DEAR JOHN, A WORD IF I MAY
As we follow football down the years, and in particular make a point of supporting one club rather than be a fan of football, players catch our eye. Sometimes for the obvious reasons, sometimes not. I’m no different to any other football fan in that regard, though my choices of player might strike some people as a little odd at times, but then I’ve never been the one to go reaching for the Kleenex when a young player is all over YouTube doing impersonations of a seal, for a example.
As a child, like thousands of others, I was struck by what I thought was the pure genius of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and Alan Hudson, but when it came down to it the players who really counted the most for me were the ones who were there all the time, week in, week out, doing their jobs. They were the players I really envied, and still do, because they’re doing what they love, and they get paid for it. So, of that great era, we had the sparkling, though ultimately flawed, genius of players like Hudson, but it was players like Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and John Hollins I admired most of all. They were, in modern parlance, the spine of a great Chelsea side, but occasionally offered moments of sheer joy that reminded me why I loved football quite so much.
Forty-odd years later little has changed. Players come and go, some we like and some we’re indifferent over. But still, every now and then a player catches the eye and they quickly become a favourite. Occasionally so much so that they can virtually do no wrong. But isn’t that the point of football? It’s not really about being objective is it? It’s not about telling your West Ham supporting mate that although Joe Cole can be a bit wasteful on the ball at times, you still love him to bits. It’s about telling the West Ham fan that he’s your Joe Cole and you haven’t the faintest clue what he’s talking about when he tries to tell you he’s got no end product. It’s fine to argue that particular toss with mates over a pre-match pint in the Butchers Hook, but woe betide any oppo fan who thinks it might be clever to poke his oar in and offer an objective opinion. Being partisan is what supporting a football team is all about.
What makes many of us more partisan than others is simple: a player catches our eye, and for some it’s love at first sight. From that moment on, the bloke could be standing at the bar with his hand up your bird’s skirt, just so long as he pulls on the colours at the weekend and does his best, regardless of whether or not he happens to be the best in the world in his chosen position, he can pretty much get away with murder. One such player is John Terry, and I won’t have a bad word said about him.
When I think of this Chelsea, I think of John Terry. I watch him and I can see what he learned from the great Marcel Desailly, and his complete and utter absence of fear of an opponent on a football field is there for all to see. Not only is one of the hardest men I’ve ever seen in English football, but he’s also one of the most natural leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in a Chelsea shirt. He is Mr Chelsea, and long may he be so. But there’s a problem.
In recent weeks I’ve noticed a subtle shift in all things JT. With World Cup qualifiers to the fore at the moment it’s become even more noticeable. For England duties, notwithstanding John’s absence through injury, we’ve seen more of Rio Ferdinand. Don’t get me wrong, I think Rio’s doing a great job. But he’s not the England captain, our JT is. For Chelsea duties in front of the media we’ve seen more of Frank lately. Again, notwithstanding Frank’s amazing return to his very best form, he’s not the Chelsea captain. Our JT is, and I really don’t want that to change. John Terry offers much more in a football pitch than outstanding qualities as a centre half, much more. He is the Chelsea backbone, a key part of the spine of this great side. But I’m worried.
I remember watching JT under Claudio and such was his commitment to the cause that it often bordered on the reckless. Whilst we’d all admire his sublimely consistent performances on the pitch, there were rumblings over post-match pints that if he carried on the way he did at times, he’d be lucky to still be playing when he hit 30. I think that now even more than I ever have, and it really worries me. I know there are players who are more gifted than JT. I know there are faster, more athletic players, but to not be able to see beyond that is missing the point completely. John Terry’s contribution to Chelsea Football Club should never be underestimated because the sum of the parts is far greater than I want to think about. John Terry is 27 and in my view is now in serious danger of wrecking the rest of his career.
So, John, should you happen to stumble across this jumble of some old duffer’s ramblings, I’d like to offer just a little advice: take a rest. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture and please, please sort your back out. You’ve potentially another six to eight years of top level football in you, but not if you don’t take the time out to heal some of the damage you’ve done since your debut ten years ago this very month. Chelsea will still be here, the fans – Chelsea or otherwise – will still be here in their thousands, but if you’re not it’ll be a much poorer place for it.
As people who are older and wiser than I have said in the past: they’re funny things, backs, and I should know. Twenty-one years ago, when I was 27, I damaged my back in a sporting accident and it’s never been right since. You have the benefit of the finest medical attention known to man. Take advantage of it and get well. Chelsea Football Club needs John Terry, but I suspect part of the problem is that John Terry needs Chelsea Football Club a lot more than people realise.