After a wonderful summer of superb athletic achievement and fantastic gamesmanship that created a general feeling of bonhomie and all round loveliness, this week we are definitely back down to earth with a bump with the final, we hope, instalment of the John Terry chapter of the ‘Footballer Misbehaves Shock’ staple of the tabloid press.
It’s hardly surprising that quite a few people, me included, who usually look forward to the football season have lost all enthusiasm for a sport in which it’s almost obligatory to shout at refereeing decisions and where taking a dive and rolling around in ‘agony’ in the hope of getting some sort of advantage is an art form.
If anything, the game’s reputation seems to have become a little uglier recently. Despite years of campaigning to kick racism out of football and a zero-tolerance policy, barely a week seems to go by without controversy, proving that for all the supposed progress, racism still seethes beneath the veneered surface, just waiting to burst out.
Listening to BBC 5 live on Monday, it is also quite clear that no-one can agree on Terry’s case, in particular whether the FA is right to bring disciplinary action when he’s already been cleared by a court. This is hardly surprising given the sometimes quite alarming emotions stirred up by football, but it’s really quite straightforward if you stop thinking football and start thinking work.
Having been cleared of the criminal offence of racial abuse by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in July, Terry is now facing the FA charges of using ‘abusive and/ or insulting words and/ or behaviour’ towards Anton Ferdinand during a match last October. Different charges, brought under different types of law and with different standards of proof. Being innocent or guilty of either charge is not mutually exclusive.
This discrepancy, if indeed it is one, is not unique to football. PC Simon Harwood, acquitted of killing Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London, was later found guilty of gross misconduct and sacked for discrediting and undermining public confidence in the police service. Similarly, it is not difficult to find plenty of examples of professionals, including lawyers, struck off by their regulator but not charged with a criminal offence.
On the other hand, the chances of escaping disciplinary action at work if you have been found guilty of a criminal offence are much slimmer, although it isn’t cut and dried unless its specified in an employment contract or staff handbook. But you can see how being found guilty of hurling racist abuse could make you unsuitable for your job even if it wasn’t done at work.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to affect footballers’ suitability. Terry and his supporters believe the FA are victimising him by bringing their own charges. I know we shouldn’t expect footballers to know what they’re talking about, but I am quite sure asking him to account for his actions (he admitted using racist language) doesn’t constitute victimisation.
Even if the FA finds Terry guilty and imposes a ban, it is unthinkable that he’ll lose his job. Luis Suarez, found guilty of using a derogatory racist slur towards another player, was banned for eight matches last year but he has just managed to secure a pay rise to £120k a week from Liverpool football club. Nice work if you can get it.
On the other hand, last year footballer Mark McCammon was dismissed for alleged misconduct by Gillingham FC following his complaints of racial discrimination. In July, an employment tribunal found he was unfairly sacked after being racially victimised. He was awarded nearly £69k for loss of earnings and breach of contract. More than I earn in a year, but a lot less than Suarez’ new weekly pay packet.
Whatever the outcome of Terry’s disciplinary hearing, I think we can safely conclude any penalty he receives is not going to have any serious impact on his long term financial security or football career. You can be sure that wouldn’t be the case for the rest of us.