I was reading this week in the Corriere della Sera one of those "Funny Old World" stories about the England football captain, John Terry, potentially losing his job because of an adulterous affair. There was a general scratching of heads in Italy as to what one had to do with the other, in stark contrast with the British press who wrote, almost as one, that Terry should be demoted over the scandal as though it were an axiomatic truth. So there was a certain tension on Thursday as we waited to to see whether England's Italian manager would adopt a continental understanding or if he had decided to go native.
I was interested to note that, when the axe fell, those named as replacements at both Captain and Vice-Captain were not exactly adroit at staying out of the papers for reasons of bad personal judgement. And throughout this sordid episode, no one has actually suggested Terry be dropped from the team, so clearly there is a higher bar for moral behaviour by captains than mere squad members - just as well given that at least four regular starting XI players have been named in the tabloids for the exact same sins.
I would suggest that those who seek moral purpose in the England football team are probably wasting their time. As my friend Marcus pointed out, by the same criteria that got Terry fired, we should demote the Archbishop of Canterbury for being bad at football. Just as we don't require our national sportsmen to be Cordon Bleu chefs, qualified architects or banjo players, we shouldn't expect them to be moral paragons. Before Terry even got the job he'd been pilloried in the press for public urination in a bar, inappropriate texting to other women and parking his Bentley in a disabled car bay so we knew he wasn't exactly Albert Schweitzer. But he was evidently good at putting various parts of his body between foreigners and a football, and in our whimsical society, such talents earn £100,000 a week.
Indeed, I'd suggest that is the real point of this story. Football is peculiarly sensitive to excessive remuneration for its elite stars, even though those who can command such pay are the small point of a very wide-based pyramid of journeymen pros hacking each other every week for a miner's wage. We accept with a straight face a banker claiming he can "prove" he is worth a bonus of £1m after a government rescue; John Terry proves every week what he's worth in the most unforgiving public arena. Premier League football clubs are falling over themselves to show how in touch they are with those who buy the match tickets, pies and replica shirts through community liaison, charity sponsorship and "Kick Racism Out Of Football" raffles. "We haven't lost touch with our roots and values" they desperately cry via piles of signed polyester.
Yet the most overlooked part of the story reveals some very old-fashioned values still at work within the beautiful game. Wise sports hacks claimed it wasn't the affair that was the problem, but the fact that the Other Woman, Vanessa Perroncel, was the Ex-Other Woman of a former Chelsea colleague, Wayne Bridge, also a member of the England team. Disruption to England's World Cup plans caused by friction within the squad was the real threat, it was said. Demotion for Terry was the only way to achieve team harmony, it was also said. Or to put it another way: John nicked Wayne's bird.
Details over the exact chronology are sketchy, but it seems Bridge and Ms Perroncel had split at the time of Terry's dalliance; her mistake was not having a "Property of Wayne Bridge" tattoo. Did Terry act shabbily toward a supposed friend and former colleague? Probably, but Perroncel is also a grown up with some free will. The fact she is being implied as the chattel of Bridge reveals a lot about attitudes within the press towards women, in particular those who move in Premier League football's rarefied atmosphere. She has no function outside of being the companion to either player.
John Terry may insert vegetables into bodily orifices for all I care, but ever since the story broke he has proved his worth to his team through solid sporting performance. By contrast, Rio Ferdinand, new England captain, fresh back from injury, aimed a punch at an opponent, earning him a three-match ban - the sort of behaviour that can cost a team dear in a World Cup (just ask David Beckham). But as long as he didn't sleep with someone who wasn't going out with someone who also plays for England, moral decency is upheld. And the humbug of the tabloid press can carry on undisturbed.
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