C-Word Takeover: John Terry Racism Trial Highlights Football's Language Barrier

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalJuly 10, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 09:  Chelsea FC football player John Terry arrives at Westminster Magistrates court to stand trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, on July 9, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)
Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

John Terry's racism trial was always going to be an unsavory affair for English football.

The Chelsea and England defender stands accused of a racially-aggravated public order offense—specifically calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand a "f***ing black c**t," during a Premier League match at Loftus Road last October.

Terry accepts that he used the language, but maintains he did so sarcastically to refute Ferdinand's accusation of racism. It's up to a judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London to rule, but in the meantime we're being given a refresher course in the lexicon of Premier League footballers.

Anyone with basic lipreading skills knows much of it is not for printing. But in the case of the Terry trial, newspapers and websites haven't had a lot of choice. The C-word is central to proceedings, F-bombs are exploding everywhere, and asterisks are in danger of outnumbering the letters around them.

Daniel Taylor's courtroom report for The Guardian was one of the few bold enough to bypass them. The F-word and C-word dominated his copy—in all their naked glory—and you couldn't help but feel a sense of shame for our game as you read it.

Wrote Taylor (minus asterisks):

By the time court case 1103985595, listed as "John George Terry 07/12/80", had finished for its first day, it was difficult to recollect how many times, even roughly, the word "c***" had been used. Forty? Fifty? One hundred? More? The only certainty was that it was going to be a difficult day for newspapers, radio and television when it came to their asterisk and bleeping policy. Early in his evidence, Ferdinand was unsure about whether or not he could swear in court. "It's a serious issue," the prosecutor Duncan Penny told him. "Please do not worry about the language, what did you call Mr Terry?" Ferdinand replied: "A c***." And so it began.

Not since Dudley Moore and Peter Cook recorded their infamous This Bloke Came Up To Me sketch (explicit material, NSFW) has the C-word had such a prolific airing to such a large audience. And for that, Terry and Ferdinand are found equally guilty in this court.

But let it be said the language they used that October day was nothing out of the ordinary. Footballers machine-gun expletives during games all over the world—in a number of different languages—and rarely get punished for it. It's become part of the fabric of the game, and we've come to accept to it.

"When someone calls you a c***, that's fine," Ferdinand said in court on Monday (as per The Guardian).

Terry struck a similar tone in his police statement last November, when he said, "footballers are used to industrial language."

Of course they are. It's bred from a young age and embraced at every level of the game in England. Referees tolerate it and young children watching football anywhere from park pitches to national stadiums are exposed to it all around them—be it from fans, players or coaches.

To that end Terry and Ferdinand had their vocabularies put upon them. The language of Terry and Ferdinand is the language of football—learned through immersion in a world where the tougher you speak, the better you fit in.

But that doesn't mean we should accept it as part of football's landscape—especially now that times have changed and the intensity of media coverage means we're now closer to the players than ever. It makes me sound old to say it, but what plays out on the big screen at the weekend really does get acted out on the playground come Monday.

So why not act now? Why not bring in a rule next season to outlaw swearing on the pitch and book every player who breaks it. We might see a slew of red cards in the first few months, but pretty soon the owners and coaches would take things seriously.

If Eminem can hold his tongue on Letterman, why can't a footballer hold back on the pitch?

We English have a reputation for bad language. I know this from my frequent trips to the U.S. and the number of times I've been asked to utter swear words on demand.

"Go on, say w****r," pleaded a gas station attendant in North Carolina last month—either oblivious to the four-year-old child stood by my side, or perhaps assuming he had lived a life so deep in curse words he could already read, write and spell them.

He can't by the way, but had he chimed in with, "f*** off mate, we're trying to buy some f***ing petrol here," I really don't think the gas station attendant would have been that surprised. For a lot of Americans, swearing is as quintessentially English as drinking tea with the Queen, at a cricket match, in the pouring rain.

The Terry trial won't do much to dilute that stereotype.


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