Cole’s persistent attempts at reputational suicide have left an air-pellet hole in a Chelsea intern and a nuclear glow on Twitter, where he called his England employers a “bunch of t----” before taking down the blast 90 minutes later and apologising “unreservedly.” But Cole’s outburst was a kind of compliment to the FA. It marked the end of player power.
By the afternoon, the enfant terrible of left-backs had spoken to Roy Hodgson and smoothed things over, we are told, but there can be no way back for Cole in the court of public opinion.
The FA may be clumsy interviewers – why was Cole’s statement not tape-recorded
when Terry’s was? – but the rulers of the national game have nailed the
If the outcome sounds right, the process was hardly faultless. First the FA opened a legal loophole to Terry’s representatives by changing their burden of proof stipulations between when the offence was committed and Terry being charged.
In the 2011-12 version they read: “The applicable standard of proof shall be the flexible civil standard of the balance of probability. The more serious the allegation, taking into account the nature of the misconduct alleged and the context of the case, the greater the burden of evidence required to prove the matter.”
And for 2012-13: “The applicable standard of proof is the civil standard of the balance of probabilities.”
Terry’s QC argued that “the alleged offence was quite clearly committed during the currency of the old rule” when the burden of proof was much higher. Again, critics will ask why the FA risked legal challenge by changing their rules at such a sensitive stage in the Terry saga.
When two members of the FA’s football regulation unit travelled to Chelsea’s Cobham training ground on Oct 28, 2011, meanwhile, Terry’s interview was recorded but “that of Mr Cole was not.” The FA refuses to say why, claiming that to do so could compromise a possible appeal by Terry.
But this anomaly had serious consequences. Jenni Kennedy and Adam Sanhaie, who has since left the FA, could submit only written summaries of Cole’s initial evidence, which clouded the commission’s attempts to determine what might have been added in later submissions by Cole and Barnard, who was present at both interviews conducted by Kennedy and Sanhaie.
“Mr Sanhaie’s notes were initially omitted from the FA’s disclosure of relevant documents and other material in its possession, and only came to light just before the commencement of the substantive hearing,” the report states. Again we ask: why? “Although there was no witness statement from him [Sanhaie], and he did not give oral evidence, his notes were admitted into evidence.”
In other words, Sanhaie’s role in the earliest investigation was a mess – not necessarily his fault. Thus there was uncertainty over Cole’s reference to a “B-word” which he and Barnard later claimed to mean ‘black” (a convenient clarification which bolstered Terry’s defence).
“Ms Kennedy gave oral evidence to the commission and her recollection as to whether Mr Sanhaie was, or was not, taking notes was, in places, difficult to understand (although the recent disclosure shows that he clearly did take detailed notes),” the report states. “Nevertheless, she was adamant that if the word ‘black’ had been said she would have noted it. Having regard to the context of the interview, it would be very surprising if she had not, and even more surprising if her colleague had also failed to do so.”
The commission found a path of logic through this potential minefield, but the episode reflects badly on the FA’s regulation unit, unless it has a good reason why Cole’s words were not tape-recorded. The route out reads as follows: “On the balance of probabilities, the commission finds that the contemporaneous notes of that interview, which were made by Ms Kennedy and Mr Sanhaie, are more likely to be accurate than the recollections of Mr Barnard over 10 months later, in their recording of key words and phrases that Mr Cole used.”
These serious procedural doubts aside, the FA ploughed on with a misconduct charge even after a magistrate had found insufficient proof that Terry had racially abused Ferdinand, because it was sure an offence may still have been committed under the laws of the game. For that it deserves the gratitude of those who think a football pitch is too often a swamp of nasty exchanges masquerading as “banter”.
As with the Luis Suàrez-Patrice Evra case, the cost has been high. Here, three vile words muttered by Terry at Loftus Road ultimately removed Fabio Capello from the England manager’s job; inflicted much distress on the Ferdinand family; brought a £45,000 fine for Rio Ferdinand for his endorsement of a “choc ice” tweet aimed at Chelsea’s left-back; removed Terry from the England reckoning and shed yet more light on the fantasy world of Ashley Cole.
The next step is to clean up the horrible culture laid bare by this whole episode. For that, the FA will need to tighten up its evidence-gathering.