By ALAN THATCHER
So, former England football captain John Terry was found not guilty of using racist abuse during his ugly confrontation with Anton Ferdinand.
The fact that two such highly-paid footballers ended up in court after trading insults on the Loftus Road pitch shows how low the game has sunk.
The underlying element of the trial was not the disgusting language used on the pitch but the fact that players regularly employ such tactics to goad the opposition. The objective is to wind up players so much that they commit fouls and risk being sent off.
The ploy clearly worked in that particular match as Chelsea lost to Queen’s Park Rangers and finished with nine players on the field.
Ferdinand had admitted kicking-off the debate with remarks concerning Terry’s alleged relationship with a team-mate’s former girlfriend.
It was all heat-of-the-moment stuff and the pair actually shook hands after the match. Totally normal behaviour, then, in pampered playground that is the Premier League.
My American friends are always amused when I tell them that such tactics are regularly employed in that most British of sports, cricket.
The Australians invented a word for it, “sledging”, which involves the fielders talking all kinds of nonsense in an attempt to distract the batsman.
Muhamad Ali was a master of getting under his opponents’ skin with his vicious verbal jabs. Just ask George Foreman.
Before squash players get on their high horses and claim some kind of moral superiority, let’s examine a few famous case histories in our own sport.
Perhaps the most infamous and controversial incident occurred during a 1994 British Open match between Anthony Hill of Australia and Pakistan’s Mir Zaman Gul at the now-demolished Lamb’s Club in London.
Hill had been muttering remarks about Gul’s mother throughout the match and the Pakistani flipped. He threw his racket at Hill, then head-butted the Australian in mid-court and was immediately disqualified.
Hill obviously thought he was being smart. What he didn’t know was that Gul’s mother had died some weeks before the match.
Players have often talked their way into trouble by insulting referees.
Egyptian Gamal Awad was banned after taking it a stage further and physically attacking a referee, Pakistani Hiddy Jahan, who later switched international allegiance to England, was disqualified from the Chichester tournament for swearing about the referee between games, and Australian David Palmer received an international ban for abusing a referee during the World Team Championships.
Conversations take place in the heat of battle between squash players of all standards. I’ve been involved in plenty myself.
I remember playing a Kent League match a few years ago and was getting rather irritated by my opponent whingeing and moaning at the end of every rally he lost.
I won the match for a handful of points and still he wouldn’t stop bleating.
I was two games up and something like 6-2 up in the third when, having kept my counsel throughout the match, I finally felt moved to join the conversation.
As I prepared to serve, I looked across at my opponent and said: “See all those team-mates of yours up there in the gallery? They all want you to lose because they’re fed up with the way you behave. I just thought you ought to know that.”
I finished the match as quickly as I could and, as we shook hands, he suddenly tried to become Mr Nice Guy, asking me if I wanted to have a hit on an adjacent court.
I snapped back: “I’ve just beaten you three-love and your behaviour has been insulting all the way through. Why on earth would I want to go back on court with a **** like you?”
(The asterisks above are similar to those used in the John Terry trial).
The court door was still open and I heard a wave of laughter echoing round the court from the gallery above.
When we played the return match, I received a round of applause as I entered the club. Those opponents had obviously agreed with my remarks.
When it comes to on-court behaviour, professionals ought to be aware that club players will often copy what they see in PSA events, both the good and the bad.
For years, players in my local region had to endure a player who was nicknamed “Psycho” because of his appalling antics.
One year, at the PSA Super Series Finals at the Broadgate Arena in London, he witnessed a former world champion drill the ball into the back of an opponent’s leg in the third rally of the match.
The following week, our friend “Psycho” was playing a talented junior in a Summer League match and did exactly the same, hitting the ball down the middle of the court and striking his 15-year-old opponent.
We were delighted when he moved to another county but it wasn’t long before the telephone rang and a worried club official came on the line to report another awful incident.
Unfortunately, when these psychopaths become parents, the offspring often mimic their behaviour.
Heaven forbid they become coaches.