a kiss from judas on the terry-go-round

8 02 2010

There’s a bandwagon of faux-outrage, moral superiority and media hypocrisy about John Terry. The same papers that delight in telling sordid tales of bedtime shenanigans with some pretend to be outraged when it is others. What is it that makes John Terry different from Rebecca Loos? What is it that means the captain of the England football team should have higher moral standards than, say, previous manager Sven Goran Eriksonn (who had affairs with Ulrika Johnson and his secretary at the FA, Fariah Alam, who herself also had an affair with FA chief executive Mark Palios… just imagine the office party).

betrayed by a kiss...

In some senses, it really doesn’t matter. It is just football. It is just a horny overpaid sports star having an affair with a French underwear model (for rude picture see here). Another day in the life of the rich, privileged, and slightly bored. On another level, it does matter. It matters because all the characters are human (even the ones that play for Chelsea); because the lady in question is the mother of his friend’s child; because so many people will be hurt and upset at the various betrayals; oh yes, and because Bridge and Terry were friends, and may end up as team mates in South Africa.

And it matters because people like John Terry are role models. Not just for the men who wear the no.26 shirt as a tribal statement because they crave a sense of belonging in a world devoid of heterosexual male community (ok, and they support Chelsea…), but to all the young footie fans who look up to these players as role models. Anyone who has played football with teenagers sees how they copy their idols – from attempting the Ronaldo step-over to the Beckham free-kick, the Gerrard 30-yarder to the Scholes ‘remonstrating-with-the-ref’ special. I was particularly good at the Crouch tumble (it would have been the robot except I never scored).

So, when a player plays fast and loose with their marriage, what message does that send? Does that cross the players mind? Does it make infidelity ok? Exploring the complexity of this is important for our kids, as they grow up with the temptation to idolise or demonise, depending on the colour of their shirt. Here are some thoughts of things to explore, though I am sure you have many to add…

1. We are all human; that is, we are all flawed – from the good guys (Giggs, Gerrard, Beckham…?) to the bad guys (Terry, Bellamy, Bowyer…?), no-one is either all good or all bad. Ferdinand is a mixture. Terry is a mixture. I am a mixture. John Terry has a reputation as a bad boy – tough on the pitch, parking his Bentley in a disabled bay off it. Rio Ferdinand has had his fair share of indiscretions and is currently serving a 4 match ban; but spends a lot of time and effort on his charitable foundation Live the Dream, based in his native Peckham. Why? Because he knows that as a working-class black man from Peckham, who has officially ‘made it’ by breaking the transfer record for a defender twice, playing for Man U and now captain of England, he is a role model. His actions are influential. He can make a difference.

Discussion point: Can flawed people be leaders? Why? Who did Jesus choose to be his apprentices? And then his leaders? Did they all turn out  to be ok? Were they always friends? Which ones wanted to be Captain (can we sit at your right hand…)? What would he have done if Peter had had a bounce with the ex of one of the sons of Zebedee…?

2. The second key point is that betrayal hurts, who ever you are. Why do people betray others?  Why do they betray their friends? And why does it matter? (I explored some of these theme in a previous post).

Discussion point: How was Jesus betrayed, and how did Jesus respond to that  betrayal – by his family, by his home-town, his fellow Rabbis, by his disciples, by a kiss in the park, by Pilate…? How do adults respond to betrayal? How do young people respond to betrayal? How many families have been split apart by betrayal? How have we responded to betrayal, major or minor?


3. The third key point is the reality (and unpopularity) of consequences and punishments. For certain people personal indiscretions mean a job loss, or job change. Church leaders rarely survive an exposed affair with their job intact; neither do politicians. Footballers do, after some press attention and some terrace chanting (Ashley Cole springs to mind….). Do you mind if your delivery driver is having an affair? So does it matter if your football captain is? It does – because consciously or not, public figures are role models. Capello had to show that his regime is one of integrity and strength of character, and not just on the pitch. Didn’t he?

Discussion point: For us that can be translated as whole-life discipleship. We cannot separate what we do at school or work from what we do at home; what we do in public from what goes on in private. God sees it all. Everything. What difference would it make for all of us if our private indiscretions meant a demotion at work? Or if cheating on our girlfriend got us taken out of the school football team?

We cannot breach trust in one part of our life, and be considered trustworthy in another. Can we?

We want our football players to be perfect – scoring for the team and only playing at home, if you see what I mean. They will not be. What we should expect is honesty – not telling-tales-to-the-tabloids kind of honesty, but holding your hands up and saying sorry, admitting mistakes, on and off the pitch. Showing a bit of humanity never hurt anyone.

Showing a bit of grace gives them a chance to.

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4 responses

9 02 2010

If we cannot have flawed leaders surely we will have no leaders as we are all flawed. Often it is our flaws which are also our strength, giving singlemindedness or drive. In Terry’s cased the arrogance and insecurity perhaps fuelling the desire to perform on the football stage. But these flaws can take over and run away with us when there is nobody prepared to challenge us – viz Hitler. That is perhaps a reason wht we need leadership teams, to compliment and challenge each other and to avoid the personality cult.

When leaders fail they need forgiveness not rejection but forgiveness is not soft or blind, it is hard love. If I were treasurer of a Church and embezzled some funds, if I was truly sorry I hope the Church would forgive me. But is must never, ever make me treasurer again. What is it that Terry has done that should stop him ever being England captain? He, a married man and father, had an affair with an ex team mate’s ex girlfriend who is the mother of the ex teammate’s child.

I didn’t think that ethical marriage was part of the football creed, if it is exit stage left a large number of players and officials. His marriage is between him and his wife, who actually seems well able to take care of herself. If living together and having a child is today’s equivalent to marriage then presumably being an ex girlfriend is the equivalent to divorce, so is this against the football creed – I don’t think so. I am sure there a re plent of other scores to be settled in most dressingrooms so I am not sure that the ex team mate thing is very relevant.

So, let him that is without sin cast the first stone, unless of course they can make more money by talking to the papers, or by being paid not to – good deal Mr Clifford?

9 02 2010

Perhaps such stories are good in a wierd way because they remind us that people are flawed instead of some of perfect celebrity creations.
That doesn’t mean that such behaviours are good (though maybe realistic), or that they don’t hurt others, or that the world would be better without them or that we should strive to or want to have better behaviour.

Plus though some leaders have their flaws publically on display, many hide whatever there flaws are and so we never know… they are still good leaders…
And some flaws we judge to be worse than others… Churchill was particularly fond of alcohol but he won the war for us so thats alright… maybe people wouln’t have minded if Terry had already led England to World Cup Victory? (well some probably would)

Sometimes when we are telling kids at school (in afterschool club) about the characters in the Old Testament who had multiple wives, or children by different women (but did good stuff for God) it seems like odd stuff to tell them. The bible is full of characters who are not that great, and some who are really a bit dodgy but this doesn’t stop them either being good leaders or being used by God for great works which is sometimes a hard lesson to swallow…

Sometimes it seems like the church and some of the people in it are keen to throw around words like grace and forgiveness but then take a tone of moral superiority… but thats probably because they are flawed also…
It might be nice if the tabloid press threw words like grace and forgiveness around a bit more though.

10 02 2010

Thanks for these comments so far. On a related note, there are places where this modelling of a ‘different way’ is happening – where on the pitch and off the pitch are viewed together. Before I moved to St Helier I used to play football every Saturday with a group of teenagers and adults, some of us ‘churchers’ and some not. What we were able to do (most of the time!) was try and model a different way of reacting to bad tackles, to unfairness, to bad tempers, to disagreements, to winning or (more likely!) losing – something different to what is usually seen from Premiership footballers.

We didn’t always manage, because we all get caught up in the heat of the moment. My language is always worse on the pitch than anywhere else (except PCC meetings) (in my head). And we didn’t have millions watching, millions being paid, and millions hanging on us winning or losing.

But grace and forgiveness do belong on a competitive football pitch. And off it. Bizarrely, church leagues are renowned for being the dirtiest – whether that it down to simple repression in the rest of life, or just lack of skill and fitness who knows!

The way I react and the person I am is the same whether I am playing footy or preaching a sermon. I commend all who try to do this where they live, mucking in and getting dirty and meeting kids where they are at, in the game they love, being dad and brother and friend and team-mate and opposition and disciple and flawed and forgiven and forgiving. You guys in Crawley, you know who you are! Miss ya…!

22 02 2010
Tim Richards

i would say Capello probably did the wrong thing too, if we look at the whole England team, there’s Steven Gerrard who’s had charges for assault put against him, Jermaine Defoe who’s been banned from driving for speeding, Ashley Cole had an affair, Rio Ferdinand (the new England captain) missed a drugs test so was banned for a year and has more recently been banned for four matches for swinging his arm at someone,
so to be honest none of them are great role models, and whoever is captain is going to of made a mistake in their life,

i know this case may be deemed worse as Terry cheated with a team mates ex, but if i was Capello i would have got them both (Terry and Bridge) into his office so they could chat about it and terry could apologise as i’m sure he’s realised he’s made a huge mistake,
instead terry has been dropped as captain and there is still going to be tension amongst the squad at the world cup which will affect our performance,
Capello needs to get the whole squad into the dressing room, and get them all to acknowledge that they are all human and that they all make mistakes, they can then apologise to each other if necessary and start to forgive each other,
i just think Capello could have stopped the hate with a little grace,

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