John Terry – Captain, Leader, Legend?

In the wake of John Terry’s retirement from international football, I assessed the distorted perceptions of the former captain…

There is a certain banner that adorns one of the ends at Stamford Bridge, which conveys a simple unifying message amongst Chelsea support; ‘JT: Captain, Leader, Legend’ it proclaims. No one connected with the West London club would deny that in a career that has spanned over a decade already, John Terry has embodied all of these traits – Chelsea in the modern era is represented first and foremost by Terry, lifting up another trophy with a smug Roman Abramovich standing next to him.

A more revealing insight into John Terry’s reputation came in the vacuum of public acclaim, affection and sympathy that greeted his retirement from international football on Sunday evening. The Golden Generation’s very own Booby Moore wannabe fell on his own sword, choosing to jump before he was pushed, due to the impending FA disciplinary panel that will more than likely find him guilty of referring to Anton Ferdinand’s skin colour last October. Though Terry has been acquitted of racially abusing the Queens Park Rangers defender in a criminal court, the FA’s interpretation of its own rules – as evidenced by Luis Suarez’s own disciplinary last year – declares that the intentions behind Terry’s words are meaningless.

Ironically, by sticking two proverbial fingers up to the footballing authorities Terry may have spared himself the ignominy of being pushed, but he has cemented his own ignominious legacy as the least celebrated England captain in history, who was stripped of the honour twice for both on and off-field transgressions. The Chelsea captain adopted his typical narrow-mindedness by blaming the FA for making his position within the England setup ‘untenable’, failing to recognise that it is his own idiosyncrasy that has made his position untenable.

It is impossible to think of any England captain who has been more universally vilified and reviled. The man is morally reprehensible. He abused American tourists at Heathrow airport in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was charged with affray and assault – though later cleared – after an altercation with a nightclub bouncer in 2002. In 2008 he received a £60 parking fine for using a disabled space outside a Pizza Express, rather than using the 50p/hour car park over the road. This is to say nothing of the extraordinary allegations into his personal life, which originally lost him the England captaincy in 2010 and his confrontation with Anton Ferdinand in 2011.

The symbolic handover – Terry receives the armband from David Beckham during the 2006 World Cup

His announcement has been met by column inches detailing the issues in his personal life that have clouded an exemplary club career – it would be churlish to ignore Terry’s achievements as Chelsea captain. His 78 caps with England, however, which span nine years and two ejections from the captaincy, are marred by underachievement and alienation. Terry’s off-field persona, along with those of his international colleagues, has contributed inexorably to the public disaffection with the national setup, which has been highlighted by the dearth of lamentations at his decision to retire.

Disputing Terry’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ status amongst the Chelsea support is fruitless – blinkered by club loyalty and the tribalism intrinsic within club football they remain immune to his flaws that appear so transparent to the outside world. The most divisive England captain in recent memory, Terry’s national legacy is tainted with scandal, embarrassment and humiliation. To Chelsea fans his reputation remains untarnished; that banner will embellish the Shed End for many years to come.

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