John Terry, Anton Ferdinand and the "Respect" handshake.

Respect, what respect?

If you live in England you can hardly have failed to have been caught up in the matter of the “Respect” handshake, whether you are interested in sport or not.

The FA introduced the handshake as part of their “Respect” campaign at the start of the 2008 season and decreed that the teams must line up and shake hands before the match began. This ritual was derided by many fans at the time as the traditional time to congratulate or commiserate with your opponent has always been after the game as a show of respect for his performance. It isn’t popular with the players or the clubs and once you get on the pitch you just want to get on with the game. It always had the potential to be a hotbed of controversy; the fuse was lit last year and the tinderbox exploded at the weekend.

This controversy was preceded by Luis Suarez, who had been found guilty of racial abuse during the Man Utd/Liverpool game when he admitted calling Patrice Evra a “Negro” and was banned for eight games. In the return game at Old Trafford in February Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand prompting further outrage and Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA made a strange comment at the time saying it was a shame that it couldn’t have all been sorted out with a handshake, which reinforced many people’s view that FIFA refuses to take the issue of racism seriously.

The John Terry/Anton Ferdinand situation is different to the Suarez incident in that an off duty police officer, who watched the match on TV and can lip read claims that Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand and called him an F****** black C***. Terry claimed that he was replying to a question from Ferdinand and that the officer had only caught part of the conversation and but for the intervention of the off duty police officer that would have been the end of the matter. However the CPS for some reason known only to themselves decided to prosecute Terry, despite the fact that no one had heard Terry racially abuse Ferdinand and the fact that Ferdinand was initially very reluctant for the case to go ahead. The only evidence was a snippet of a conversation that an off duty police officer had lip read and given the circumstances a verdict of not guilty was inevitable as there was no concrete proof to refute Terry’s evidence that he was asking a question and not making a statement.

A further unsavoury aspect of the court case was the highlighting of the amount of personal abuse that goes on during a game. Now I must admit that although this has painted football in a poor light, the only thing that surprises me was the amount of indignation that followed as anyone who has ever played football or attended a match at a small ground, especially a poorly attended one will know that it goes on all the time.

In a bizarre twist Anton Ferdinand’s older brother Rio, a former England captain condoned the comments of one of his twitter followers who referred to Ashley Cole as a “Choc ice”. Ferdinand not only refused to condemn the comment but actually ridiculed his previously good friend Cole, who had reluctantly given evidence in the court case. Terry and Anton Ferdinand’s excuse was that they abused each other in the heat of sporting battle, Rio’s abuse came over the heat of a laptop and he has no excuse for condoning such a moronic posting.

If this was a soap opera you wouldn’t believe it; the two teams were drawn against each other in the FA cup and Common sense prevailed when the handshake ritual was abandoned under the pretext that it could prejudice the court case. So, on Saturday Chelsea and QPR were scheduled to meet for the first time since the verdict had been handed down and The FA insisted last week that the handshake would go ahead despite the open knowledge that Ferdinand had already informed several people that he would refuse to shake hands with both Terry and Cole; you don’t have to be a genius to realise that acrimonious court cases tend to alienate those on opposite sides.

The big moment arrived on Saturday and it came as no surprise to see Ferdinand snub Terry and Cole, but what I found more disturbing was that fact that the QPR captain Ji Sung Park not only refused to shake Terry’s hand at the line up but also at the start of the match. Now call me an old traditionalist, but it is sacrilege to not shake hands with the opposing captain for the toss, this is one tradition that has happened since the very first league match was played. In my opinion this was the saddest and most despicable event on a day that shamed football, I can’t remember it ever happening before.

Chelsea and Leeds shared a footballing enmity that has rarely been equalled in the history of the game during the sixties and seventies and contested what is universally recognised as the dirtiest FA cup final of all time. The 1970 cup final has been described as a war rather than a game of football, with personal vendettas occurring all over the pitch. The match ended in a draw, but the players shook hands at the end of the match and there was never any question that the two Captains would snub each other or not shake hands at the kick off. Commentators reasoned that Park did so because he used to play for Manchester United and is a friend of Anton’s brother Rio. A sad excuse; what if the Chelsea team had used the same rationale and refused to shake hands with the QPR players who refused to shake hands with Terry. Hang your head in shame Ji Sung Park.

Once again football has been shrouded in controversy and shown in a bad light, exacerbated by the feel good feeling from the Olympics. The FA have shot themselves in the foot and have only themselves to blame. The papers are reporting that Suarez has been ordered by Liverpool to shake hands with Evra this weekend, but it is obvious that they have no respect for each other which goes against the object of the exercise. The quicker this pointless ritual is abandoned, the better for all concerned.

Should the pre match handshake be abandoned?

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