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Rod Liddle

A lesson from the Premier League in what’s truly offensive

29 October 2011

4:00 PM

29 October 2011

4:00 PM

What is the appropriate sort of language, do you suppose, for the captain of the England football team to use in respect of his colleagues? This is an important issue and I, for one, will not sleep until a sort of resolution — a closure, if you will — has been arrived at. Because we have a dispute on our hands and at the heart of it is a moral issue. Needless to say, the police are investigating.

It is alleged that the present England captain, Mr John Terry, of Chelsea FC, addressed his opponent, Mr Anton Ferdinand, of Queens Park Rangers, with the wholly unacceptable words ‘you f***ing black c***’. Mr Terry, for his part, has strenuously denied saying such a thing and insists it was simply the anodyne and perfectly inoffensive ‘you f***ing blind c***’. Mr Ferdinand has lain low for the last few days, but it seems he knows what he thought he heard and has not sprung to Terry’s defence.

Being called ‘black’ was what offended Mr Ferdinand, not being called a ‘f***ing c***’, of course. These two latter words have long since lost their power to offend anyone and, indeed, are sometimes used in a familiar and almost affectionate manner, as in ‘How was the trip to Zimbabwe, Rowan, me old f***ing c***?’ But black is not acceptable. You would not call the Archbishop of Canterbury a black c***, even if he were black. Perhaps particularly if he were black. This is another confusing issue, by the way, for Mr Ferdinand is not actually black, but of mixed race. So politically ‘black’ then, if not, you know, actually black.

The waters have been further muddied by Mr Terry’s admission that he did use the words ‘f***ing black c***’, but in the context of a firm denial to Mr Ferdinand that he had used the words ‘f***ing black c***’. As in ‘I didn’t call you a f***ing black c***, I just called you a f***ing c***, you f***ing c***.’ We are, I think, in Pete and Dud territory. I would pay an awful lot of money to hear Mr Terry and Mr Ferdinand’s exchange in the tunnel following the game in which, with some bad feeling, they took part. It was a game in which Chelsea, to the great delight of almost the entire nation, unexpectedly lost. A fractious, nasty and very entertaining game. The entertainment came from seeing the rage on the faces of the likes of Mr Terry at being beaten, and later on the face of Mr Terry’s manager, a usually smug young man called André Villas-Boas.

Almost the whole business was caught on film, as luck would have it. Except at the crucial moment in the brief filmed exchange between Mr Ferdinand and Mr Terry, another hugely likeable and intelligent footballer called Mr Ashley Cole walked between them, obscuring from view Mr Terry’s thin, rodentine, lips. Mr Cole is black, but that is not strictly relevant right now. An email was sent to the Metropolitan Police insisting that Mr Terry be investigated for racism and therefore a ‘hate crime’.

I have asked the police if they will be drafting in lip-reading experts to discover the precise nature of what was said between the two men and the press office said they would get back to me about this. I pointed out that the police have in the past used lip-reading experts to help them solve comparatively trivial matters such as murder, abduction, etc, so surely they would be utilised for a matter of this gravity and ­seriousness.

Meanwhile, Mr Terry has released a statement to the press which seems to have been drafted for him by the saddened ghost of Dr Martin Luther King. He has said that he believes there is no place for racism in football or any other walk of life and that he was the ‘proud captain of one of the most internationally diverse teams in the Premier League, you c***’. Actually, he didn’t say the last couple of words. I put those in.

But clearly, Mr Terry is in trouble. Under existing police guidelines, if Mr Ferdinand believes he was called a ‘f***ing black c***’, then he was, even if he wasn’t. So it may well be case proven. And worse, following the allegations, Mr Terry failed to turn up to open a shop, Reptile Kingdom in the southwest London suburb of Surbiton. Mr Terry claims he had never agreed to open the shop, but the manager of the shop, a Mr Terence Clarke, told me it was definitely agreed, through a third party, and had been reported in the local papers for weeks before (this is true: I checked). Lots of children turned up and were ‘in tears’ when the England captain failed to show up and cut the ribbon. The third party who brokered the shop-opening deal, Mr Clarke significantly revealed to me, was of mixed race. And Mr Clarke confirmed to me that he, too, was sometimes mistaken for being of mixed race, although he insisted that he was nonetheless white.

Reptile Kingdom specialises in snakes, and according to Mr Clarke the best snake they have on offer at the moment is a cyanomorphic green tree python, which will set you back at least 400 quid and should really be purchased by someone familiar with handling pythons, rather than a novice. It might be better to start out with a simple corn snake. Anyway, these cyanomorphic pythons change colour as they grow older, in spectacular fashion. Right now the young snake in Reptile Kingdom is a pale yellow, shading into green, but when it is a fully grown adult it will gradually become a strangely lustrous blue.

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