Of soccer captains

Given John Terry’s record as long as your arm before he was ever made England captain, why give him the job in the first place, when it was surely a matter of dicing with death?-AP ?

The skipper is dominated by his manager, who will usually be prowling the technical area on the touchline or sitting nearby in the dug out. It will be he who decides on tactics, he who will decide on substitutions, writes Brian Glanville.

If ever a scandal was blown out of all logical proportion, surely it has been that of John Terry, his various excesses and the captaincy of the England team. It has been pointed out that the very day after Tony Blair had been so embarrassingly quizzed for six hours by the inquiry into the Iraq war, the story was largely forced off the front pages of the British Press by that of Terry.

So many questions have been begged. Not least that of the significance of the captaincy itself. Yes, it plainly matters immensely to Terry himself but, as a scathing appeal Judge Tugendhat pointed out, not in terms of any honour attached, but because it enabled Terry to make so much money. Over and above the colossal amounts he earns at Chelsea! The judge struck a belated blow for English law by overruling the injunction Terry had deviously obtained, to suppress the accounts of his “romantic” adventures.

(In a later development on February 5, Terry was sacked as the captain of the England team for the football World Cup. Rio Ferdinand will be the new captain.)

But just how much does a captain, even an international captain, do? A cricket captain is in an altogether different and more significant category. When his team is in the field, he is monarch of all he surveys, positioning his fielders, ringing the changes on his bowlers. By sharp contrast, the soccer captain is dominated by his manager, who will usually be prowling the technical area on the touchline or sitting nearby in the dug out. It will be he who decides on tactics, he who will decide on substitutions.

Over many years, I can think of just about one captain who really made a difference, at both club and international level, and that was the eloquent and elegant Danny Blanchflower, right-half for Tottenham Hotspur and Northern Ireland. There was a notable example of his influence, when the Irish played Italy in Belfast in what was meant to be a qualifier for the 1958 World Cup. In the event it wasn’t since Istvan Zsolt, the Hungarian referee, was kept away by fog. So the match became anything but a friendly “friendly”.

At the end, incensed by the violent behaviour of some of the Italians, the Ireland fans invaded the pitch. At which Danny gallantly assigned each Italian player to the protection of an Irish player, and thus the Italians escaped what could have been serious maltreatment.

Danny and another former, famous Irish star, Peter Doherty, a magical inside-left in his day, by then the international team manager, worked splendidly together. In the end, the Irish did indeed beat Italy in Belfast and thus got through to the World Cup finals in Sweden.

Five years later, when Spurs reached the final of the European Cupwinners’ Cup in Rotterdam against Atletico Madrid, Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham manager, delivered a team talk in the dressing room beforehand in which he eulogised the Madrid players to such an extent that Danny could see his own men being demoralised. So he gave what you might call a kind of anti-team talk, in which he praised his own players. Who went out and won 5-1.

Next begged question. Given John Terry’s record as long as your arm before he was ever made England captain, why give him the job in the first place, when it was surely a matter of dicing with death? There had been numerous drunken episodes. Once, he had urinated when in a night club bar. He had been one of several drunken Chelsea players who stripped naked in a bar at Heathrow Airport and abused a group of American tourists, still trying to absorb the shock of the 9/11 atrocity in New York. And though living with his long term sweetheart whom he would eventually marry after she had given birth to twins, he was involved or embroiled in at least eight affairs, of varying duration. Now, of course, he has been exposed and accused of an affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, a colleague both with England and Chelsea, the consequence of which was her undergoing an abortion. There has been much of outrage over the liaison, though in so far as Bridge and the lingerie model had already broken up, it is hard to understand why Terry should be especially accused of betraying a team-mate, over and above the betrayal of his wife.

An East London boy of somewhat peculiar parentage — recently his father was caught dealing in cocaine, while his mother and mother-in-law were arrested for shoplifting a notable quantity of goods — Terry could hardly have profited from parental example. To add insult to present injury, he has also been indicted by undercover journalists for a scheme, or a scam, whereby he was paid as much as £10,000 for surreptitiously escorting groups round the Chelsea training centre out at Cobham, in Surrey. Though having been there myself, I do wonder why anybody should be prepared to pay so ludicrously much to see so relatively little.

Meanwhile, my mind goes back to the 1990 World Cup and the tale of the two Robsons. Bobby, who seemed to die as a kind of latter day saint last year, despite the controversies in his long managerial career, was manager of England, Bryan was the much acclaimed team captain. Shortly before the World Cup finals took place in Italy, both were assaulted in so called “red top” tabloid newspapers. Bobby, for certain sexual adventures which had occurred years earlier, when he was manager of Ipswich Town and known to be leading what you might politely call a hectic romantic life, Bryan for his alleged behaviour early in the previous domestic season. After a friendly England game in the unlikely venue of Aylesbury, he had reportedly followed a girl into the women’s toilets and tried to proposition her. The story was not dismissed.

But the consequence was that these soccer reporters in Italy who had nothing to do with such accusations were held guilty by the Robsons, and a virtual ban on Press relations was imposed by Bobby and a sullen squad.

Terry is no paragon goodness knows, yet today’s young football millionaires are constantly and scandalously exposed for their outrages. Not long since a group of England stars were reported to have taken part in an orgy in Cyprus. Then there is the repugnant practice, whereby some hapless young groupie, picked up in a West End night club (money no object) is ravaged by a group of players, in a nearby hotel. In at least one sordid instance, the players got away with it. Terry, alas, is far from an untypical case.

Squalid though his behaviour has been it should never have been so pruriently assailed both by the media and by these fans who’ve cheered him when their team plays Chelsea. Should he have remained England captain? Who, basically, cares?