John Terry and a creepy expression of self-absorbed self-love

Date published: Monday 22nd May 2017 8:50

On one level, this is all about John Terry. On another, it is about how people are in 2017.

The whole Sunday Stamford Bridge soap opera felt very much part of the reality TV culture where everyone goes on “a journey”, makes mile-wide-inch-deep overwrought statements and then starts crying as though they’ve been given a death sentence, leaving the more stable members of society looking on, vaguely aghast at this very 21st century emotional incontinence.

You don’t have to be a committed iconoclast to find the almost unbelievably narcissistic staging of Terry’s 26th-minute withdrawal, embarrassing. I mean, why would you suggest your team-mates do this for you? It’s so immodest, so self-regarding and I bet some of them felt really awkward having to do it. It feels like a form of bullying. “You will appreciate me and you will appreciate me now. I am Your Leader.”

It doesn’t feel appropriate that any player should plan and execute his own tribute by suggesting his substitution at a specific time and then co-opting his players into it, nor that any fans should applaud such a gargantuan, almost creepy expression of self-absorbed self-love. The whole thing became too rich for my blood. I wonder if any Chelsea fan thought, “alright mate, stop milking it”. Probably not. These days, you’re either on the emotional bus, or off the emotional bus. We live in a primary colours culture. Big gestures count for more than modest ones, because
they’re bigger, dummy.

Maybe this is a generational thing. I want to reserve my most powerful emotions for important stuff and thus not for footballers, but I realise this is an unfashionable state of affairs in 2017.

I would really like to understand this phenomenon. Perhaps this is emotional transference for some fans. They let emotions out via John Terry, that they cannot articulate otherwise. He fills a role in their life. They impose values onto him that they want him to embody.. They imagine him as they want him to be. This is how you become this mythic Captain. Leader. Legend.

This need to elevate a footballer to be a sort of superhero feels very weird when the worship goes really over the top. I wonder about people who make huge banners of a player’s face. What are they thinking as they spend hours painting or printing them? It can’t be just about liking the player’s talent, it must be about liking the man himself, or something he represents to them. With Terry, I’ve noticed it is his physicality that is often celebrated. The broad powerful shoulders and chest, the screaming face. Perhaps the worship is an expression of how people feel a man should be; or how they would wish to be.

You can’t spend a long time making a banner thinking “well, I do love his football skills, but I have no idea what sort of chap he is”. No. You’re celebrating the man. Who he is. Or who you think he is. But, a word to the wise, you don’t know the man. You only see him on the pitch or on TV. Yet you feel ownership of him, somehow. That’s why it all freaks me out and I really don’t understand it. Making a massive banner of a 30-something man is odd. Yes, it’s become familiar, but it is odd. Very odd.

You can’t go to the trouble of producing something that looks as good as this fantastically Soviet-style Cold War propaganda without the man – who he is, what he is, how he is – being really, really important to you.

And what is the psychology behind is this? Terry as Admiral Horatio Nelson. What does it mean? He’s a footballer. Not a warrior or sailor.

What are these fans with their banners and worshipful expressions really saying? “Thank you for playing football for us in return for about 100 million pounds”? Because that’s the reality.

I realise some may say this is all a response to the player’s loyalty to their club, but that is the sort of twisted, deluded argument football gets confused about. The concept of loyalty should not be separate from selflessness. Sticking by someone or something when you have nothing to gain, or when you could benefit by not doing so, is the most important quality in loyalty. Benefiting from 100 million pounds when no-one else would have paid you so much for so long, feels well short of the loyalty mark. Terry hasn’t sacrificed anything to Chelsea, rather he’s gained beyond
measure from their employment of him. Had he played for Chelsea for £500 per week when he could have earned £50,000 elsewhere because he love Chelsea, now that’d be real loyalty. Loyalty needs a test.

But this isn’t about Terry per se. Nor about his achievements, crimes, success or failures necessarily. It’s just about being a grown-up and acting appropriately towards footballers. You applaud and cheer your team season after season, but what is the need to establish a footballer as “a legend” all about? What do people get out of that? As I say, to hear some of Terry’s supporters it feels to me like they admire him, not as a footballer, but as a man, which doesn’t exactly help matters feel any less weird or any more comfortable.

Fans regularly elevate a long-serving or successful player to an almost holy status and I’ve never really felt comfortable with it, even at my own club. It’s one thing to be grateful for years of committed entertainment but it’s not like there are never opportunities to let the players know this throughout their career. This sort of grandstanding is another layer of cream on an already very creamy cake.

I do understand that ending your career at a club would provoke an emotional response in the individual, but feel this is something to be private about, not to publicly share via a microphone. Yet I know many of you reading this will feel this is ungenerous and curmudgeonly. And maybe in 2017, it is. I fully recognise I may be out of step with the majority view, but even so, I don’t think it’s unreasonable not to want football to turn into Britain’s Got Talent.

John Nicholson

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