Why? That’s the question I have to ask. Why has Anton Ferdinand spent nine years feeling like he did something wrong?
I watched Anton’s BBC documentary Football, Racism and Me on Monday, about the fallout from the incident with John Terry in October 2011, like millions of others. I know Anton well. We played together for England’s Under 21s and I also know his brother, Rio, well from the time we spent in England squads.
They are both good lads and I’ve got a lot of time for them. I’ve also got a lot of time for JT. He was captain when I was first selected for England in 2006 and he helped me settle. I worked with him at Aston Villa, too. I’ve never had a problem with him — or been given any reason to believe he is racist.
Micah Richards was left angry and numb after watching Anton Ferdinand’s BBC documentary
John Terry (third left) was alleged to have called Ferdinand (far left) ‘a f***ing black c***’ back in 2011. Terry was later found not guilty of a racially aggravated offence following a court trial
Their row began in a game between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea and ended up putting a spotlight on society.
As I sat watching the documentary, I felt angry, disappointed and numb — not with either man but with how the situation was handled from beginning to end. I remembered experiences I’d been through as a kid and still encounter to this day.
Throughout it all, that word was in my head: why?
It’s important to point out Anton never wanted to press charges against JT. Once the words he had used were highlighted by a member of the public, that choice was taken away from him and I can understand why it became a distraction from concentrating on football.
Richards played with the two Ferdinand brothers as well as Terry while on England duty
Terry (right) helped Richards settle as part of the England squad as he was the team captain
Instead, he found himself cast as the guilty party. His social media accounts were filled with racist insults, people were jumping all over him for daring to be a victim of alleged racial abuse from the England captain. Bullets were even sent to his house. Why? What had he done wrong!
There will have been plenty of incidents since that day, I am sure, that have gone unreported because of the precedent this set.
If a black player brings something to light, unless the evidence is indisputable, there is an understandable doubt that anybody will be found accountable. So you ask yourself, ‘What’s the point if there is going to be a backlash?’
When you are black, you fight preconceptions every day. People automatically draw conclusions about you, to the point that you worry about being yourself.
Seeing Fabio Capello again in the footage reminded me of how uncomfortable things were for me as an England player during that period. When I was called into the squad, my Dad, Lincoln, told me three things: don’t ever be late, do not wear earrings and do not play up to anyone’s stereotype.
Ferdinand found himself cast into the role of the guilty party and was racially abused online
He knew the big picture, he knew how I would be perceived if I made mistakes. He worried I was going to be portrayed as a flash, brash black kid.
My nature has always been to be humble, have a laugh and joke and I always cared deeply about being the best I could be at football.
But being in the England squad with Capello, they were some of the least enjoyable days of my football career.
The atmosphere he created was awful. It’s well documented how strict he was and, for a young man in my position, it wasn’t a welcoming environment, to the extent that there were players who did not want to come when they were selected.
How he behaved in resigning after the England captaincy was taken from JT was an embarrassment. It should have been explained to him how big this issue was and, while legal proceedings were continuing, JT couldn’t have the armband.
Could you imagine Gareth Southgate stepping down now if we found ourselves in a similar situation? It’s unthinkable. Capello was never in tune with the severity of what was going on and he showed his poor man-management skills. It was a shambles.
Fabio Capello’s behaviour after Terry was stripped of the captaincy was embarrassing
His support for JT was obvious. You might think this is strange but I understand why people wanted to defend Terry.
When a serious accusation is made about someone you idolise or have tremendous respect for, your natural inclination is to think, ‘No, that can’t be right — they wouldn’t do something like that’.
Here’s an example: Liam Neeson is one of my favourite actors. When he said in February 2019 that he wanted to kill an innocent black man as a form of retribution, I thought it was some kind of poor wind-up. After I read his words for myself, it was so demoralising. You don’t want to believe your heroes are flawed.
The tragedy of it all is that too many people’s first thought when a black person makes an allegation is that they must be in the wrong.
Anton’s life was turned upside down and inside out and it is disgraceful that happened to him. Even Anton looked shocked in the documentary when Neil Warnock, then his manager at QPR, told him he felt he didn’t look the same player after the incident. But, sadly, I am not surprised.
People wanted to defend Terry when the scandal broke and he was eventually cleared in court
I’m not someone who rants and raves about issues. I have never wanted to go in all guns blazing as I have felt that, if you shout and scream, nobody listens to the point that you are trying to make. Whenever I talk about racism, I always try to understand what drives it.
Discrimination and prejudice happen every single day.
It gets to the point where there is so much s*** going on, you become numb to it. It has been there for your whole life, it just feels normal.
But it can never be normal. Football is such a beautiful sport and it has so much power that it can be a force for good.
If we have equality in our game, if we have an environment where people don’t feel threatened or worried about speaking out, I am sure we will move on as a society.
Ferdinand’s (left) life was turned upside down and it is disgraceful that happened to him
I don’t know if John said what is alleged. If he did make that slur, aimed at Anton, I would be very disappointed. But, equally, if he had done, I wouldn’t crucify him for the rest of his life.
How can you grow or how can you learn if you make a snap decision about someone and never think about the wider picture?
The programme concluded with Anton having sent John an email to try to reach out. The email, we were told, had been received but it had not been acted upon.
My hope is that, one day, John and Anton will talk it through.
John presumably feels he doesn’t have anything to apologise for over the incident itself, but I wonder if he’d want to share his empathy for what Anton has been through and the considerable impact that it had on him, as the documentary showed us.
Perhaps then, for Anton, there could be some kind of closure.
Richards hopes one day, Terry and Ferdinand will talk it all through so there could be closure
Overall, we have to keep trying to ensure that all situations of alleged racism are handled considerably better.
We all have a responsibility to educate the next generation and I believe things will improve.
We must ensure we don’t find ourselves in a society where a victim of racial abuse ever thinks silence is a better alternative to speaking out.
We have to change.