After a summer of sporting respect, football drags the news agenda through a moral maze and into the kindergarten.
Issues of great significance do swirl in the background at Loftus Road, namely the Football Association racial abuse charge that Terry faces on Sept 24 over comments he allegedly made to Ferdinand here on Oct 23 last year.
Racism is a scourge in society and needs confronting robustly but such a serious subject is belittled by the stroppy stances of millionaire footballers. Ferdinand needs to keep his dignity, rise above such pettiness and save his anger for when he gives evidence to the independent tribunal.
His manager, Mark Hughes, sat in
Exacerbated by a clamorous media, the febrile world of football is rarely consumed by the value of perspective.
Hughes believes that respect between adversaries can be earned only during the 90 minutes not in some staged ceremony beforehand.
He argued that the handshake protocol was “fundamentally flawed” although he agreed with the general thrust of the Respect campaign. “We fully support it,’’ Hughes emphasised. “It’s done fantastic work.’’
It did not enjoy the most fantastic of starts. Twenty-four hours after the Respect campaign was launched in 2008, Cole launched himself into Tottenham’s Alan Hutton, scything the fullback down. He was then joined by Terry in upbraiding the referee, Mike Riley, for daring to book Cole. The Chelsea left back eventually apologised.
The Premier League subsequently added its weight to the FA Respect campaign with its own “Get On With The Game” initiative. Fifa is considering introducing pre-match handshakes around the world at all levels.
Behaviour, and certainly the mass confrontation of officials, has improved. Hughes, clearly annoyed at the way ‘Handshakegate’ overshadows such an important match, is still swimming against the official tide in seeking to have such etiquette abandoned.
“The people at the Premier League know my feelings,’’ said Hughes, who expressed his reservations in the summer. The people at the Premier League insist there are no plans to shelve the ritual on the basis of why cancel a rule for the nation’s elite simply because of one localised tension?
After the Olympics and Paralympics, the footballing authorities, particularly the FA’s strait-laced chairman David Bernstein, demand a little more decorum in their sport.
Handshakes were abandoned when Chelsea and QPR met in the FA Cup, in January, leading to much understandable hand-wringing over why grown men cannot be grown up.
“We didn’t do the handshake during the FA Cup game and I think it helped the situation,’’ said Hughes. Not really. The bad blood between the players was still there at the end. Longer term, it looked bad that football had surrendered because it did not trust people to be mature.
So after dialogue on Friday between Cobham, Harlington and Gloucester Place, the Premier League announced that “all parties understand and acknowledge that the pre-match handshake will go ahead as part of the normal pre-match activity’’. Peace in our time.
Not quite. Residual ill-will between Ferdinand and the Chelsea pair will still be on view. It is understood that there is no chance of Ferdinand acknowledging Terry or Cole’s outstretched hand. Hughes has given all his players permission to “make a personal decision’’.
Even following pleas from their clubs for restraint, the fans will undoubtedly give their noxious views of the players in a derby-day show of tribalism with an ugly twist.
Football has to tread carefully here. Controversy and commotion provide more episodes to the “men behaving badly” soap opera of the Premier League, adding to its global allure. The combination of incipient lawlessness in glamorous surrounds is intoxicating for many. Yet a balance is required.
Talking about the assorted local tear-ups he had played in from Goodison to the Nou Camp, Old Trafford to “probably the scariest one” in Blackburn-Burnley, Hughes observed: “The actual passion and energy that is given out by a crowd on a derby day is something special. As long as it doesn’t go over the edge of what is acceptable, I am all for it.”
Ferdinand, Terry and Cole have a responsibility not to inflame such a sensitive situation. Derbies are invariably heated occasions hardly requiring additional stoking.
Hughes relished the fray. “I used to like big games, the bigger the better. Some players get intimidated. I wasn’t that type. I fed off the emotions of the fans.
"Off the field I was quite quiet and introverted but on the field I was a different person and that had a lot to do with my interaction with supporters. I used to love helping my team win against fans who didn’t particularly want me to win.
"You knew if you were getting abuse you were irritating the opposition fans. That was part of what I used to lap up.’’
Hughes knows what Terry and Cole can expect. “As a top player at a top club, going to an away match, it’s a given that you get abuse from the opposition fans.”
Both sets of supporters would be better off pouring their energies into backing their own players, rather than barracking their rivals’.
That will not happen, though. Loftus Road will reverberate to an unedifying chorus of disapproval on Saturday afternoon.