Euro 2012 is coming, and along with it looms another England failure. Optimism is at an all-time low, and the usual hype-fuelling simpletons have had to resort to suggesting, a touch desperately, that lowered expectations might -- just might! -- catapult England further than anybody dare hope. While this isn't totally illogical -- if we accept that over-burdening a team with expectation can depress their chances, then not doing so should avoid the same -- no amount of modesty is going to make England's squad anything other than what it is: thin, and liberally garnished with mediocrity. But, while the specifics of this inevitable failure are for the future to reveal, one thing is certain. John Terry will be getting a fair chunk of the blame.
Though fair might not be the word. After all, it's not Terry's fault that Jack Wilshere is injured, or that English football concedes a significant technical advantage to its continental foes, or that Wayne Rooney is missing the first two games, or that Stewart Downing. But the consequences of his forthcoming trial, and more specifically its postponement until after the Euros, have been calamitous in the extreme: first the FA felt they had to strip him of the captaincy; then Fabio Capello felt he had to resign; then Capello's replacement, Roy Hodgson, felt he couldn't include both Terry and his alleged victim's Anton Ferdinand's brother, Rio, in the same squad. Hodgson's hamfisted diplomatic solution -- "footballing reasons" -- looked anaemic even before the injuries that have scythed through England's squad; now, as Liverpool's intermittently promising but profoundly inexperienced Martin Kelly joins the squad, it looks beyond resuscitation.
Of course, Terry's not responsible for the decisions of the FA, or the actions of his managers past and present. But then Terry inspires a quite remarkable and near-universal loathing throughout English football that doesn't always bother with precise details. He is a broad strokes hate figure, and there's something for everybody. Moralists tut over the insensitive drunken binge in the wake of September 11 and the allegations of infidelity with a teammate's ex-partner, while aesthetes sneer at his Cro-Magnon defending and sigh as he flings his body into tackle after block after crunch after smash after hit. Nationally, England fans that have abandoned the golden generation as being naught but gilt point to his crucial role in derailing at least one major tournament and the resignation of England's best recent manager, while those that still entertain the faint and flickering hope that the pyrite frauds might genuinely glister, just the once, despair of his turbulent, toxic presence in the squad. Those that look to the soul of a man grind their teeth at his self-aggrandisement, kvetch at his badge-thumping, and blink in disbelief as words like "[Guus Hiddink's] obviously a very good guy ... I kept in contact on a personal level, and that speaks volumes for him" fall out of his mouth. Those that mourn the surrender of English football to the petrodollar have had to watch him wave Abramovich's silverware, and everybody hates Chelsea at the best of times.
A moment's online canvassing adds to the above his habit of wearing The Armband after removing his shirt, his tendency to make himself the centre of any stage he happens to find himself on, his lack of a compass, positional or moral, his smugness, his face, his eyes, his expression, his misadventures with a nightclub floor and a disabled parking space, a litany of further allegations that can't be repeated here for legal reasons, and a cavalcade of short, plosive words that can't be repeated here just in case there are children reading.
It's a formidable list. Nevertheless, it is odd just how cartoonish the hatred of Terry has become. We have reached a stage where he is loathed not for the things he does but for the simple fact that it's him doing them; witness the total lack of condemnation for any of Chelsea's other suspended players that took to the pitch in their kit after the Champions League final, apparently following a UEFA edict. Granted, they may not have put their shinpads on, and yes, they hadn't missed the game because one of the most risible red cards in recent memory, but still. Nobody's been photoshopping Branislav Ivanovic into the background of the royal wedding.
Similarly, nobody seems to pay too much attention to the fact that it was Chelsea executive Ron Gourlay that requested the trial be delayed, or that the organs responsible for publishing the details of his alleged affair -- the Mail on Sunday and the lately-departed-but-little-lamented News of the World, renowned bastions of probity and fearless seekers of truth the pair -- eventually, and very quietly, followed their scoop with apologies to Wayne Bridge's former partner Vanessa Perroncel, acknowledging not only that they had invaded her privacy (well, duh) but also that at least some of the details they had published simply weren't true. Perroncel, for her part, has always flatly denied it, but nobody seems too bothered about that either. If Terry's there, or thereabouts, then it must be so, because ... well, because it's John Terry.
For Terry has become a pantomime villain: a dastardly caricature of evil to be booed as he enters, hissed as he exits, and jeered at all points in between. The loathing he inspires -- however legitimate its initial, individual motivations -- has become a thing in its own right, a living, breathing, swelling cloud of derision that suffuses everything he does, or is alleged to have done with an overweening and revolting musk. Indeed, from some angles, the fundamental Terry-ness of Terry is distracting from the seriousness of his trial, which matters not only because of the nature of the allegations, but also because of the season just gone in England, and the rather depressing suggestion that racism might not have been kicked all as far out as we'd have hoped.
Terry and the wider public are trapped in a feedback loop of contempt, quite out of his and our control, and on reflection he probably has a decent claim to being the most personally loathed footballer of all time. Perhaps it is his misfortune to playing in an age where footballers, gifted money and celebrity, inhabit a weird vortex of perpetual scrutiny and instantaneous judgement; perhaps he really is just that bad an egg. But one thing is certain. No matter the outcome of Euro 2012, or of his trial, the court of public opinion -- which has little respect for matters sub judice at the best of times -- handed down its verdict long ago. As the chant has it: "John Terry. We know what you are."