Early Doors

The right verdict for English football

Early Doors

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As we digest yesterday's guilty verdict there is immediately something hugely unsatisfying about a man being given only a four-match ban after using the words "f****** black c***" on a football pitch - especially when an enthusiastic, honest yet poorly timed challenge can merit three.

When justice is administered the punishment must be seen to fit the crime, and there is much unease regarding the fact John Terry - who may yet appeal against the FA's judgement - has not been cast to the sidelines in disgrace for longer.

The immediate focus upon news of Terry's guilty verdict breaking was the severity of his suspension. Perhaps this was understandable when his decision to retire from international football on the eve of the hearing ripped any sort of tension from the verdict itself. Terry clearly knew he would be found guilty, as by extension did we.

Some Liverpool fans predictably worked themselves into a fury, apparently ignorant of the fact that the report detailing Luis Suarez's racial abuse of Patrice Evra explicitly stated that the fact Suarez was found to have used the word 'negro' seven times was an aggravating factor in determining the length of his ban.

Still, as Newcastle confirmed within minutes that Alan Pardew had been handed an eight-year contract, it did feel slightly as though football's time-space continuum had been slightly torn and everything was a bit out of sync. Just four games for racial abuse?

We must wait for the FA's full written reasons before examining just why Terry was banned for such a brief period, but what can be concluded is that this was inescapably the correct verdict by a governing body diligently and correctly following its own regulations.

While the duration of his ban could never be said to be immaterial, what is surely ultimately important is that the FA reached the right decision for the good of the English game.

The full implications for Terry were laid bare this morning by a powerful Independent front page that featured the headline: 'JT. Captain. Leader. Legend. Racist.' This is a stigma that will not be brushed away, not like so many other controversies to afflict this most single-minded of characters. It will cast a cloud over the career of this exceptional defender long after he has stopped playing. The first bullet point in any discussion about Terry the player or man.

But this case - whatever he sought to imply with those comments about his position being made "untenable" - has always been about much more than John Terry. It has struck at the heart of the modern game after a long year in which the stain of racism has once again marked English football. And far more important than what the case means for Terry's reputation is what it means for the game and the thousands of people who play it professionally. It speaks directly to what we consider acceptable language on a football pitch, and the balance of treatment afforded to the victims and perpetrators.

Consider the following. Evra, racially abused by Suarez, makes a complaint. An official club statement from Liverpool wrongly and disgracefully accuses him of being a serial player of the race card while, informed by that nonsense, supporters then give him hearty abuse upon his return to Anfield.

Anton Ferdinand - who, lest we forget, did not even make the initial complaint - receives similar treatment from Chelsea fans. Moreover, he is also the subject of death threats and, despite denials to the contrary, the suspicion remains that his brother's long and illustrious international career has been collateral damage in this sorry episode.

Judging by the reaction to the two most high profile cases of racism in the league over recent years, where is the incentive for a black player to complain in future? Is this how we want to treat victims of such abuse?

That is what makes the FA's verdict so important. Had the governing body hidden behind the court's verdict - one that according to reports generated much alarm among black players - and decided against bringing their own charges against a former England captain, the implications could have been even more severe.

In the face of open hostility in some quarters, the FA must be commended for pursuing the matter, despite having an easy out by simply applying the court verdict. Justice has been seen to be done and an important statement made.

That is not to say that Terry is merely an easy scapegoat. Though we must wait for the full report to bury down into the detail, it is surely right that the FA has concluded that the use of the phrase "f****** black c***" is not acceptable on a football pitch, however it is framed.

Terry himself admits using those words, but 'sarcasm' is no defence, not in the eyes of the FA. And after the judge said in the criminal case that Terry's explanation was "certainly under the cold light of forensic examination, unlikely", there was only ever going to be one verdict the FA could reach under the balance of probabilities.

In any case, though context is usually all important, the FA does not have to prove intent. It is enough that Terry used such language in a heated row with a fellow professional. Had he gone unpunished, how many other players might have made the argument in future that 'yes, that's what I said, but I didn't mean it like that.' Instead the FA has sent an unambiguous message about what is not acceptable in the game of football.

That it was Terry who said those words made this a phenomenally difficult case to handle, politically and legally. It ultimately resulted in the loss of an England manager and one, maybe two, centre-backs. Rarely has an exchange of words proved so poisonous to the national sport.

But while Terry awakes this morning to find his reputation in tatters and the front pages of newspapers branding him a racist, it can only be hoped that the vast numbers of non-white players who play the game at amateur and professional level all over the country, and indeed everyone else, can be satisfied that racial abuse will not go unpunished.

Four games might not feel like enough, but the verdict is the correct one.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Well I think that proves a lot. What an absolute farce. 12 games for violent conduct and only 4 for that. FA should be embarrassed #shambles ... 12 games!!! By the FA's perverse reckoning, I'd of got less of a ban for racially abusing the Man City players than tickling them as I did." - Joey Barton brings his usual reasoned debate to the table.

FOREIGN VIEW: Hamas is set to launch a media boycott of Barcelona as they respond to claims the Liga club handed out a complimentary match ticket to an Israeli soldier who was held captive by militants in the Gaza Strip. A Barcelona spokesman has confirmed the club has given a ticket to Gilad Schalit, whose plight made international news headlines in recent years. Schalit was captured by Gaza militants in June 2006 and returned home last October under an Israel-Palestinian deal on prisoner exchange.

COMING UP: Our weekend warm-up video previews the big games on the horizon in the Premier League, before we reveal the winner of our Goal of the Week poll at lunch. Jim White's latest blog also drops at around 1pm.

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