The John Terry scandal is a dream story for any journalist to report on. What a shame though, that it is so very close to home.
If the basic scenario could be moved over to the continent, there would be nothing better for an England-supporting correspondent to cover. If Eric Abidal was found out to have had an affair with the wife of William Gallas, Englishmen would revel in his infidelity. Even better if Gael Clichy was found to have had an affair with Gallas’ wife, fans visiting the Emirates Stadium would have a lot more than the usual “You’re just a small town in Paris” to shout about.
It is a pity that Terry-gate could hinder England’s preparations for the World Cup, but as juicy stories go, it is still pretty good.
Initially the gag order was revoked and news leaked that the footballer behind the veil was ‘Super JT’. Then came the rumours and the gossip concerning what had happened. Wayne Bridge’s name was then introduced to the papers as it became clear it was Vanessa Perroncel – the Manchester City defender’s missus – who Terry had slept with. More rumours followed, of abortions, hushed-up rendezvous and lies. Then, like a great inevitable crashing wave, came the comment.
It seems everybody has an opinion on Terry’s personal misdemeanours. In the past week football journalists, feature writers, managers, ex-footballers and even ex-players of other sports have had their say. Some believed that the Chelsea skipper simply had to be stripped of the England captaincy. Other people however, did not see the necessity for him to be punished professionally for an indiscretion in his personal life. Although the two arguments were juxtaposed, there was a strong current which ran through all of the comments made this week in the media – passion.
The scandal has conjured-up fervent debate. Why?
Firstly, there is something distinctly personal about this story and rarely is sports journalism infused with personal flavours; it reports back on a professional world in which the greatest competitors are those thought to be the best at focusing on nothing but the free-kick, the corner, the conversion, the putt or the race at hand. The debate has also been influenced by the phenomenon of ‘the modern-day footballer’ – a character who is generally defined as being overpaid; many people associate professional footballers with negative traits, such as an inflated sense of self-importance, for this section of the population the affair has been a chance to vent their dislike for sportsmen who they believe, should live their lives guided by a very different moral compass to the rest of us.
Whatever the reason, the debate has been fierce and never has the England captaincy been so vigorously disputed over. This was no shock however as football is our national game, a treasure we truly cherish.
The most interesting thing about this whole situation is not what happened between JT and Vanessa Perroncel or the furore over the England captaincy, but the emotion that so much of last week’s comment seems to have been dominated by – surprise. The verb ‘to surprise’ has two parts to it, the first is ‘to encounter suddenly’ – now fair enough, the Terry scandal has been a sudden and unexpected revelation, but the second feature of surprise is ‘to cause to feel wonder, astonishment, or amazement’. Three words which perfectly describe the reactions Terry-gate has been met with – wonder, astonishment and amazement.
John Terry’s affair has been chewed over in incredulity, to a bafflingly high extent.
If we were living in 1948 and this scandal revolved around the then England captain Billy Wright, maybe there would be grounds to feel astonished by such infidelity. But this is 2009. Divorce, failed marriages, affairs, screwed-up families and broken homes are all late-20th century and early-21st century cliches. In the past week people have been heard on TV, radio and in newspapers, saying ‘I just don’t know how John Terry got himself in to this situation‘. Please, if this is your opinion, get off your enormously high horse, look around and smell the thorns.
Just because professional footballers live in a glamorous world to which we sometimes feel we have no relation, it does not mean they are in-human. They are real people that live, breathe, eat, sleep and feel. Almost every group of friends and work colleagues experience roughly the same ‘problems’. Judging by the media’s reaction this week you would think a guy had never slept with one of his mates’ girlfriends. The simple truth is that any time a group of people are brought together two individuals can become close – even if they shouldn’t – and Chelsea Football Club are no exception to this.
Commentators have fallen prey to being over-dramatic this past week. Anybody trying to analyse what has happened here, needs to not put professional footballers up on a moral pedestal. Terry made vows when he married his wife and he has broken them. He has behaved improperly and will live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. When Terry and sportsmen like him have their failed personal relationships criticised in the media, on the grounds that “they are in the public eye and thus set a bad example“, only journalism comes off smelling bad. We are living in a strange world if we believe Terry’s infidelity is any worse than Janet’s from next door.
The scandal surrounding JT was surprising in that nobody saw it coming. But were the actual actions of John Terry and Vanessa Perroncel surprising? Well, maybe yes, if think sportsmen should, in their personal relationships be a moral guide to the rest of us. This is a skewed perception though. If we can be impartial and not think about the thousands of pounds worth of wages or the Bentleys or the mansions and if we can appreciate that, as far as personal relationships are concerned, sportsmen are no different from the rest of us, then we can appreciate that Terry-gate is not the end of the world. Far, far from it. He has made a bad decision, but that is all.
So next time you turn on Sky Sports News and somebody is expressing their disbelief at how John Terry could get embroiled in this situation, please remember he has made a personal error here, not a professional one. He is still a great defender and will be a great asset to any England XI in the future. If however you cannot do this and you simply cannot forget about what the Chelsea skipper has done, then I seriously recommend you stop watching football and start tuning in to Robot Wars, because like it or not, John Terry is just like you and me, a human, full of imperfections and flaws, capable of taking many different paths. They may be able to do a thousand keepy-uppies but as far as their personal lives are concerned, professional footballers are truly unexceptionable and should not be pressured in to being role models for a generation who need to start taking a closer look at themselves, before they criticise others.
By Ross A. Fox