport just after 9/11 and of course, allegedly racially abused Ferdinand.
In every instance, he returned the same player, he had made peace with his indiscretions even if others had not and following official not guilty verdicts the effect was minimal. Why would that change now?
Even with the FA's judgement, Terry can still fall back on the not guilty decision that was reached in Westminster Magistrates' Court in July. To him, at least, Terry will maintain his innocence and in that guise undoubtedly resume his career as he left it.
The boy from Barking had the talent, the style and the tradition to become one of this country's greats. The Terry Butcher, blood and thunder, head-in-the-way-of-boots, body-on-the-line sort that English football treasures unashamedly. He won 78 caps for his country, and yet for all the on-paper, CV-like accolades he has gathered, his career has been spent in the spotlight fighting allegations of adultery, racism and violent conduct.
But Terry will serve his suspension, as he has done on many occasions in the past – quietly and with the knowledge that, yes, he will receive abuse from the terraces, yes, many of his opponents would rather kick him than the ball and yes, much of the football fraternity would rather not be around him.
Terry will not be hurt by missing three-weeks' worth of domestic games - the club might, as they take on Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool - and he will not be hurt by a fine that is covered by a week-and-a-bit's salary. He will not be hurt either when he returns from suspension because on the pitch he remains a key figure for Chelsea. He turns 32 in December and although doubts have been aired about his creaking athleticism, he is still Roberto Di Matteo's most reliable option, especially as captain - an honour he is unlikely to see taken from him.
He has suffered a level of abuse throughout his career only ever rivalled by Sol Campbell and even then, that was only played out in fixtures involving Spurs. There is not a ground away from Stamford Bridge that Terry will receive a fair welcome, but, again, this is all part of the territory for him.
Though it will not matter to the Ferdinands, Fitz Hall and other assorted QPR comrades, strictly speaking Terry has only ever been cleared of criminal charges, including the trial of the case in question. As he rose respectfully from the dock in July upon announcement of the “not guilty” verdict and walked out of court without a hint of a smile, he did not give the impression of a man flustered by the week's events.
Alarmingly, Joey Barton's view on the matter seems vaguely relevant as we stack up Terry's punishment alongside preceding cases. The beleaguered QPR exile is in the midst of serving a 12-match ban for the violent behaviour that not only marred the spectacle of the final day of last season, but threatened to relegate his club.
Barton's actions that day were brainless and reprehensible and he is serving the suspension as a consequence but his suggestion that the FA punish more severely for violent conduct than allegations of racism strikes a chord. And that is as simple as it gets because neither individual has a respectable priors list if you were thinking this was considered when the FA reached their decision.
Ironically, for a man so self-obsessed with preaching his love for literature to his Twitter followers, Barton may even have proved useful to Terry in his formative years. For it is one of Aesop's fables that springs to mind when taking a full view of Terry's misdemeanours; The Ass in the Lion's Skin. And it seems oddly relevant when discussing Terry's chequered history.
The story leaves us with the moral that your actions and words will always reveal your true character, regardless of appearance and behaviour and it is hard to argue that Terry has fulfilled this particular tale over his 14 years as a professional.
Indeed, for every mega contract, every distinguished outing as captain of his club and country and every moment he has lifted silverware, they will all be marred by his actions.
Will he care? Not a chance. With his first big test at the Emirates on Saturday, do not be surprised to watch Terry deliver another herculean performance for Chelsea, in turn proving he is as resilient on the pitch as he always has been off it.
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