On the Thames this past Sunday more than 1,000 boats, canoes and ships followed the Queen’s gold-adorned barge from Battersea to Tower Bridge in the first mass flotilla on London’s artery for more than 300 years. The outpouring of national pride and ubiquitous presence of the Union Flag, so infrequently displayed on these shores, was more akin to a sporting contest, than a Monarch’s anniversary.
As ever – for this is a British summer after all – the weather threatened to spoil the occasion, which had been planned, by some, for months if not years. Despite the autumnal weather, driving rain, and high tide none of the throng is believed to have sunk.
It’s hard to draw the same conclusion about the Football Association’s public relations department though, which is going down without a trace this summer. Not so much light drizzle at FA HQ, but a force 10 gale.
First, the FA bungled its decision to strip John Terry of the England team captaincy this summer; attempting to strike a balance between accepting a man’s innocent until proven otherwise, and protecting the national game’s already tarnished image. The governing body did neither, fudging the only acceptable decision, which was to leave Terry at home while the criminal case surrounding the Chelsea captain’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand was concluded.
Worse still, in ‘protecting’ Terry the FA has run roughshod over 81-cap Rio Ferdinand – a player, who despite an unprecedented FA ban and national team exclusion for missing a mandatory drugs test in 2003, has given everything and more for the national shirt. Plenty of Manchester United supporters have little love to lose for England, and indeed the player’s international career could have come to an end earlier, but Ferdinand has never hidden his passion for the Three Lions.
Yet, when Ferdinand was unexpectedly not selected for England’s European Championship squad on the ill-hidden pretence of “football reasons” the defender held his tongue with a dignified silence. Few players with Ferdinand’s global media appeal, and huge audience, would have refrained from hitting the tabloids.
There seemed little justification for the omission on any grounds, least of all quality or fitness. After all, having played in each of of United’s last 16 Premier League matches in the season just finished – and been an outstanding performer to boot – there was little reason to believe Ferdinand had not earned his place in Hodgson’s side, let alone squad. Four games in 13 days over Easter proved Ferdinand’s ability to complete several matches in a short time-frame, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson’s observation to the contrary.
Indeed, while many excluded players had already departed on summer holidays to popular footballers’ destinations such as Aya Napa, Miami Beach and the Gulf, Ferdinand has been training. Hard. The 33-year-old former West Ham United defender even played in Park Ji-Sung’s charity match in Bangkok, while maintaining championship levels of fitness.
The insult of being excluded from Hodgson’s initial squad was compounded on Sunday when Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, injured against Belgium during England’s tedious 1-0 win at Wembley on Saturday, was ruled out of the Championships with a broken jaw. Would Ferdinand be called up as an experienced alternative? Not a chance, with Hodgson instead selecting Liverpool’s reserve right-back Martin Kelly. A fine player though the 22-year-old may become, Kelly started just 10 Premier League games in the past season and has just two minutes international experience.
“Football reasons,” Hodgson had stated. “What reasons????!!!” retorted Ferdinand on Twitter, Sunday evening. And there was little surprise that the Ferdinand camp, although not the player, finally broke its silence following the latest snub. Enough was apparently, and finally, enough.
“Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all ageing but they go to the tournament. Why is Rio different?” asked former Millwall midfielder, and Rio’s representative,Jamie Moralee. “To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times in this manner is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and the FA as far as I am concerned.”
After all few now believe that Ferdinand has become anything bar the sacrificial lamb to protect Terry’s place in the England set-up. Rio dropped, essentially, for being the Anton’s brother. Race will play a key role in England’s team this summer after all.
And let there be no mistake that this was, on some level, Ferdinand’s decision – the United defender has always been willing to work with Terry despite the obvious enmity between the pair. In that there is no little disgrace; Ferdinand the martyr for Terry’s continued presence in the national side.
There could be long-term consequences in the FA’s stance though. After all, should the case go against 30-year-old Terry when court proceedings reconvene on 9 July England’s campaign will be forever be associated with a criminally guilty racist. Whether Terry is captain, or not.
In that scenario heads must surely roll at the FA. Perhaps even Hodgson’s. After all the former Liverpool manager, together with FA Chairman David Bernstein, have bet their chips on Terry in the face of national and global incredulity at Ferdinand’s omission.
Hodgson’s insistence – both in public and in a private phone call with the United defender – that football alone dictates the make-up of the national squad now flies in the face of common sense, and Ferdinand’s intelligence. Lingering suspicion of a conspiracy was all but confirmed with Kelly’s call-up on Sunday.
If the FA thought that stripping Terry of the captaincy would remove the focus on the Chelsea player’s upcoming court case then Ferdinand’s treatment has only intensified the spotlight. Indeed, Hodgson’s techy response to questions about Ferdinand’s omission when the England squad was announced in May will ill-become the 64-year-old coach during Euro 2012. But questions Hodgson will face, especially if Terry performs his usual tournament trick of being caught horribly out-of-position against any reasonably mobile or technical opponent.
Few United supporters will feel any sympathy for Hodgson though; this managerial crisis is of the coach’s own making.