After four days of foul-mouthed evidence that provided an unedifying insight into soccer’s crude culture, Chelsea captain John Terry was cleared on Friday of racially abusing an opponent.
However, while the veteran England defender left a London court with his reputation intact, the image of the British national game was tarnished by the on-field exchanges replayed during the trial.
Amid all the uncertainties about the confrontation between Terry and his accuser, Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, there was no disputing the fact they had been trading vulgar taunts after a disputed penalty decision.
“It has not been the best of weeks for football,” said Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association. “It has been an unedifying process and the game has been damaged as a result of the dirty linen being washed in public ... it is not just the line between what is banter and what is illegal, so much of what we have heard this week needs to be cut out.”
In the Premier League match in October that was broadcast to a worldwide audience, Ferdinand had been goading Terry over an alleged extramarital affair with the former girlfriend of ex-England teammate Wayne Bridge.
Prosecutors claimed that Terry snapped in response to the insults and bellowed “[expletive] black [expletive]” at Ferdinand.
The magistrate who ruled on the case backed Terry’s defense that he only used the offensive term sarcastically to counter the obscenity he claims Ferdinand was accusing him of using.
Chief magistrate Howard Riddle was also persuaded that Terry could have misheard “Bridge” as “black,” prompting his belief that a suggestion of racism was being wrongly claimed in the west London derby at Loftus Road.
“It is highly unlikely that Mr Ferdinand accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him a black [expletive],” Riddle said in his judgment, parts of which were read in court. “However I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.”
“The prosecution evidence as to what was said by Mr Ferdinand at this point is not strong. 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,” Riddle said.
Riddle called Terry a “credible witness” and questioned the key video evidence.
“The lip readers do not provide evidence that categorically contradicts his account,” he said.