Abandon the tribalism -- racism is the issue

Posted by John Brewin

Sunday October 23 was always going to be an epochal day in English football. We just didn't realise that Manchester City beating Manchester United 6-1 would take second billing. Almost a year later, we are still dealing with what happened in that afternoon's later Premier League match.

But now we know the FA's verdict on John Terry, we are also forced to see the verdict through the prism of the events that came two weeks earlier at Anfield. That Terry has received half the ban is sure to cause an incendiary response from those still fighting in Luis Suarez's corner over his eight-match suspension for a similar offence.

Suarez received double Terry's four-match ban, because the independent panel that the Uruguayan faced found he repeated a racial insult to Patrice Evra seven times to Terry's one jibe at Anton Ferdinand. We await the publishing of the report. It is still unlikely to dampen the fires of ire.

Knowing John Terry, this will not be the end of the affair. It was he who delayed the court case until after Euro 2012. His defence's case at Southwark Crown Court centered on the burden of proof that Terry had abused Ferdinand. During the FA hearing, his defence set at the heart of process itself, suggesting that his “not guilty” verdict was bulletproof. It has not proved so on a lesser burden of proof. An appeal is likely. Terry is a gambler by nature and one who looks prepared to risk what reputation he has left.

The Internet already flows with outrage. Chelsea fans who argue that Terry should not have even faced the FA having been found not guilty in a court of law are being drowned out by their Liverpool zealot equivalents.

A Premier League season of hate -- 2011-12 -- is still affecting matters in 2012-13. Both affairs are tedious to many neutral observers, but they continue to wrest control of the headlines. Last Sunday saw a first Manchester United win at Anfield for seven years superseded by Terry's stepping down from playing for England in a style that owed much to Lance Armstrong's taking of his ball home.

Thursday had been a slow news day in truth, but now we face a weekend dominated by the announcement from Wembley. All eyes will be on Terry should he run out at the Emirates on Saturday. Even those with closed eyes will be able to tell when he is on the ball since his every touch will be shrouded in boos.

A year ago, the accusations looked likely to wreck the careers of Suarez and Terry, yet a year later Suarez is armed with a new contract and the continuing support and faith of his club's fans. Terry is likely to be accorded similar treatment among the Stamford Bridge faithful. "One England Captain" will greet a man who is ever unbowed by controversy.

It is the truth of Terry. Here is a man who has variously been lambasted for laughing at Americans the day after 9-11, urinating against a bar, parking his car in a disabled spot, having his mother convicted of theft and his father convicted of drugs possession. It has rarely affected his performance on the field.

For those outside the Chelsea faithful, it may be difficult to recall much beyond such a list of questionable conduct.

Nevertheless, at Stamford Bridge, a banner on the Shed End proclaims him as "Captain, Leader, Legend." Even when he was stupid enough to get himself sent off in last season's Champions League semifinal at Barcelona, Blues fans leapt to the defence of their leader.

And that's because football is like that. No matter what a player is accused of, there will be a supporter happy to defend their idol.

Amid these drawn-out sagas, we have lost sight of the fact that racism, a plague that we thought had gone from our pitches and terraces, has twice been proved by the FA. The criminal court case descended into a lifting of the lid of the pathetic “banter” that players use to gain a psychological advantage on their opponents. It was low-grade stuff until the crossing of one of society's barriers by Terry. Racism is not acceptable in any walk of British life and neither should it be on a football field.

The deluge of coverage ought to centre on that, but you know it won't. If we continue to pick at who deserved more for either offence, then it is a poor indictment on the football industry. Cast aside the tribalism, the Internet silliness, the wavering interest in a topic debated to death. A serious issue, a scar on society, was at the heart of both the Suarez and Terry cases. It is time to grow up, face up and fight racism properly.

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