Did John Terry mouth a racist insult in “conversation” with Anton Ferdinand, or was he merely enquiring as to whether Anton erroneously thought he had done so? A number of players insist that Terry is not a racist; the facts have yet to be determined. Billy Sharp’s gesture, however, needed no interpretation. Jeremy Robson applauds Sharp, the bereaved father who scored a “goal from heaven”* (see clip below); you judge whether he is unduly harsh on JT …
Bill Shankly’s oft cited quotation about football being more important than life and death was mentioned again as recently as last week on Salut! Sunderland, in the title of the Rev Leo Osborn’s “Who are you?” article prior to the SAFC v Aston Villa game.
Leo, a staunch Villa fan but also a prominent churchman, said Shankly was wrong. I for one would not disagree. How can any sport, or game be considered more important than life itself?
But while football may be insignificant when it comes to sickness and disease, and the loss of a loved one, there is little doubt that the game can take the form of a stage on which emotions are played out, from the most sensitive and personal through to the most brutal and ignorant attitudes afflicting the human condition.
In that light, the words of the great Mr Shankly may be reinterpreted when reflecting on two of this week’s most talked about football stories, which more than any that I’ve encountered for some time say more about life and death.
On a Tuesday night at the beginning of early November a goal is scored in South Yorkshire by the home team who lie at the foot of the Championship.
The away side reply with three of their own and take home the three points. Those bare facts might suggest that a less significant goal will not be scored in the English league this season. In terms of relegation and promotion issues or places in the table you’d be right.
However, for the few thousand that witnessed Billy Sharp’s score for Doncaster Rovers against Middlesbrough, I doubt whether anyone will forget it. After he had scored, Billy Sharp pulled up his shirt to reveal a t-shirt underneath on which the slogan read: “That’s for you son.”
Louie Jacob Sharp was Billy and his wife Jade’s newborn son who, sadly, had died three days earlier. The loss of a child is the worst kind of suffering that can torment any person. How does a parent grieve for the loss of their baby; their little bundle of joy, the embodiment of every hope and aspiration for the future, suddenly and so tragically taken away?
Thankfully, I don’t know and I hope I never do. Billy Sharp did what he could. He phoned his manager, Dean Saunders and told him he wanted to play. By all accounts the goal he scored was something rather special in football terms. The fact that it was a wonder goal is fitting but irrelevant compared to what it symbolised. As Tony Mowbray, the Middlesbrough manager, said to reporters after the game: “A goal from heaven.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the allegations of racism that have engulfed the Chelsea captain and England stalwart John Terry following an alleged remark aimed at QPR’s former Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand. Nobody should prejudge the issue of course, although the layman is perfectly entitled to compare the relative characters of Ferdinand and Terry when reflecting on who should be believed ahead of some conclusion to the investigations that are proceeding.
Without diminishing the seriousness of these allegations but putting them for a moment to one side, it would be fair to say John Terry is a man of let’s say uncertain morality and integrity with history littered with quite enough incidents and events to cause concern to any parent whose daughter might bring him home.
Terry’s talent (highly questionable in any case if you ask me) has caused his various indiscretions and behaviour to be swept aside and ignored.
A complete lack of any moral fibre or sense of decency is apparently no kind of impediment to holding the captaincy of Chelsea or England.
He is, in my view, a vulgar and unpleasant individual who personifies everything that a role model should not. Sadly, Terry is a product of world that cares not one iota about anyone other than Number One. Life is full of people like him. They are the individuals that decent people avoid and shun, for the harm that they do to those who come into contact with them.
Ignorance and yobbish behaviour, and indeed worse, are also part of life and therefore part of death. The worlds of Billy Sharp and John Terry are a million miles apart in football terms but are a whole lot further in everything else.
* The referee deserves a spot of praise, too, for his reaction to Sharp’s celebration, which could have brought a booking. Darren Deadman has an unfortunate name, especially in the circumstances, but showed commendable discretion in keeping the yellow card in his pocket …