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Homosexuality: Football’s last remaining taboo

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Ask any football fan of a certain age the question ‘Do you remember Justin Fashanu?’ and they will likely reply with something along the lines of ‘Yeah, the gay one.’ The gay ONE. ONE.

When it comes to homosexuality in football, one is something of a recurring number. One: the number of players who have ‘come out’ in the history of English football. One: the number of openly gay professional footballers in the world at the moment. One: the number of taboos that remain in the professional game in the 21st Century.

Football is not the only sport that has come under fire for a perceived lack of support for players who may be gay and reluctant to publicise that fact. However, in Gareth Thomas and Steven Davies, rugby and cricket have two high-profile international-calibre players who have been brave enough to reveal their sexuality. Both Thomas and Davies have spoken candidly about their decisions to go public and the relief they felt as a result of it being out in the open, with Davies stating ‘the difference is huge, I am so much happier.’ What is heart-warming is the support and acceptance Davies and Thomas received from their coaches and teammates. The England wicketkeeper said that his rival for the position behind the stumps, Matt Prior, went out of his way to help by giving him a hug and saying that Davies should have told him earlier. ‘That was special,’ says the 25 year old.

Football is the most popular sport in England, with thousands upon thousands of amateur and professional players. Despite the benefits of ‘coming out’ described by those who have done so, football does not have a Davies or a Thomas and people are understandably beginning to ask why.

In 2010, Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) conducted its first ever survey of sexuality. The findings showed that 1% of Britons identify themselves as gay/lesbian and a further 0.5% as bisexual. To put this into a footballing context, there are approximately 700 players in the Premier League so if ONS statistics are correct, seven players could be gay and another three or four bisexual. There are of course, no openly gay footballers in the Premier League. In fact there are none in England at all. Why not? The answer is far from simple and is borne out of a number of factors.

The first, and probably most obvious, obstacle to ‘coming out’ is the fear of what teammates and managers will say. It took tremendous courage for Davies and Thomas to ‘come out’ as they had no idea what the reaction would be from teammates and coaches. They did of course receive great support, but evidently footballers do not feel comfortable doing so and anyone who watched the recent documentary ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ on BBC Three will understand why.

The programme followed a young lady as she explored attitudes to homosexuality within the game and sought to see if she could get a player to ‘come out.’ The young lady in question was Amal Fashanu, the niece of Britain’s only ever openly gay player, Justin Fashanu, and daughter of former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu. The journey she undertook was therefore driven by a desire to understand why, after more than 20 years, no player in England has felt able to follow in her famous uncle’s footsteps. It was emotional for her and for the viewer, quite shocking. When she saw how her father reacted to the news that his brother was gay, she was visibly shaken. ‘I wouldn’t like to play or even get changed in the same vicinity as him, that’s just the way I feel so if I’m like that, I’m sure the rest of the footballers are.’ This is the mentality of a 14 year old at an all boy’s school and is built on the ridiculous assumption that gay men are attracted to all other men. It is unfortunately a mentality that is commonplace in the game. If somebody cannot even call upon their own brother to rise above this, is it a wonder that players who may be gay are reluctant to say so?

Justin Fashanu (This image is the property of Allsport)

Amal braved the testosterone-fuelled environment of Millwall’s training ground and when she approached some of the players to discuss the issue of homosexuality in the game, the stark reality was again brought home. She asked some of the team’s younger players how they would feel if a teammate announced he was gay and they refused to discuss the matter. They looked uncomfortable and even more shockingly, seemed to find it amusing. Some of the clubs senior players such as Darren Purse and Steve Mildenhall were prepared to speak on the matter and said that they would be fully supportive of any teammate who was gay as it is not an issue for them. It was good to see this sort of mature, informed attitude that has become the norm in wider society, but given the reaction of most of the squad, you cannot blame a gay player for being reticent.

Amal wanted to get a big-name Premiership player to speak on the issue on the programme and claimed that she had attempted to contact the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Joe Hart and Theo Walcott. No volunteer was forthcoming until Joey Barton stepped forward. Barton is not a man who is shy when it comes to giving his opinion on matters, but homophobia in football is something about which he clearly feels very strongly. Like Amal Fashanu, Barton has a gay uncle and so has first-hand experience of accepting someone who ‘comes out.’ Barton says that for him it is no issue at all, he loves his uncle for who he is, not because he is straight or gay or whatever, and that he would be the same with any teammate. For Barton, a person is a person and deserves to be treated as such regardless of their sexual preference, but sadly, he seems to be the exception. Barton said that he feels there will be an openly gay player in England within the next ten years, but that he thinks there will still be what he calls ‘archaic figures’ in the game who will continue to discriminate. According to the QPR midfielder, these ‘figures’ feel that there will be ‘all sorts of shenanigans’ going on in the dressing room. As he rightly points out, such an assumption is incorrect and ridiculous. As Barton also states, this attitude betrays a lack of social awareness and intelligence, as did John Fashanu’s reaction to his brother’s announcement. Upon learning of Justin’s public announcement, John Fashanu spoke of the ‘consequences’ with which his brother would have to deal, the inference being that Justin’s sexuality was a choice he had actively made. Again, this is simple and ill-informed. A gay man does not choose to be gay, it is not an active decision, if more people realised this, there would be less bigotry. This is however, another attitude that seems to be prevalent within the sport and the recent punishments handed to Ravel Morison, Federico Macheda and Nile Ranger for using homophobic language in tweets do little to prove otherwise.

The second factor that appears to discourage any player from ‘coming out’ is the fear of how fans will react, a fear anybody who has ever attended a football match will understand. Would they get booed every time they touch the ball? Would they be subjected to obscene gestures and/or chants? Would their own fans turn on them? There are still too many uncertainties for a player to feel comfortable revealing he is gay. As someone who has attended his fair share of football matches, I can state with a great deal of certainty that the use of homophobic language is not rare. Most of the time, it is not used in a vitriolic, vindictive way, but it is still unacceptable. If a player is seen to be making a meal of an injury, he is often told to ‘get up you poof!’ This cannot help.

Amal went to Brighton & Hove Albion to watch them play Leeds United. For those of you who may not be aware, Brighton is seen as the ‘gay capital’ of the UK and the fans recited some of the chants they often hear from away supporters. Among them were: ‘We know why you’ve got soft seats,’ ‘Does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ and ‘Stand up if you can’t sit down.’ Some call it banter, others label it homophobic abuse, but if there is a gay player in the Brighton squad, would he feel comfortable in that environment? As a straight male, I can only speculate, but I would imagine he would find it disconcerting, perhaps even distressing. Famous gay football fan Matt Lucas says that he finds some of the chants amusing and believes that you ‘have to allow a little bit’ but there is a line. Unfortunately, opposition fans intent on riling players often do not respect the line, or even know where it lies.

One man who stands as a symbol of hope and was brave enough to risk crowd and player abuse is Swedish player Anton Hysén, son of former Liverpool midfielder Glenn. Hysén is currently the only openly gay professional footballer in the world and the strength of character he has shown to be recognised as such cannot be overestimated. The 21 year old defender was living a lie, walking round with a model girlfriend until, in March 2011, he realised that he could no longer continue to do so. He decided that honesty was the best policy and went public with his homosexuality. He should be applauded for having the courage to do so. His teammates insist that they had always suspected that Anton was gay, but the relationship is so much better now that they know. Anton and his colleagues state that there is a great deal of banter between them and the youngster admits that he feels accepted and that he is happier than ever. Hysén does not face hostility from fans, but the Swedish third tier is different to Europe’s big leagues. Furthermore, Sweden’s liberal values have also undoubtedly made Anton’s life easier. Whether he would receive the same reception in England, Italy or Spain is doubtful. Whilst we should celebrate Hysén and his courage, it is a sad indictment of the state of football that he stands alone.

Anton Hysén (This image is the property of The Sun)

Before a player can feel sufficiently comfortable to come out in England, the footballing authorities need to do a great deal to create an encouraging environment. So, what are they doing? In truth, not a lot. Compared to other issues such as racism and safety in stadia, homophobia receives very little airtime. In fact, in my experience you are more likely to be admonished by a steward at Old Trafford for standing up than you are for yelling homophobic slurs.

Openly gay former NBA star and gay rights campaigner John Amaechi believes the lack of action on the issue is the fault of the sport’s authorities. As he correctly points out, the game is run by old, straight, white men who are clearly not comfortable with new fangled ideas like women in boardrooms or black people in management positions. Amaechi even claims to have been in boardrooms in which people have speculated on a player’s sexuality and he says that what he heard ‘took him back to being 11 years old.’ He argues that football has no excuse, that it has the power and the money to change things for the better, but do the people at the top want to? Perhaps not.

John Amaechi is yet to be convinced (This image is the property of BBC)

Amal Fashanu found an official (assistant referee) willing to speak to her and ‘come out’ on the programme, but the FA pulled the plug on the interview claiming that it does not allow officials to discuss non-football matters with the media. She had run in to what she called ‘the brick wall of the football authorities.

For its part, the FA would point to its new anti-homophobia campaign. ‘Opening Doors and Joining In’ is the association’s attempt to stamp out homophobia within the sport and was launched last Monday (19th February). Upon announcing the campaign, the FA’s Adrian Bevington said: ‘The message here is clear. Let’s embrace individuals for their outstanding skills, talents and differences. After all, that’s why we all love football in the first place. I hope we can count on your support in kicking homophobia out of football and creating a ‘so what?’ culture.’ The rhetoric is impressive, but does that translate in to concrete action?

Amaechi remains unconvinced. He still feels the FA is missing the point and that the problem lies with them. It is hard to disagree. Sure, the FA cannot control what comes out of every fan’s mouth, but it can make a difference within the game. As Amaechi highlights, this will take more than posters and videos and he feels that the FA needs to act as a leader and stop trying to shift the blame. The starting point he argues is a more diverse board: ‘If you look at the first horrible video they did on anti-homophobia, it made it very clear that the problem lies with you. You stupid, blue-collar people in the terraces. It’s you stupid urban, re black, people on the field. It’s your fault. Then they sit in their boxes and their boardrooms and all the attention is deflected away from them. Well, it’s 2012 and they have just appointed their first woman to the board. Does that really tell you they are a progressive organisation or they are now reacting to the fact the focus is starting to shift on to them? A board that has just voted a woman on to the board in 2012 is not progressive. They are by definition the problem.

Amaechi’s stance is also supported by the Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), Clarke Carlisle: ‘The responsibility lies with the national governing body. They need to make sure they set the precedent of levels of acceptance. Then the onus is on the players union, the football leagues, and the individual clubs to disseminate those messages.

Unfortunately, PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor is not singing from the same hymn sheet as his lead player representative. He stated in a recent interview with BBC Radio 5 Live that homophobia is not high on the sport’s agenda. Herein lies the problem. Obviously creating a welcoming and accepting environment for players and fans of all races, genders and sexual orientation is not as important to the players’ union as helping Carlos Tevez appeal against the perfectly justifiable fines issued by Manchester City. PR guru Max Clifford claims three players have spoken to him about being gay/bisexual, whereas PFA chief Taylor says none have approached the union. If this is the case, something has gone spectacularly wrong.

Having watched the new campaign video, I cannot help but agree with Amaechi. Frankly, the video is an embarrassment, even insulting perhaps. There is not one current Premiership player featured in the video, with the only recognisable male figure being Gareth Southgate. It looks like a video that they have produced for use in-house, to screen at the beginning of a presentation maybe. It is certainly not hard hitting. If you wish to make up your own mind, you can view the video on the FA’s official YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibqyGq8vBkU. The video should be hard hitting, strong action is required, but the FA’s decision to pull the original video for having too strong a message says much about its stance.

The approach of people high up in the game, such as Taylor, and the FA’s soft stance on the issue and reluctance to tackle it in any meaningful way, mean that attitudes within the game are unlikely to change any time soon and I do not share Barton’s optimism regarding an openly gay player within the next ten years. Maybe in another 20 years, the late Justin Fashanu will still be known as ‘The gay one’. The gay one who was ultimately driven to suicide. Football should be ashamed.

Categories: Football

Sport Report Video Blog Episode 2

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

In the second edition of the official Sport Report video blog, I answer the following viewer questions:

How does this year’s Super Bowl Rate?

Is Eli Manning going to be considered a great?

Is this the best era in men’s tennis history with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and, to an extent, Andy Murray all pushing each other to reach new heights?

Where will Lukas Podolski be playing next season?

Will the Indian Premier Soccer League take off like the IPL?

Has the financial muscle of the Barclays Premier League come to an end with the pitiful January transfer window total spending?

Categories: Video Blog

Sport Report Video Blog Episode 1

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I have taken the bold step of setting up an official Sport Report YouTube Channel and going forward I will posting blogs hopefully on a weekly basis. I will be answering questions people have about blogs I have done or other sporting matters. If you wish to send in a question, please feel free to do so to npwsport@gmail.com. All feedback and comments are welcome on this blog but I have disabled YouTube comments

Please watch and subscribe to the channel!

The first edition looks at the England captaincy, Fabio Capello’s resignation and the Patrice Evra-Luis Suarez Saga.

Categories: Video Blog

Novak Djokovic’s Dream Year

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Novak Djokovic has enjoyed an amazing 12 months, probably about as good a 12 months as any sportsman ever has.

His 2011 season saw him rack up a record of 70-6 (a win percentage of 92.1), making it one of the best seasons in tennis history. Of those six defeats, four came after the US Open, by which point the Serbian had arguably already checked out mentally. Djokovic did not lose until Roger Federer defeated him in the semi-final at the French Open in May, a remarkable 43 match winning streak. Although he lost at Roland Garros, Djokovic won the remaining three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open) and achieved a record of five Masters 1000 event wins (Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Rome and Madrid). His season winnings of $12.6 million was just another in a long line of records Djokovic smashed in 2011.

What was most impressive was his dominance over the world’s top players. He went 6-0 against Rafael Nadal (all wins were in finals) and he bested Roger Federer 4-1. This saw him rise to become world number one and undoubtedly become the man to beat.

Tennis fans have known for years that Djokovic is extremely talented and he actually won his first Grand Slam in 2008 at the Australian Open. He did however, always seem to be operating on the rung of the ladder just below Federer and Nadal and looked set for a long stay as the world’s third best player. There were question marks over his conditioning as breathing difficulties and poor physical fitness led to numerous retirements. Furthermore, his mental strength was also doubted as he showed a propensity to become frustrated, which often manifested itself in Djokovic breaking rackets. In 2011, the Serb turned all of this on its head and his record of 10-1 over the two men who have dominated men’s tennis in the last decade is the biggest proof of this. So, what has changed? Well, it depends who you ask.

On one side of the fence you have those who point to clear technical improvements in Djokovic’s game, most notably his serve. In the past, this had been seen as the one clear weakness in his game, now it is a weapon. In years gone by, the world number one had a tendency to serve a fairly high number of double faults. Experts put this down to poor technique, noting that the elbow on his serving arm was very low, causing him to ‘bowl’ rather than strike the serve. This has now been rectified and Djokovic’s serve looks solid and he has become very difficult to ‘break.’ His second serve is also much improved and so there is less pressure on his first serve. In this year’s Australian Open final, Djokovic won 63% of points on second serve. His opponent Rafael Nadal won just 45%, a clear advantage for the Serb and probably the difference between winning and losing.  He has also improved his forehand and it is now arguably the most feared shot in tennis. Djokovic hits forehand winners that seem to defy the laws of physics almost at will and he is the only player on tour who seems to have found the perfect way of countering Nadal’s top spin and high bouncing forehand. He also looks much fitter. It is true that he has lost some weight and that he is consequently perhaps slightly weaker than he was before but during his record breaking season, Djokovic displayed unfathomable athleticism. There does not seem to be a spot on the court that the 24 year old cannot reach. He shows great speed and flexibility to reach shots that would be winners against anybody else. Rafael Nadal seemed as baffled as anybody else by Djokovic’s ability to return almost any shot and proclaimed: “It’s something unbelievable how he returns, no? His return probably is one of the best of the history. I never played against a player who’s able to return like this. Almost every time.” All of these technical and physical improvements have contributed to Djokovic becoming the world’s best tennis player, but some argue that the biggest factor behind his rise lies elsewhere.

The ‘Novak Djokovic Diet’ has become the stuff of legend, causing some to speculate that the days of sportsmen indulging in so-called ‘carb-loading’ may be over. In January 2010, Djokovic’s nutritionist discovered that his client suffers from a gluten allergy and subsequently removed it from the Serb’s diet. As mentioned already, Djokovic has lost some weight but he says that he has felt the benefits of the new diet right from the off, stating that he feels much better on court. Djokovic notes that his movement on court is much sharper and that he feels great physically, while world famous tennis coach Brad Gilbert has gone on record saying that he has never seen anyone move better on a tennis court. Given what we saw in 2011, it is impossible to disagree with either of them.

David Levitsky, Professor of Nutrition and Psychology at Cornell University in the US, feels that the gluten-free diet argument is over-played and that it is a case of mind over matter. Levitsky claims that “if you believe in a cause of your disorder, it becomes the cause.”

Whether or not this applies in the case of Novak Djokovic is anybody’s guess, but what is not in any doubt is the result. His trophy-laden year saw him deservedly crowned ATP Player of the Year, Ace of the Year by GQ magazine, ITF World Champion, BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year and he also won the highly prestigious Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year.

Djokovic has continued the form of 2011 in to 2012 as he won the Australian Open in a five set thriller against Rafael Nadal. In truth, Djokovic looked a class above for large parts of that match. If he can maintain his current level, he is more than capable of dominating for years to come and maybe even of topping the achievements of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Categories: Tennis

Arrivederci Fabio

February 8, 2012 2 comments

The FA today (8th February) announced that Fabio Capello has tendered his resignation and that it has been accepted, thus bringing to an end his four year stint as England manager.

The news emerged on the day the Italian met with FA chiefs at Wembley to discuss last week’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy. That decision, it seems, was taken by David Bernstein and co. without consulting Capello and this looks to be the root cause of Capello’s sudden decision to turn his back on the Three Lions just four months before the start of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

The decision to strip the Chelsea defender of the captaincy was announced last week and in all honesty was not exactly met with great surprise. What was much less expected was Capello’s subsequent interview with Italian TV network RAI on Sunday night (5th February). The veteran manager appeared notably vexed when quizzed about whether he felt the FA board had taken the correct action and in what was a direct challenge to its authority, he replied: “No, absolutely not. I spoke with the chairman [David Bernstein] and I told him that I don’t think someone can be punished until it becomes official. The court will decide. It’s going to be civil justice, not sports justice, to decide if John Terry committed that crime that he is accused of. And I thought it fair that John Terry keeps the captain’s armband.”

However, as anyone who has followed Capello’s career will now, he is as stubborn as a mule. He is cut from the same cloth as the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson: uncompromising, controlling, obstinate, but ultimately very successful. If Capello genuinely believes in what he said to the RAI interviewer, it is no surprise that he has refused to budge. His pride has evidently been hurt by what he will see as unwelcome interference from the FA and he has obviously decided that he can no longer work in a set-up that does not afford him complete control over the players and on-field matters. On the flip side, if he has breached his contract, perhaps he has jumped before he was pushed?

Whatever the case, England are now manager-less with 21 days to go until the friendly at Wembley versus the Netherlands and only four months before the start of a major tournament. Stuart Pearce, it would appear, will take temporary charge for the match against Bert van Marwijk’s men but what now happens for the Euros and beyond? The England team has gone from a position of certainty (Capello was definitely leaving after the Euros) to one of disarray. To whom does the FA now turn? Will the incoming manager insist on no interference from the board? The huge salary on offer, as well as the kudos of the job, will ensure there is plenty of interest but in truth, there is no obvious choice for Capello’s successor. This is a problem given that the decision now needs to be made in much greater haste than was previously thought.

Harry Redknapp has long been seen as the man for the job given his passion for England and the superb job he has done at Tottenham. However, how likely is he to leave White Hart Lane in the middle of a season in which Tottenham still have an outside chance of winning the title? Will he want to stay and build the club to the point at which they are perennial title contenders? From a footballing point of view, surely working with the likes of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale beats managing the likes of Joleon Lescott and Peter Crouch? Redknapp also gives the impression of a manager who thrives on the day-to-day aspects of club management so there is some doubt as to whether international management would suit him.

Beyond the man affectionately known as ‘Arry, there is certainly no obvious candidate. A quick glance over the bookmakers’ odds reveals names such as Jose Mourinho, Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew. All of these men are currently in employment and other than Allardyce, have never expressed an interest in the England job.

The FA now faces a very difficult choice and has very little time in which to reach a decision. The last time that happened, they ended up with Steve McClaren and we all know how that turned out. Let’s see if they have learned from that experience. Capello on the other hand will ride off in to the sunset, his pockets filled with cash. In truth, Capello has never quite fitted in in English football, as his bemusement over the importance of the captain showed. He will be disappointed that he has been unable to take England to the very top of international football as that is what he was brought in to do. His achievements at AC Milan, Roma and Real Madrid will, however, ensure that his reputation as one of the top managers of the last 30 years will remain intact. The real losers from the situation are the FA and the England team. The question is, will they pay for it? Time will tell.

Categories: Football

Roll up, roll up, for the England captain circus!

February 5, 2012 2 comments

On Friday (3rd February), the Football Association (FA) announced that Chelsea defender John Terry had been stripped of the England captaincy.

John Terry will no longer wear the captain's armband (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Terry stands accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match on 23rd October last year and this is a matter that has crossed the footballing ring fence and become subject to criminal proceedings. The FA’s announcement in fact came on the back of a statement issued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announcing that Terry’s trial date has been set for 9th July 2012, conveniently after the conclusion of this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

The issue of racism in football and the CPS’s decision to delay the trial for such a long period are matters for another time but from a football perspective, England are now left captain-less and a swift decision on Terry’s successor is needed, ideally before the friendly against the Netherlands on 29th February.

In many major footballing countries, for example Germany, Italy or Spain, the captaincy issue would not even have been deemed newsworthy. For example the latter two simply give the armband to the most-capped player. It is simply not a big deal. This is in stark contrast to the situation in England. The England captaincy is, and has long been, front page news and in truth, something of a circus. Never has this been truer than during the reign of John Terry.

Terry was first named captain of the Three Lions by Steve McClaren in August 2006 and was seen as the ideal man for the job. He had just captained Chelsea to back-to-back league titles, exhibiting all the hallmarks of a great captain along the way (vocal, motivating, giving his all for the cause etc). McClaren was convinced he had the right man in place stating ‘John has all the attributes an international captain needs – leadership, authority, courage, ability, tactical awareness and a total refusal to accept second-best,’ and the rest of the country agreed. It all started so well as Terry scored the first goal of the McClaren regime in a 4-0 thumping of Greece and stated that ‘It is the ultimate honour to be the captain of your country and I am very proud to be given this great opportunity.’ Terry and the England captaincy: a match made in heaven.

Not quite. England faltered badly during qualifying for Euro 2008 and eventually missed out on qualification for the tournament inAustria and Switzerland. McClaren however, played the role of fall guy and Terry remained captain under new manager Fabio Capello.

Terry once again showed that he embodies all the qualities of a great captain as England showed immediate signs of improvement and qualified for the 2010 World Cup with ease. However, in the run-up to the finals, Terry became embroiled in an off-field scandal as newspapers alleged that he had had an affair with the then wife of former Chelsea and England colleague Wayne Bridge. Sordid details of the affair appeared on the front and back pages of all major newspapers in England and the sporting media soon began to ask whether the Chelsea man was fit to captain the national team. This then turned, at least in some of the tabloids, to cries of ‘Strip Terry of the captaincy.’

In truth, Capello looked simply bemused by it all. The Italian never has, and probably never will, understand why the captaincy is such a big deal in England. He comes from a land where they prefer to focus on playing football and where the media supports the team. Perhaps this is why the Azzuri have won four World Cups? Nevertheless, Capello was forced to act and whether his hand was forced by the FA or not, he stripped Terry of the captaincy in February 2010. Rio Ferdinand was his replacement, although his injury problems meant that Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard wore the armband in South Africa.

The circus did not stop there. Oh no, it continued to roll along, racking up column inches as Rio Ferdinand was deemed too injury prone to carry the honour. In March 2011, England named its new captain, John Terry. It seemed a strange decision given the qualities of Steven Gerrard and the furore that had surrounded Terry a little over 12 months earlier, but it quickly became old news and England went about their business of booking a place on the plane to sunny Poland.

Fast forward to October 2011 and Terry was again in the papers for all the wrong reasons. During a heated match against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, the defender reportedly hurled racial abuse at Anton Ferdinand and the heat was on once again.

Terry is everything you could ever want in a captain on the field; tenacious, vocal, an excellent organiser and a great motivator, but his off-field conduct leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, to those who criticise football and its exponents, he is a perfect example: he earns a fortune, has an attitude problem, is arrogant and seems to feel he can do as he pleases. Those on the other side of the fence would claim he represents everything that is right with the game in so far as he is a fantastic rags to riches story; a true symbol of working class hope.

The latest ‘Terrygate’ scandal has caused the FA to say enough is enough and to go over Capello’s head in removing Terry as captain. The defender was informed by way of a phone call from FA Chairman David Bernstein, implying that it was a decision taken by the association and not the manager. This will actually be a relief to the Italian who will be glad the decision has been made for him. It should mean that his relationship with Terry will remain unaffected and so everyone can focus on the job at hand, namely European Championship glory.

Whether or not you think the FA is right to go over the manager’s head on this issue depends on whether or not you see the captaincy as important and as a purely footballing function. For many teams, this is the case. However, for England there are other issues at play. Former England captain Alan Shearer alluded to this on Football Focus when he spoke of the commercial commitments the FA and the captain have to fulfil. As England captain, you are the face of the team. You appear at the front on adverts for match tickets, merchandise and kit supplier commercials and so the image of the man with the armband has taken on a greater importance than is arguably necessary thanks to the FA’s obsession with corporate relations.

From this point of view, the FA has made the correct decision. Racism is an emotive issue and the FA has worked hard to stamp it out in the last 25 years. Regardless of recent press, the game in England has moved on a lot since John Barnes was pelted with bananas in a Merseyside derby in 1987. Although nobody is saying Terry is guilty at this point, it is a very serious charge and having a man who has a court date set fronting such publicity campaigns simply will not do. In fact, it would not be surprising if some of England’s sponsors have put pressure on the FA to take this action. The only question would be: if the FA is saying that its decision does not imply Terry’s guilt and that it is merely pending the outcome of the case, why was the decision not reached earlier?

If you see the captaincy as a footballing function, Terry should have stayed. He is the outstanding candidate and in truth, Capello (assuming the decision is his) may now struggle to replace him. Steven Gerrard would be the obvious choice but he has struggled with injury of late and is far from guaranteed to be in the starting eleven. It is of course impossible to guarantee that any player remains fit and in form but all things being well, only Joe Hart and Ashley Cole can be certain of starting berths. Many managers do not like goalkeeper captains and Cole is not exactly squeaky clean having been in the news for his own affairs and reportedly shooting a work experience boy at Chelsea’s training ground. Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney would be another, but he is suspended for the opening two games of Euro 2012 and has not exactly demonstrated a sound temperament down the years.

Capello is on the next train out of England after this summer’s tournament and so he could do worse than to look at the example set by his homeland: put an end to the circus by trivialising the captaincy and give it to the most experienced player.

Categories: Football