Captain Caveman: The De-evolution of John Terry

27 Mar

Note: This Dispatch will not use the term ‘JT’ at any point.

So much for Fabio Capello’s thunderously ominous pronouncement that the aggrieved John Terry had made a “big mistake” after the latter had seemingly conspired to promote a mutiny in the ranks during last year’s World Cup. Apparently, some of the squad weren’t happy with the head coach’s disciplinarian methods and Terry used a press conference to publicly challenge the Italian’s authority. At the time, Capello’s swift rebuttal was largely commended and it seemed a fractious power struggle had been avoided. The father had reproached the son and a tentative détente had been achieved.

For many onlookers therefore, the reinstatement of the divisive Chelsea defender to the position of England captain has seemed somewhat disconcerting. In footballing terms it looks as though Capello has all but given up on the job. Having been usurped by the combined elements of an ever-critical media, the reputations and egos of an overly-cosseted playing staff and more tellingly his bafflement and struggle to both understand and tame the English psyche, he now looks like a pensioner sitting on a seaside bench waiting out the inevitability of his demise.

It was clear that in his press conference this week John Terry refused to show any kind of remorse for the actions that led to his demotion to begin with. Of course, he does not have to flog himself publicly like a Catholic drowning in guilt. His private life is his own. But the reason for his losing the armband was down to a matter of maintaining team morale – if we are to believe what we read. What is worrying about his elevation from the ranks however, is the idea that implicit threats and insinuations can intimidate others into silence and in Capello’s case, acquiescence. How else are we to take a thinly-veiled statement of confrontation such as:

“The manager called the group together and spoke, saying I will be permanent captain again, and that I’d done well on and off the field over the last year. He asked if anyone had any questions or anything to say. No one said a word. I’ll respect anyone who comes to me personally and we deal with it one on one rather than me hearing things or listening to people talking in the media, claiming they know all the facts.”

Was John Terry proposing a genteel discussion of grievances over a cup of Earl Grey tea? Or was it in fact a statement that challenged any potential disgruntlement from other contenders for the ‘throne’? A twisted form of omerta, perhaps?

John Terry as a player and as far as one can tell, as a man, clearly fits into the model of mythopoetic masculinity as propagated by the writer Robert Bly. Bly’s theory contends that men have through a variety of socio-economic reasons, had their natural instincts to be masculine suppressed since the dawning of the industrial age. As a result, men are forced to find unconventional ways in which to allow their inclinations to bond, hunt and fight manifest themselves. As a concept, this was taken to its natural end by Chuck Palahniuk in his novel Fight Club whereby men re-connected with themselves by enjoying the visceral thrill of the Neanderthal fist to the cheekbone.

For many a football fan, John Terry harks back to the perception of a man’s man. He is a ‘leader’ on the strength that he shouts a lot on the pitch. He makes the most of a limited talent putting commitment above innate flair. If he got cut, you know the headband would go on and he’d bleed for his country like Terry Butcher did (if he was allowed – damned ‘namby-pamby’ health and safety precautions, eh?).

Bly says, “it takes a long time for men to learn to be able to talk about their shame” and as a result, this can lead to the tendency to violence in the male of the species. It’s there with Terry, although unlike the cartoon thuggery of Vinnie Jones, it never quite manifests itself. Terry has and Jones had the ability, albeit in differing ways, to instill a sense of ‘fear’ in their opponents on the field but in Terry, one senses there is an underlying passive aggression, bubbling beneath the surface that gives off an element of uncertainty. And because of this, those around him, on the pitch and in the media alike, pander to him as a way of preventative action. Hence the over familiarity with the initialised nickname and the vomit-inducing fawning by the likes of Tim Lovejoy and James Corden when they put together sycophancy-fests in their ‘comedy’ vehicles. Everybody always seems to be eager to please John Terry because he might just have a word. The Shakespearean fool was always meant to offer the King the truth through his mirth-making but let’s face it, we’re not dealing with highly-cultured titans here, are we?

As a boy, players of the calibre of Steve Bruce and Gary Mabbutt seemed like giants to me. Real men and proper leaders, often called ‘model professionals’ and ‘gentlemen of the game’. The teams they lead were populated with men too, before the arrogance and temptations of material gain sullied the minds of youngsters coming through the ranks. Roy Keane’s very-own brand of masculinity and propensity for violence as a captain might have been a response to the preening prima donnas in the ascendancy as his playing days dwindled. But then there was David Beckham. For all his faults, he brought both femininity and glamour to the role of England captain. He was a perfect ambassador for football, making it acceptable for all to have an interest in the game, rather than the ‘boy’s club’ many still want it to be, as we have already discovered this season. Take a bow, Messrs Keys and Gray.

John Terry has married all these forms of captaincy together. He looks as though he’s a leader but he’s not. He doesn’t throw a fist at his opponents but he looks as though he might do. He’s adept at using the media for his own self-promotion but lacks both the looks and the savvy to make it truly work for him. In other words, everything about John Terry is a pale imitation of captains past. What does that tell us about the state of masculinity in 2011, then?

As cancer eats away at a true ‘man’s man’ and captain in Bryan Robson, England fans are left with a divisive player leading his country who can bellow ‘God Save The Queen’ until he is blue in the face. Have a word to say about him though and he’ll get the ‘boys’ to have a word with you. Don’t support your country’s captain and Corden will mock you into silence. Over a cuppa. Builder’s, of course. Like the man himself said, he may not be ‘everyone’s cup of tea’.

Fabio, I think you’ve made a ‘big mistake’.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading: Pulped Friction – The Keys/Gray Scandal

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

20 Responses to “Captain Caveman: The De-evolution of John Terry”

  1. Rachycakes March 27, 2011 at 12:26 #

    Spot-on, Greg. I’ve thought for a very long time that John Terry represents all that’s wrong with football. But what do I know, eh, I’m only a girl. 😉

  2. Such Small Portions March 27, 2011 at 14:02 #

    Nice one Greg. Totally agree. Terry as a man and Chelsea as a club represent pretty much everything wrong with the game. And I genuinely can’t bring myself to ever utter ‘JT’.

    It did make me laugh when he said that he knows he ‘divides opinion’. Actually, John, I think you’ll find opinion is pretty fucking uniform…

  3. Winston Cuthbert March 27, 2011 at 14:03 #

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Terry is an odious yob. Although I can only think the dear old pensioners by the seaside might feel a little slighted by the comparison. One day Theo Walcott will be captain and we will be able to return to halcyon days of Beckham years. And Dave’ll be England manager by then too. Before going on to being Prime Minister, running the country jointly with his mate William, King of England. And Kate Middleton will have (does have?) tattoos…three lions on her chest…

  4. Farty Foulke March 27, 2011 at 14:04 #

    So, essentially, you’re scared of John Terry because he’s working class.

    A very revealing article.

    • Michael March 27, 2011 at 14:35 #

      Care to expand on that Farty Foulke? not sure how you reached that conclusion. Pretty much every footballer mentioned in the article is working class.

      Good article Greg, but although Terry is almost impossible to like, his record as a player is sometimes overlooked because he’s so despised. After Ferdinand he’s been the best CB in the country for many years.

      He shouldn’t be captain though.

  5. SpursSimon March 27, 2011 at 14:39 #

    This was the man who during the last World Cup had his own press conference undermining the captain and the manager.
    Why is he even being picked to play for England?

    This issue is one (only one of a long list mind) that I genuinely didn’t know what time England were kicking off yesterday, I actually had to ask.
    Personally I think one of the reasons for re-instatement of him was another of Capellos attempts to actually get sacked before the managerial merry go round this summer when he won’t want to miss out on a big position somewhere…

  6. Squiddy March 27, 2011 at 15:17 #

    @SpursSimon – BIG FAT LIE
    The WC press conference was the daily England presser. All the press thought it was a great statement, exactly what was needed. Then Gerrard started texting all his scouse press mates complaining that it reflected badly on his own complete failure to lead on and off the field (which was 100% true) and the press changed their tack at the last minute. What they agreed was a great ress conference was then reported oppositely. To hide the criticism of Gerrard it was pretended that it was a criticism of Capello, which it never was.

    • SpursSimon March 27, 2011 at 18:16 #

      OK – an opinion is valid, to call me a liar is different.
      I assume you have all the “original” press writings on what a marvellous thing Terry had done, and all the texts Gerrard sent?
      I don’t remember it like that at all – which is why it is an opinion.

      By any chance do you support Chelsea?

      • Squiddy March 28, 2011 at 15:20 #

        You said: This was the man who… had his own press conference
        That is a lie. It was the formal England press conference where the FA put Terry there.
        You said: undermining the captain and the manager.
        The manager was actively supported. The press were rabid in their criicism of England, Terry captured their mood, accepted the failings (esp that of the failure of captaincy) and provided the perfect setting to the next game.
        You didn’t know that, so you made up another story. I apologise for just calling you a liar. You are a liar based on your ignorance. Well done you.
        The press writings weren’t published in papers. They are all in the unedited timelines of journalists in South Africa talking among themselves on twitter. They described what was happening before the editors in the papers got hold of them and put their spin on them. You don’t remember it because it was excluded from printed media.

        The truth has no allegiance.

    • SpursSimon March 28, 2011 at 15:52 #

      Sorry it won’t let me reply in order correctly, but this is the response to your second response 😉

      Sorry, but you are twisting what I have said, and not answered my questions.
      I said he had his own press conference, maybe phrasing it better myself as “a press conference on his own” to remove that element of confusion.

      As for the journalists, I talk to and read many of the Sports journalists who were there, and I can not recall during that press conference any praise for Terry coming from anyone, journalist or not.
      Also, how did Gerrard text his friendly journalists to get them to change stories in every paper? I doubt any player has that power.

      You infer that you have knowledge that I and others don’t, so in the best traditions of truth, either disclose your sources, with the relevant links and such, or just accept it is a difference of opinion and remove the element of personal attack from what is a very decent football blog.

      • Squiddy March 30, 2011 at 01:11 #

        Wise to retract your first false statement now you accept it was wrong.
        You ask how Gerrard texted his press mates? At a guess, by texting them. How do you think?
        Source: – go back to Jun 21 – he doesn’t post much.
        One tweet, since removed, also talked about “gutless coward (Gerrard) who should be ashamed of himself”.
        To know more, you’d have had to be there at the time – twitter being the transient beast that it is. The journos got at by Gerrard included Henry Winter and others from the Mail & Express. You can still see their attitude in posts over the last week.

        So, believe what you like, but understand you’re being led like a fool by people with agendas for their favourites and against those that threaten them, but you repeat their propaganda as if it were some kind of truism. It’s not. Question what you’re you’re spoon-fed before swallowing it whole.

  7. Michael March 27, 2011 at 16:14 #

    Terry’s a good – and perhaps even a very good – player but the fact he’s rated so highly is down to a combination of the fact he’s played all his career for a glamorous and successful club side (alongside top-class partners and with some of the world’s best defensive midfielders to shield him) and people’s inability to realise most of his heroic blocks and last-ditch charges at the ball are caused by him being caught out of position in the first place.

    Off the pitch is another matter. It’s not his class that’s the problem so much as his absolute lack of it.

    Great piece, as ever.

  8. moodonthepitch March 27, 2011 at 16:33 #

    I remember being in London for WC 2006 and watching England crash out to Portugal in the quarter-finals. Of course the next day the price of England kits was slashed 50%+. John Terry was rumored to be replacing Mr. Beckham as captain and so I snatched up a red John Terry jersey. It’s been one of the biggest regrets of my life.

    Solid work as always Greg.

  9. William March 27, 2011 at 17:02 #

    Some really good points here. Terry takes himself and the idea of being captain so seriously that it can have the effect of making him seem a pretty absurd character. I sense he rules by fear. Beckham took enormous pride in his role as captain too, of course, and received his fair share of criticism when it appeared his actions were overshadowing the team as a whole, but would react most often with a smile not a snarl.

  10. Kate March 27, 2011 at 18:16 #

    Brave article slagging off John Terry, sticking your neck out there. Funny you compare him negatively to “true ‘man’s man’” and captain Bryan Robson. Why? Is getting drunk, punching people, bullying refs and cheating on your wife more acceptable if you do it in a Man United shirt?

    Did you hear Michael Ballack praising him to the skies, saying he’d never met such a supportive team-mate? Presumably now he’s hundred of miles away you can’t say he was intimidated into backing him, unless his intimidatory powers are even greater than we thought. But what does he know, he only worked with him for two years.

    Terry seems to me one of the few England players with any guts (this is proven by Capello’s reinstating him as captain) demonstrated as the one player to protest at the WC instead of passively sitting back as the campaign inevitably dashed on the rocks. Just like he plays through injury that will probably leave him disabled in later life, unlike other England players who cry off if they have a hangnail. But then he doesn’t bring “femininity and glamour to the role of England captain.” Which is much more important.

  11. Pete2boogie March 27, 2011 at 19:00 #

    John Terry will never be remembered as a hero, leader of men or successful as far as England is concerned. His time has passed, as has that of the “golden generation” who promised so much and failed to deliver. Step aside John.

  12. Kevin McDougall March 27, 2011 at 19:40 #

    Didn’t England play a game yesterday? New formation, new players in new roles and another awful (on pitch) performance from Rooney. Surely there is more to discuss here than Terry’s leadership qualities.

  13. joel priest March 27, 2011 at 23:33 #

    i am quite surprised by all the reactions on here. Personally i could’nt give two hoots who the england captain is as long as we win. I dont even care if we win in style anymore because we have tried and failed to do so for the last 15 years (euro 96 aside).

    Terry is committed on the pitch you cannot question that and yes he may not be the best player in the world but then we could add my beloved Martin Keown to that list. Not a great defender but did his job and did it well and if a defender wants to throw himself about in the box to stop someone from scoring then we should applaud them. I dont see anyone else doing this at the moment.

    As for the game on saturday Rooney was awful..again, wilshere is fast becoming a first pick player and Capello might finally have found the player who can allow our more creative players to control the game…albeit winning his first cap at 30.

    Parker for captain.

  14. Steve HUghes March 28, 2011 at 12:18 #

    Ha ha. It seems the “boys” have come out to have a word with you after this critique.

    I think it’s fair to say that Terry is your classic school bully. As you say, it’s not in an overtly obvious way like Vinnie Jones. But through quiet intimidation he runs the show. I’m sure many of his team-mates privately hate him, but he gets the job done successfully so no-one says a word. A bit like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. I remember a few Terry types at school. You hated the way they treated people they saw as “inferior” and you would never want to be them either. However they almost always won on the field of play, so they would come away with the begrudged respect of (most of) their peers.

    I’m not sure that making Terry the captain is Capello’s chief mistake. Statistics over a long period tend to paint an accurate picture and the team – whether it’s England or Chelsea – wins (slightly) more when Terry is captain. Yeah Becks was more likeable, more of an idol, but both regimes (Sven&Becks and Fabio&Terry) ultimately failed for reasons that were spelled out in the very early postings of this blog last summer. In a nutshell, because England – or the FA or whatever you want to call the blokes pulling the strings from grass roots upwards – refuses to change the way it brings its young players through the ranks and stubbornly refuses to admit that what we do time and time again is predictable and uninspiring. It was almost a relief when the 2010 World Cup went so spectacularly wrong because we (the fans) all thought that finally a wholesale change would have to come. But then came stories about contracts and money and compensation and what we’re left with is a lame-duck manager and an over-the-hill captain starting his second spell (just ask Howard Kendall or Kevin Keegan about second spells).

    What highlights these failures even more are the examples of other nations who have realised their mistakes. How we laughed when France and Italy failed spectacularly to even reach the knock-out stages with their ‘old regime’ tactics. Look at them now, particularly France who, under Laurent Blanc’s exciting and dynamic leadership, will probably end up winning Euro 2012. They practically flogged their failures in the street, and many of those sitting under that blanket will never pull on a Les Bleus jersey again.

    So what does it take for the FA bigwigs to grow a pair and come up with something new, like Germany so refreshingly did in 2010? Elimination in first round? Failure to qualify? I doubt even that will be enough…….

  15. Steve HUghes March 28, 2011 at 12:21 #

    PS. Greg – love the quote of the week. Very, very apt.

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