Mark Perryman’s Comment on John Terry

Mark Perryman is an England fan who has travelled both home abroad supporting the National team over the last fifteen years, and is one of the driving forces behind the successful ‘Raise The Flag’ campaign, where England fans hold up cards to make the cross of St George to the National Anthem at England games.

In the last 24 hours he has been interviewed on Radio 5, BBC News 24 and on the ITV News at Ten on the subject of John Terry captaincy in light of the criminal charges being brought against him.  Further to him giving his opinion there have now been postings on the Official England Supporters Forum, suggesting that it will be made impossible for him to attend England games.

He also gave his opinion to The Times today, and has given his permission for that piece to be reproduced here on The Substantive:

When I first started following England away in the wake of the festival of Euro ‘96 it was scarcely possible to avoid trouble, either from our lot, or just as likely theirs. The policing was brutal, all Robocop armour, snarling dogs and batons, Bars closed, hotels were full up, we were the least welcome guests at any tournament.

World Cup 2002 changed all that. The 10,000 who travelled to Japan found a local population who actually liked us. We were caught up in Becks-mania, the police treated us with respect not suspicion. We learned it was more fun to be loved than loathed. A critical mass came home determined that it would stay that way.

I was part of this fan-led movement. We set up fan forums with those responsible for our travel, learnt the lingo, organised fans’ matches and goodwill visits to schools, making an effort to connect with local people. Gradually a fan-friendly travelling culture developed around England that we can all be proud of.

Breaking the link between being an England fan and violent hooliganism has served to soften an English patriotism which revolves around wearing a replica England shirt every tournament summer as a kind of alternative national dress. England today is a team that belongs as much to our multicultural inner-cities as to the early league towns of Lancashire. When a car passes by next summer during Euro 2012 with a flag of St George flying from the window it will be impossible to predict the ethnicity of the driver and passengers. An England shirt has come to symbolise an inclusive Englishness.

This is the particular tragedy of the John Terry case. After England fans have done so much to clean up their reputation, we have the England captain facing a charge of racially aggravated public disorder — a charge which he strenuously denies. If Terry were a teacher, a nurse or a policeman he would almost certainly have been suspended on full pay until his case had been heard. But Terry has not only carried on playing for his club, but for his country too.

Many people argue that footballers should be treated differently from ordinary workers in cases involving racist language. They’ll say it’s only banter. That winding up the opposition is fair game. That it’s the high-pressure nature of the sport. But a public servant, stressed out at the end of a tough week, having earned a tiny fraction of what Premiership footballers take home every day, would never be allowed such an excuse.

Top players buy into the whole media and sponsor-endorsed business of being a role model. It earns them a hefty sum on top of their huge wages and transforms them into public figures. The decision by football officialdom to allow the England captain to continue playing reveals the gulf in understanding between them and the people who watch the game and play it for fun. Football on the outside is multicultural in terms of who plays and watches the game, but inside the stadium it is overwhelmingly white.

Official football is great at wearing its Kick Racism Out badges once a year but totally incapable of addressing the absence of black faces in the technical area, on the boards of governing bodies, in the press box, and most obviously of all, in the stands. Apart from the players and some low-paid matchday stewards and catering staff, nearly everyone is white. This is the context in which the furore abut racial abuse between players has erupted.

Ahead of World Cup 2010 I was involved with the launch of the ‘I am England’ initiative, celebrating the idea that whoever we are, wherever we’ve come from, whatever our faith, or none. We can all choose to be England.

Football has become increasingly a journey of hope and I’m glad to have been part of this process as a fan. Whatever the outcome of the Terry case nothing should be allowed to stop the enormously positive evolution in attitudes to racism that has taken place in England over the last two decades — thanks in no small part to football.

Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman is the author of Ingerland : Travels with a Football Nation and co-founder of www.philosophyfootball.com