Archive for September 2012

On John Terry and racial abuse

So the verdict is out. An Independent Regulatory Commission has adjudged John Terry to have used “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand and which included a reference to colour and/or race” contrary to the Football Association’s rules.

Terry has been given a penalty of a four-match ban from domestic football and a fine of £220,000; his penalty is suspended until after the outcome of any appeal, should he choose to make one.

Though the full written reasons for this verdict have not yet been released, the Commission’s decision does not come as a shock.

The difficulty that the prosecution faced at John Terry’s criminal trial for the alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand was the burden of proof, which was in that case insurmountable – there needed to be no reasonable doubt that Terry had said these words and meant them to be offensive.

Here, the bar was far lower: it needed only to be a question of being more likely than not that Terry had meant to abuse or insult Anton Ferdinand with the phrase “f**king black c*nt”.

Even at the first trial, the presiding judge considered that the prosecution had built “a strong case” and that there was certainly a case to answer. On that logic, the finding of proven misconduct does not seem to be an unreasonable one.

There is great controversy over the length of Terry’s ban. Some have raised concerns that it is only one match longer than a player would be suspended for a red card offence. Others, more pointedly, have drawn a direct parallel with the punishment that the FA handed out to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, having ruled that he had made a series of racially offensive comments to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

Following a protracted and highly controversial case, Suarez was handed an eight-game ban, and a fine of £40,000. At first glance, the discrepancy in suspensions is startling. Yet the crucial paragraph of the Suarez-Evra judgment seems to be paragraph 411, which states that “Given the number of times that Mr Suarez used the word “negro”, his conduct is significantly more serious than a one-off use of a racially offensive term and amounts to an aggravating factor”.

The logic seems to be that if Terry had repeatedly used the offensive phrase in question, then he would have found himself suspended for a similar period.
Of additional, if brief, interest is the size of the fine levelled at John Terry. Though £220,000 may be, as several have remarked on Twitter, just under a fortnight’s wages for Terry, it remains a very considerable sum of money.

Indeed, if there is any inconsistency, it is here: it is unclear – without the aid of written reasons – why Terry’s one-off utterance earned him a fine five-and-a-half times that of Suarez, who was adjudged to have made a series of racially offensive remarks. Until we see such reasons, we can at best leave a question mark over this area of the process.

Perhaps, the key element in all this, though, is the non-financial price paid by John Terry: and that, ultimately, has been very significant. The FA, had it been harsher, could have denied him the opportunity to represent his country at the Euro 2012 tournament, or to play a leading role in Chelsea’s FA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs.

Indeed, some of Terry’s comments have implied such a harshness, whilst in the circumstances the FA seem to have been very accommodating of his concerns.

The greatest cost that Terry faced, as did Suarez, was to his reputation, which is why it would be somewhat surprising if he did not appeal this decision.

Terry’s standing in the eyes of many will not be greatly altered by this verdict – there are many within his club who will swear by his day-to-day kindness and considerate manner around the place, just as there are many more outside Stamford Bridge who are convinced of his unpleasantness.

We will probably never know quite how he was regarded within the England dressing-room when he decided to retire from international football. However, the suspicion is that if everyone associated with the national side had been as vociferous in their support of him as Roy Hodgson, then he might still be available for selection.

Whilst it seems premature to consider this battle over, it does appear that, in one sense, there has been a winner: and that is the FA.

It has shown, if somewhat falteringly, a rare fortitude over the last few months. In the face of tremendous pressure from some of the world’s biggest clubs, it has shown a persistence of which many commentators thought it incapable.

Many will dispute the FA’s findings – whether Suarez said what he said, what Terry actually meant, whether choc-ice is a disreputable phrase – but few can recall a time when this institution has gone into more exhaustive detail, and then made its decisions open to such furious scrutiny.

The Terry verdict was guaranteed to cause displeasure to almost everyone who received it: but the FA is to be commended for bringing the matter this far, towards some measure of closure.

This article originally appeared for MSN Sport on 27 September 2012, titled “There’s only one winner – the FA”, at the following link:

A poem, “Mortal”, for footballers who know their time’s up

Many footballers, like many athletes or other performers, reach a point in a career when they just don’t want to do it anymore. This poem, “Mortal”, is for them; there is a Soundcloud link below, where you can download my reading of it.


You cannot go back out there
So all of them return to the light but you.
There was a time when you would have been the first to surge out from that dressing-room
But that was before you grew to fear what’s out there,
Those tens of thousands of waiting mouths.
Above their hunger, beyond the stadium,
The night sky is so cruel.
Long after its stars have died,
It will leave them out there
for all to view.
Wretched you.
There is nothing worse
Than to be an ambition who has lost its thirst.
Two streams darken your shirt,
Which was first handed you by one as hunched as you.
That day, you thought glory
Was all that you would inherit:
Not also a suit
In which you’d perish.
Performers die two deaths:
The second, like all humans, is when our hearts’ rhythm is stayed
But the first is when we hear no more
The call of the stage.
You’ll be found mortal now. And
Three times, you will cry:
When you look your friends,
Then yourself,
And then your future in the eye.
Your coach returns to search for you,
To complete the group.
“Time!” he yells; and then he looks at you, silent in sweat and salt.
“Time”, he says. And you say,
“I know”.

A round-up of my writing this week

It’s been a busy week so I thought I would post a round-up of my writing, so that anyone interested can find it all in one place.

1. Football Writing

I am very happy to announce that this week I have begun a Manchester United blog for ESPN.  I am very excited about this opportunity – I will be posting for them three times a week, and my first post for them, “Sir Alex Ferguson and the Jack Welch approach”, can be found here.

I have also made my debut for the BT Life’s a Pitch website, with an article called “Nani in limbo at Old Trafford”.  Very many thanks to Matt Furniss at Opta Statistics for all the great Nani stats.

2. Poetry

I’ve been writing a fair bit of poetry recently, and in the last few days I’ve posted up five pieces.  One of them, “College”, is a couple of years old, but given that it was Suicide Awareness Day recently I felt that I had to share it.  This week, I also recorded it as a track with my group The King’s Will, thanks to Giles for providing the fantastic instrumental.

The other four pieces are all fresh.  One of them, “Delay”, was me thinking about the times I have procrastinated in my life, and why that might have been.  Then there’s “Gamesmakers”, celebrating the work of our amazing volunteers during the Olympics – the Gamesmakers are the kindest, humblest bunch of people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a while, and I hope that they enjoy my tribute to them.

The last two pieces are very brief.  One is so short, but it had to be – it was a nod to Andy Murray’s magnificent US Open triumph, where he put the final touches on an incredible sporting summer for “Team GB”. It’s called “Full Stop”.  And last of all, there’s my ode to Eric Cantona’s most famous article of clothing, “Cantona’s Collar”.  I gave this to the fantastic 7 Cantonas website, it seemed only right.

Thanks for reading my work as ever, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.



“Delay”, a poem


Years ago,
I was never late.
Give me a diary date and time,
And I’d be there one Americano in advance.
But now, I delay
Whenever I can.
For a while I didn’t know why.
It could be first dates,
Appointments, whatever;
Never punctual.
And then I realised
That I was afraid to arrive.
After all,
Why rush anywhere you want to go
When at your journey’s end
There is someone saying

“College”, a poem for Suicide Awareness Day

Sitting in my bedroom refuge, thinking if
I am diligent with penicillin, I can finish this –
Pessimism is a prison not worth living in –
As for the note, yes, I’ve already written it;
Line of apology to each of my relatives:
Got an alcoholic drink to mix with the medicine:
Second year of college, and I feel bleak as anything –
So I reach for a darkness less menacing;
Need a tune to tune out thoughts of my closest:
Music I choose is “Umi Says” by Mos Def…
…In truth, it’s a soothing process
Since this room’s as humid as I feel hopeless;
Peering in the mirror now, looking in my eyes –
It’s a miracle their light has so long survived –
Once they had such intense urgency,
Now all they have is one slow certainty…
Slightly I open my mouth for the dosage;
Take the first pill of lots more, then I close it;
Then I’m not sure; and, as I handle these
Pills, look to mantlepiece where my note’s propped up;
Think of the things I’ll have lost, once
I’ve popped some more; yes, at once I’ll have locked all doors;
Caused bitter choruses of “it’s your fault”;
Left this talent untouched in its vault,
This gift I’d been given so I could deliver warmth:
So I did the right thing, saved me, my writing;
Threw back the door latch, and soon I was charging through
College grounds, to the room of this girl I hardly knew –
There I made my confession:
I nearly said goodbye to a life I was better off getting;
After she’d wept with me, she’d made me promise:
“Not to take way of the coffin, or the comet,
Not to aim to soar through life, or run from it,
But just to buckle up, bust a gut,
Put one foot before another, that’s enough;
Even if the path’s dark as swimming in Guinness, it
Matters not, all that you can do is continue it.”

“Full Stop”, a poem for Andy Murray and the British summer

This British sporting summer

Was a stunning sentence,

But it needed a full stop:

Something fitting; small, and round, that would bring an end to all.

High up in the New York night, we found it:

It was Murray’s match-point ball.

“Gamesmakers”, a poem on London 2012


Where did they come from?

London just went and bubbled up with kindness
And suddenly on every corner you could find them;
Gamesmakers, with smiles the width of the Mall
Paid in nothing but uniforms and the promise of memories.
Yet every day they came,
To several sites for several weeks
And in the end we were envious of they 
Who gave and gave;
Who endlessly welcomed all
Who never stepped into the stadium, even when glory called;
When each athlete leaped, threw or came round
Their final bends, 
They were the cement 
In the wall of sound.

“Berti”, a guest football poem by Sheridan Bird

Recently I wrote a poem on Dimitar Berbatov’s departure from Manchester United.  Sheridan Bird, a European football expert who’s written for Champions Magazine and FourFourTwo, then sent me a piece he’d penned about a hero of his, Italy and Internazionale’s Nicola Berti.  His fulsome homage to the man nicknamed “Crazy Horse” is below:



Northern Italy
Early 1980s
Big framed boy with quiff ‘n’ grin
Stretches his long legs
Pounds the turf

Nicola likes the feeling
Strides clear of the wreckage
Limbs propel furiously
Thundering away from stragglers

Parma like it
Fiorentina like it
Inter like it
Italia too

The big lad’s technique is humble
His energy, timing and power conquer calcio
Clumpy, honest hybrid of Nedved, Boniek and Bryan Robson
From the left
From the right
Bounding into the box

A missile with a spiv’s haircut
Fizz the ball in
Berti smashes a path
Heads it past the keeper and into next week
Tour de force
Two-one to Inter

He had a girl’s first name
And an endless supply of girls’ numbers
Playboy in bars
Pumped-up puppy on the pitch
Not even London nightspots survived flirty Berti
Crazy Horse ran with the Hotspur

Nicolino gave his vibrant all in 11 World Cup matches
Won’t see him on a legends list
Unlike gutsy gliding assassin Baggio
Tight-lipped frumpy-faced shot-stopping  God Zoff

Berti didn’t sign his operas with skill
He was a steamroller with accelerators
Controlled chronological chaos
Spindly-legged action splash

Cheeky champ of Serie A 1989
Goal getter and trophy taker in ’91 and ’94 UEFA Cup finals
Gangly midfield funpack
Marquis of goals and girls