It's difficult to call to mind a footballer with such a spectacular gift for causing trouble as John Terry. Without wanting (or having the space, time, or energy) to recount every specific incident - some exceptionally serious, of course, others more on the farcical end of things - I think it's safe to say that of all his wrongs, the accidental spawning of a largely humourless internet sensation would be some way down most people's list
It began, of course, in Munich. Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich on penalties to claim their first European Cup, and John Terry joined his teammates on the pitch to celebrate. Significantly, though, he did so wearing full kit, despite having been suspended for the final. He was not alone in this, and it later emerged that all suspended players had done the same on UEFA's instructions, to prevent the triumphant photographs being ruined by the presence of men in suits looking awkward.
But the idea that John Terry would deliberately seek to claim the credit was too alluring to resist, and quickly became one of the more irritating memes to have slathered itself across the internet. Any notable, televised moment of triumph, or any iconic image from history, was fair game for the hamfisted photoshoppers. Here was Terry celebrating the Wimbledon title. There was Terry confronting Chinese tanks in Tiananman Square. Here was Terry breasting the tape at the London Olympics. There was Terry leaping to earth from the edge of space. On and on it went - at the Grammys, on the moon, outside Robben Island - until it acquired a dread, lumbering inevitability. But at least that's all it was: an unfunny, tired meme; an unoriginal retweet harvester.
Or so it seemed. Last month, SB Nation was contacted anonymously by a man who asked only to be known as K. In October, K married his childhood sweetheart, but the ceremony was nearly derailed at the last minute. "I'd had a sense all day that something was missing. At first, I thought it was just nerves. It's a big day, after all! But then I spoke to my best man, who said he was feeling a bit weird about something or other. Then the bride's mother came up and said the same. We wondered about if for a while and then we realised: JT was missing."
Eventually, K's family and friends - Chelsea fans, for the most part - were able to improvise a solution. "We persuaded one of the bridesmaid's brothers to stand at the back of the room wearing a blue t-shirt and shout questionable things at passing black guests. It wasn't the same, of course, but it helped a bit. Fortunately, by the evening my mother had been able to get hold of a proper lookalike, who was happy to urinate on the dance floor for an extra forty quid. Then, for the honeymoon, we took a life-size cardboard cut-out and propped it in the corner of the hotel room, which helped some."
K assumed this was just a strange, passing occurrence, caused perhaps by the intensity of the European victory and the ubiquity of the meme. But it transpires that similar symptoms have been reported up and down the country, in fans of other teams and other sports. Dr Calamity Flan, associate fellow in post-psychology at Miskatonic University, has documented a number of noteworthy incidents: the strip-club that hired three lookalikes to accompany the pole-dancers; the village cricket team that ask the umpires to wear John Terry facemasks; the long-distance runner unable to train unless his pacemakers are wearing TERRY 26 shirts.
Flan puts it in stark terms: "The individual is simply unable to process any moment of triumph or joy without the sight of a jubilant John Terry somewhere nearby. At a subconscious level, sufferers are plagued with doubt: how can we ever know this joy is real? How do we know that we should be smiling, that we should be happy, without John Terry gurning in the background? He has become a psychological crutch, a signifier. He has become, in his kit, waving his arms around and yelping, a disease."
All the evidence suggests that this condition - which is so new it doesn't even have a name yet - is spreading with unprecedented speed. The most conservative estimates predict that by 2017, fully two-thirds of the country will require a Terry-style presence at weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs, and other major celebratory events. One research paper estimates that by 2020, three-quarters of British men will be effectively impotent unless Terry's slack-jawed grin is visible somewhere nearby, and rumours are spreading that the royal family have actually contacted Terry himself regarding a permanent position on their staff, to ensure that the succession succeeds. Chelsea, meanwhile, have reported a 5,700% increase in sales of related merchandise, and have begun looking for sites for a Terry-specific megastore.
"It's sad," reflected Flan. "I mean, it wasn't a very funny joke to start with. And then it went on, and on, and transformed from a not very funny joke to a compulsion, then from a compulsion to a disorder, and now into something utterly devastating. An entire nation, brought to its knees by a stupid meme." She pauses for a moment, and looks at the framed picture of Terry on the desk. He is lifting the European Cup, mouth wide, eyes dark and cold. "Mind, perhaps that's the best we deserve."
John Terry was not available for comment.