It’s Tuesday 8th March. 2005. Blair is in full swing as Prime Minister of a raucous Labour Party in London, but the champagne socialists aren’t the only flamboyant philosophers in town that night. Barcelona, widely regarded as one of the finest football teams in a generation, are humble (d) visitors at Stamford Bridge – they bring with them Catalan verve, style and a 2-1 lead from the first-leg of a Champions League knock-out match.
The score is 3-2. As it stands, Barcelona are going through. Chelsea raced into a 3 goal lead in a frenetic first 20 minutes, before Frank Rijkaard’s team pinned the Blues back with a penalty and what I’d traditionally refer to as a ‘naughty one’ from tormentor-in-chief Ronaldinho.
An in-swinging corner into the box. A sea of bodies, amassed together under the glare of artificial light. One man rises higher than anyone else, catching the ball cleanly with a deft flick of his head. His header nestles in the far corner of the net. Cue limbs all over the place.
That’s probably my most vivid memory of John Terry, and it stretches back over 12 years. Demonstrations of Terry’s undying commitment to the cause are too numerous to mention – his contributions at crucial times have been a mainstay of Chelsea’s golden period of success over the past decade.
Today, the 36-year-old announced he would be leaving Chelsea. Caught in the throes of a title race that is threatening to slip out of our hands, the timing was odd, to say the least. But this day has been coming for some time. Ask any Chelsea fan and they’ll tell you that Terry hasn’t looked himself for nearly two years now.
His role has been bit-part this year – he started the opening four games of the season before an injury and a formation switch put paid to any chances of reemergence. The team developed, the core transformed and, for once, Terry was left on the outside.
With Tottenham hot on our heels, it’s unlikely Terry will be given any sort of opportunity to play in the final few games. He’d probably be happy with that – a selfless leader, he’s always put the team before his own personal concerns.
He has been Chelsea’s captain for over a decade now, leading the club through its most successful period. After Steven Gerrard got what amounted to a week of national mourning when he retired, there’s more than a case to be had that Terry deserves much the same.
Will he get it? Not a chance.
The media, and beyond that the public, have always struggled to reconcile Terry’s off-the-pitch antics with his performances on it. Perhaps he hasn’t always acted as he should (sleeping with your mates ex-wife isn’t usually a recommended life choice) but such indiscretions shouldn’t count against one of, if not the, finest defender in Premier League history.
In many ways, Terry was the perfect leader for Chelsea. He embodied that which boils the blood of all who don’t walk the hallowed Kings Road – an eminent dislikability, made strong on a rugged, insatiable ability to win. That is Chelsea, or certainly the Chelsea of my lifetime.
His dedication to the club that made him a household name extends beyond the confines of normality. He took a £90,000 pay-cut to remain at SW6 last season, and turned down lucrative offers both domestically and abroad during the peak of his career. He’s lifted every single major trophy available to the club, and has scored goals that have been seminal to the process of winning them.
He’s taken responsibility in times of trouble, stepped up in times of need and emerged victorious in moments that defined the modern-day Chelsea. He is Chelsea and in Chelsea, we’ve always been him. Today, a part of the club faded into memory and with it the final curtain call on a decade of dominance.
Ironically enough, it is Luiz Felipe Scolari who provided the most apt description of Terry’s attitude as a player and captain. Speaking during a short-lived reign as Chelsea boss, the Brazilian said: “For John Terry, dying on the field would be glory. You would need to kill him and maybe even then he would still play.”
Image credit – The Daily Mail