Respect in football, or Why Anton Ferdinand can make up his own mind.

Amid reports that QPR’s Anton Ferdinand has been urged to shake John Terry’s hand before his club’s FA Cup match with Chelsea on Saturday, there was one opinion glaringly overlooked. Luckily, I run a football blog for these very eventualities.

I’m going to gloss over the possible outcomes of the case against Terry, especially as Ferdinand himself seems to be the only person capable of not talking about something after saying they won’t talk about it (I’m looking at you Harry Redknapp).

The issue at hand here is not the possible racism, as we can wait for the CPS to sort that one out. Rather, the thing I take most exception to is Ferdinand being told to shake Terry’s hand. This is an unforgivable stance in any case, and delves right down into the roots of the concept of respect in football.

Ask any footballer, or anyone who’s seen a Guy Ritchie film, and they’ll tell you of the importance of “respect”. Respect for the opposition, your teammates, the Gaffer and, of course, your shirt sponsors. It seems to be the view in football that respect is some all-pervading force, a blanket that covers the whole game in its warmth, embodying the concept of the Football Family.

Unfortunately, this is substantially incorrect.

The whole point of respect is that it has to be earned. Respect given freely with no thought is respect without meaning, and therefore no respect at all. It devalues the entire concept and essentially disrespects respect, for want of a better phrase (I’m too lazy to think of one).

This is a view reasonably unique to football, or at least sport. Almost every week on the football pitch, thanks to my sensationally poor tackling, I either commit or am on the receiving end of one act of violence that would in other circumstances result in a night in the cells. Yet at the end of the game everything can be forgiven and forgotten with a handshake.

But what if your opponent’s a dick? What if his behaviour has been disrespectful? For example, what if he has called you a racist name? What if he’s spent the entire game kicking you off the ball? Should you have to shake his hand and act like it was all “banter”, even as you want to poke his eyes out? Of course not.

Arsene Wenger had the right of it, whatever others may have done in his situation, in refusing to shake various hands and asking “How many hands do I have to shake? Is that a prescription?”. If he feels that he shouldn’t shake someone’s hand, that is his decision and his alone, the action of someone who believes respect is a privilege, not a right.

By insisting that everyone should be respected, hands shaken and backs patted regardless of personal feeling, we remove all meaning from what could be a very powerful gesture, a true recognition of worthy opponents and a good game.

For this reason alone, Anton Ferdinand should be left to make up his own mind. And anyway, all this talk of “easing tensions” is crap. Just as everyone enjoys a 22-man brawl as the commentator squawks indignantly, all eyes will be fixed on John Terry and Anton Ferdinand come Saturday afternoon.

P.S. In a slightly more amusing parallel, this nicely mirrors the Wayne Bridge/John Terry saga from two seasons ago. Bridge wasn’t blamed for refusing Terry’s hand on that occasion, and given the far more serious nature of this alleged crime, there can be no blame attached to Ferdinand should he do the same. Excuse to embed the video out of the way.

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About Dave

I'm not biased, I hate every team, and often the sport itself.
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