Former England national soccer team captain John Terry has been cleared of charges that he racially abused an opponent during a Premier League match.
Chief magistrate Howard Riddle ruled Friday that the Chelsea captain was not guilty of a racially aggravated public order offense in an on-field confrontation with Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand in October.
The high-profile case cost Terry his captaincy of England when the Football Association stripped him of the title ahead of last month’s European Championship. Fabio Capello disagreed with the decision and quit as coach after it became official.
“The prosecution evidence as to what was said by Mr. Ferdinand at this point is not strong,” Riddle wrote in his judgment after hearing four days of evidence. “Mr. (Ashley) Cole (the Chelsea defender) gives corroborating (although far from compelling corroborating) evidence on this point. It is therefore possible that what he said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.”
Terry, who is white, had always maintained his innocence and vowed to fight the charges. Ferdinand, who is black, said he has “very strong feelings on the matter.” TV cameras caught the incident and an investigation began after a member of the public complained.
In his closing argument Thursday, prosecutor Duncan Penny described a ”pattern of behavior” from Terry that included hurling “bursts” of abuse at Ferdinand during their October match. Penny said Terry was “lashing out” after Ferdinand brought up an alleged extramarital affair with then-England teammate Wayne Bridge’s former girlfriend.
Cole defended his captain on Wednesday, saying Terry is not a racist and claiming that he never heard Terry’s alleged response to Ferdinand. Instead, he backed Terry’s defense that he merely repeated an offensive term that Ferdinand said during the confrontation in question.
“We are pleased that John can now put his mind to football and go back to training and doing what he’s done for many years,” Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said outside the courtroom.
But as Telegraph columnist Jim White writes, Terry would be foolish to feel entirely vindicated.
Terry is not a racist. Thanks to the finding of the magistrate, his future at Chelsea and for England is not now in immediate jeopardy. But were he to walk away from the court feeling he had been entirely vindicated then the true lesson of the case will have been lost on him. It might be hoped this case give pause not just to him but to all leading footballers. First to appreciate that language – even in the most pressured circumstance, even when uttered sarcastically – can have a nuance that should not be tolerated in a civilised society.