Cult Grade: Reviled
Had he not become a footballer, you can imagine John George Terry having been a big player in some kind of terrifying east London crime family. Not a petty enforcer, however: he'd only don the brass knuckles or wield the copper pipe if he absolutely had to. Whatever line of work he'd gone into, he'd have been a big player.
There is certainly something militaristic in the way Chelsea fans view their departing captain. He is a man who you would follow over the top of the trench. Maybe you're running at certain death with the barrel of a German tank aimed squarely at your head, but you're going to die with honour following someone who you trust with your life. To basically everyone else on planet earth, however, Terry is only a pointed tail, horns and a black trident away from being football's answer to Satan.
His indiscretions are many; I have never heard from so many different sources so many bad and hateful things about a football player. Yet none of them stop him from being one of, if not the, greatest English defenders of all time, and certainly among the best English footballers ever. This is a galling fact for most anti-Terry people. They will reel off every interpersonal infraction he has ever perpetrated, but when his supremacy on the pitch is raised a grunt of agreement is forced out. It's hard to think of many footballers – sportsmen, even – who are loved by so few and loathed by so many. Maybe a fucking wrestler or something like that, but they don't count.
That said, in some ways Terry's behaviour does have the pantomime feeling of a wrestling villain. He spent the latter half of his 22-year career with Chelsea and England becoming embroiled in several controversies. Some of them seemed as though they would be enough to ruin him. But that's the thing about JT – the captain, the leader, and now the actual legend – he's too good to ruin. It doesn't really matter what he does; to drop him from the team would often be like taking the support beam from a house.
Until now, however, as John Terry moves on to pastures new. To those who love him, he will be remembered as one of the greats, a golden god, statuesque in the hall of fame, his marble toga draped lightly over his shoulders so burdened with greatness, little children pointing up at his drowsy eyes and spiky hair while saying, 'That's what I want to be when I grow up!' to their teary-eyed fathers. To everyone else he is like a much-maligned politician finally ebbing away into retirement, maybe piping up every now and then to voice his opposition to children being able to get hot meals in workhouses, people waiting with bated breath to give him a particularly shitty obituary. Which of those is right, when all is said and done?
Point of Entry: A Very Naughty Boy
John Terry wasn't a bad boy in the traditional sense. He wasn't really an on-pitch fighter – a few scraps here and there but nothing major, mostly walked away from. Undoubtedly his greatest on-pitch crime was calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand a 'black cunt' during a match in October 2011. It was taken to court, where Terry was cleared of racism, though the FA didn't quite agree with the verdict. Terry stopped playing for England thereafter, and hasn't turned out for the side since, despite several rumours about his return to the dismal national team.
It wasn't the first time he'd landed himself in trouble. In 2001 Terry and other members of the Chelsea team were fined for getting completely shitfaced at Heathrow airport after their match with Levski Sofia was cancelled because of the 9/11 attacks. They were apparently not up for being sombre or sober, and upset some American tourists with behaviour that included stripping and sliding head-first down a lane in the airport bowling alley. A year later he was involved in a nightclub punch-up in which a bouncer was injured. He was with Jody Morris, who incidentally is now managing the extremely successful Chelsea youth team.
Though the instance of racism is high up on the list of reasons why some would like to chuck John Terry into an active volcano, it's perhaps his betrayal of England teammate Wayne Bridge that sticks in most people's craw. Terry had an affair with Bridge's girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel, and the ensuing fallout led to a great deal of mistrust in the at-the-time England captain. Bridge subsequently employed the ultimate footballer cuss of refusing to shake Terry's hand ahead of the Chelsea vs Manchester City game in 2010, causing Terry a great deal of public embarrassment.
Of course, every instance of discomfort for John Terry brings on wild, gnashing glee from his opponents (which, I'll remind you again, is literally everyone). In the 2008 Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United, Terry was conscripted to take a penalty in the shootout that followed a 1-1 draw. He wasn't supposed to be taking the shot – it was only due to Didier Drogba's sending off for lightly slapping Nemanja Vidić that he had to step up to the plate. It was to be the winning penalty. Terry glumly approached the ball in the pouring rain, as if heading to his own funeral. When he kicked it he slipped and the ball hit the post. United went on to win the Champions League, and Terry's salty tears were the sweetest nectar to English football fans up and down the country. There is no greater pleasure, it seems, than John Terry's pain.
The Moment: In Harm's Way
The phrase 'say what you like about X, but...' is, to me, perfectly encapsulated in John Terry. Because you can and should say what you like about Big JT, number 26, captain-leader-legend – he's done a lot of fucked up shit over the years, mostly to the detriment of others. All evidence would point towards him being a total bastard.
And yet his dedication to the game he loves and the teams he plays for is unwavering. He is the perfect soldier: pragmatic, willing to go the extra mile, rousing, level headed (for the most part).
Most of all, he is willing to jump on the grenade. The best example of this almost certainly came during England's group stage decider against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup. England were holding on to a 1-0 lead when, late in the game, striker Zlatko Dedić managed to get into the box. He aimed for the bottom corner. Glen Johnson managed to get a block in, but not before John Terry dove, head first, hands by his side, in the way of the ball. He was like a bodyguard diving in front of a bullet headed for the President, like a father running to grab his toddler who's wandered on to a dual carriageway. He didn't even get the ball, but that's beside the point. John Terry was willing to get a concussion to prevent a draw against Slovenia. He'd have done it in every game he played in every league during every season. He might racially abuse you and punch you in the face outside a nightclub, but John Terry will ride, and if necessary, die for you.
A while ago, during a Chelsea game, I tweeted that "John Terry is like your dad: a racist, certainly, but sorts you out when you need it." I think this will always ring true, because the romantic view of the father figure is rarely accurate. Dads fuck up, they're problematic, they say horrible things – but they'll die before they see something they love get hurt.