In that special, unique way that only they can, the FA managed to set a dozen hungry cats amongst the pigeons of the John Terry case this morning. Their announcement, that Terry had been stripped of the England captaincy for this summer’s European Championships but that he would still be available for selection by Fabio Capello sends out a message so mixed that it would require an FA-branded centrifuge to be able to properly decipher. ”He will not captain the England team until the allegations against him are resolved”, said their official statement this morning, before adding that, “The FA board can confirm that he has not been excluded from the squad.”
This news follows the deferral of the hearing against him over allegations made regarding comments made to Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand during their match against Chelsea last October. Terry has not yet been charged by the FA over this, presumably because they are awaiting the verdict of the court that will hear the criminal case against him, which is all well and good – a perfectly understandable reaction to an unforeseen situation – but the decision to strip him of the captaincy now, before the trial has been heard, but also to allow him to play this summer seems absurd in several different ways.
On the one hand, those that would defend Terry will ask – with justification – why it should be that somebody that hasn’t been found guilty of anything should be sanctioned in any way at all. Those with misgivings about Terry’s captaincy of the national team will ask – with equal justification – why, if he is being sanctioned by the Football Association now, he should still be considered for selection for the team in the first place. It has become increasingly evident that the football world has made up its mind over his innocence or guilt regarding these charges over the last few weeks – based, in many if not most cases, on tribal loyalties rather than anything else – and today’s statement seems likely to please nobody.
When it was first announced that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to press charges against Terry, we noted that he was, indeed, innocent until proven guilty and that he should be offered the same opportunity to defend himself as anybody else. This remains as it was then. We also added, however, that Terry should perhaps look to himself and decide whether it wouldn’t also be appropriate for him to consider resigning his captaincy until his trial is concluded. To an extent, the publicity surrounding the story leaves Terry in a no-win situation. His resignation would have been interpreted as the actions of a guilty party by those that have already decided this anyway. In addition to this, the publicity that any FA charges might bring would mean that their case couldn’t reasonably be expected to be held prior to the criminal case.
There might not be such a fuss about all of this were it not for the curious fetishisation that the English put into their captain’s role. This isn’t something that many other nations share, and it has never felt as if the England team has benefitted from it in any significant way. The role of the England captain could be reduced to merely leading the team out at the start of matches, wearing an armband and holding a penant for the cameras before the start of each match and ninety-nine per cent of people would be completely unaware of any difference. This morning’s statement from the FA, however, states that, “This decision has been taken due to the higher profile nature of the England captaincy, on and off the pitch, and the additional demands and requirements expected of the captain leading into and during a tournament”, none of which would seem to indicate that there is any plan to try and dilute the symbolic importance associated with the role.
As such, fevered speculation over who will replace Terry in leading the team out, wearing an armband and swapping penants has already begun. That Rio Ferdinand already seems to have distanced himself from it has muddied the waters somewhat, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard being wheeled out, as ever, as possible contenders. What we would like to see would be for the FA to announce that they have given the captaincy to Joe Hart and, when asked by the assembled press how this decision had been reached, reply by saying, “Because he’s so tall. I mean, he is really tall. He’s almost two metres tall – that’s 6’5″ in old money! In all seriousness, though, we have given the captaincy to Joe Hart because he is very tall, and we used this as the criteria for reaching our decision because, well, you know, it’s as relevant as any other criteria. We could have drawn lots, but we don’t think that would have gone down too well with most people.”
None of this, of course, will happen. Fabio Capello will likely pick one of the usual suspects and everything will return to normal, possibly with John Terry – who may or may not, by the summer, be somewhat distracted at the thought of his upcoming trial – still in the team. It is now being reported that he may even be considering retiring from international football altogether. If his presence were to be a destabilising influence upon the team, then this may even turn out to be the best resolution to this situation for all parties. England, meanwhile, will limp on to the final of the European Championships and what becomes of them will be what becomes of them – and very little of what happens will have much to do with who is their captain. And it is this that is the biggest irony of the frenzy concerning this story today.
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