So John Terry is the Premiership's Player of the Year in the eyes of his fellow professionals.
The players always say this is the most coveted of awards because it comes from their own tradesmen, rather than those misguided dreamers who vote in the Football Writers? Award.
Wider issues like the correct behaviour in public and dealing courteously with the press aren?t considered when it comes to the Professional Footballers? Association award. Why else did Roy Keane win it one year? The narrow focus for the voters is ?doing the business?. So don?t rule out Lee Bowyer sometime.
So John Terry?s chequered past counted for nowt when his claims as a towering defender were assessed by the players. I suppose that?s understandable but it?s worth recalling that he and another contender for the award ? his Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard ? were hardly paragons of virtue just a few years ago.
Early in 2002 Terry was charged with affray and assault causing actual bodily harm after a disturbance in a London night-club left a doorman injured. He was acquitted but the court evidence was disturbing ? all that ?Don?t you know who I am?? nonsense from a moderately talented young footballer.
Just three months earlier, Terry had been part of a bunch of drunken footballers who had made fools of themselves at an hotel near Heathrow Airport. It happened on September 12 and a group of American tourists were stranded at the hotel, 24 hours after the atrocities in their home country.
Terry and his mates vomited and urinated in front of those Americans and laughed at the fact that more than 3,000 had suffered the day before. It was an episode that showed the insensitivity and yobbishness of footballers with more money than sense.
Frank Lampard was part of that September 12 bunch. A year earlier, he?d been on holiday with Rio Ferdinand and Kieron Dyer and they got lucky with some girls one night. The footballers allegedly videoed their sexual antics with the girls, bragging about their prowess.
To be fair to Terry and Lampard they appear to have put such nonsense behind them and knuckled down, but I hope when Lampard picks up the Football Writers? Award ? as we all expect ? we?re not treated to sycophantic drivel about he and his mate being role models.
They?re both inspirational footballers now but they were so close to ruining their careers by listening to the seductive cooing of the hangers-on and losing touch with reality.
Their close friend Rio Ferdinand is still to show convincing evidence that he can be judged sympathetically as a human being. In his recent contract negotiations, he and his agent have cleverly played off Manchester United and Chelsea against each other.
Ferdinand will get a new contract with United that?s worth more than #100, 000 a week after he was seen schmoozing with Chelsea?s chief executive, Peter Kenyon, in London one Saturday night.
Only hours before that allegedly chance encounter with Kenyon, Ferdinand limped off the field at Norwich, looking bound for an extended stint on the physio?s couch.
I was at that game and as Ferdinand struggled to run in the last 20 minutes, I was sure he?d be out for a few weeks. Yet he recovered miraculously and that very night, he and Kenyon were seen in two restaurants, smashing plates boisterously in one of them, a Greek restaurant off the Edgware Road.
I wonder what Alex Ferguson thought when he heard about the way his defender shrugged off that shattering defeat at Carrow Road?
The player holds the upper hand these days and Ferdinand will be the only real winner in this latest tussle. That?s how it is these days, especially in the upper echelons. Because the influence of the PFA is so strong, the clubs and managers are being held over a barrel.
Managers won?t admit it on the record, but many I know are hostile to the PFA, especially the chief executive, Gordon Taylor. He is the highestpaid trade union official in the land and represents his members with such devotion that the balance of power has swung too far in the players? favour.
Not for those from the lower divisions, I hasten to add, but the beneficiaries of all that TV money in the past decade.
Taylor rarely criticises a professional footballer in public and that?s why the managers feel impotent when a player flexes his muscles or behaves badly.
All that Taylor had to say about the obnoxious Lee Bowyer?s latest performance was that it would be understandable if he were to be sacked for thumping his own team-mate on the park.
And so far we?ve heard nothing from the PFA about the appalling behaviour of some of the Nottingham Forest players in several bars last week, as their club faced relegation.
The boozing culture and lack of professionalism in the Forest dressing-room has contributed to such a spectacular decline, yet Taylor doesn?t feel the need to speak out. Some of those Forest players earn more than #350, 000 a year.
The PFA does excellent work in many areas, not least in its campaign to eradicate racism, but it is now too powerful. And there?s a real danger that the best players in the land are being treated like demi-gods, with an uncritical press cuddling up to them in case they get frozen out.
That?s why we shouldn?t forget the brainless escapades of the likes of Terry and Lampard. The past informs the present . . .
Melchiot destroys lazy stereotypes
We need to keep a perspective on modern footballers, though. Many do act in a civilised manner, grateful for the hand they?ve been dealt in life.
Birmingham City?s Mario Melchiot is one and I?m happy to relate an experience enjoyed by a tabloid reporter with him recently.
Melchiot had obligingly co-operated in a pre-arranged interview at the training ground, giving generously of his time and opinions.
At no stage did he state that he was running short of time or being inconvenienced by the journo.
Eventually they parted on genial terms, with the reporter wondering how he was going to distil so many good quotes from the player into the allotted words that had been stipulated by his desk.
On his way out, the reporter spotted Melchiot on the phone. He was trying to organise a taxi to take him into the city.
All the other Birmingham players had left for the day and he was stranded because his own car was in for service.
When the journo did the decent thing and offered Melchiot a lift into the city, he was touchingly grateful and chatted away to him all the way ? about cars, life in England, his mother?s hard work in bringing up a large family on her own in Holland, his brother?s untimely death from a rare heart condition.
What struck home particularly with my colleague was the sincerity of Melchiot?s sympathy for those MG Rover workers who had just lost their jobs at Longbridge.
He knew all about the recent history of the plant, of Birmingham City?s close connection with so many who had worked there.
Melchiot impressed the reporter with one telling observation in particular, telling him that in the light of what had happened at Longbridge, he?d be shattered if anyone ever came up to him in the street and accused him of not giving 100 per cent on the field.
This grizzled hack has been in the business for more than 20 years and it takes a lot to impress him in football these days. Mario Melchiot did so.
?He was stuck at the training ground entirely because of me, but never complained or rushed me. Other players would have made an excuse, cadged a lift earlier and left a message to say that he?d do the interview some other time when it was more convenient.
?He restored my faith in professional footballers. Not only one of Blues? best players this season, but the top man for me.?
We shouldn?t escape responsibility in the media for exposing the charlatans and raging egotists in the modern game, but we must always beware of the lazy stereotype and that?s why it?s good to hear stories such as this one.
For every Lee Bowyer, there are still scores of Mario Melchiots.
Goodbye, Ken ? Warwickshire has lost a great friend
We said farewell to one of Warwickshire cricket?s greatest supporters on Friday, as Ken Kelly was laid to rest at Lodge Hill Cemetery in South Birmingham.
More than 50 years devotion to the Bears was finally stilled. Those cricket lovers of today who admire the marvellous quality of pictures you see daily in the newspapers and the magazines should realise that Ken Kelly was the forerunner of that professionalism and flair.
He took cricket photographs of a remarkably high standard when Hitler was still a strutting danger to the free world. His first Test as a snapper was at Leeds in 1938.
It?s a measure of Ken?s stature in his chosen career that the two best cricket photographers of a later generation put themselves out to get to Selly Oak to say farewell and enjoy a beer in his memory.
Patrick Eagar drove up from London, while Graham Morris covered the morning session at Northampton, raced to Birmingham, then returned for the action after tea at Northampton.
Ken?s devotion to cricket at Edgbaston was recognised by an impressive gathering of staff and committee from Warwickshire County Cricket Club, plus former England players MJK Smith, Tim Munton, John Jameson, Alan Oakman and the current youth coach Neal Abberley.
All had stories about Ken. He was that sort of person. Yorkshire to the core, straight in his dealings, excellent at his job, loyal and supportive of young players and media folk making their way in life and job.
I was one of countless lucky journalists to benefit from Ken?s advice and he gave his contacts out generously.
He introduced me to the legendary E J Smith, known to everyone as ? Tiger? ? Warwickshire wicket-keeper/batsman, England stumper, Test umpire and the coach when the Bears won the championship in 1951.
This man?s support of Warwickshire ran from 1894 till 1979, when he died aged 93. I was privileged to write his life story and that was due to Ken Kelly.
Ken had nagged me for some time about the great ?Tiger? Smith and the store of cricket memories he still related with such vigour and clarity of mind.
He persuaded the old boy to work with me on his life story, on condition that it wasn?t published until after his death.
It was a wonderful experience. Night after night, I?d sit with Ken and Jack Bannister ? one of ?Tiger?s proteges and the doyen of the Post?s cricket coverage since ? and the stories were fantastic.
Playing for W G Grace, keeping wicket to Wilfred Rhodes, batting with Jack Hobbs ? all the way through to advising Mike Brearley and Geoffrey Boycott on their batting techniques, in the last year of his long life.
Because ?Tiger? trusted Ken so readily, the job was made easier for me. I still have those tapes ? 30 hours of them ? and in memory of Ken Kelly, I fished them out at the weekend.
He?s there, with discernible Leeds? accent that he never lost, teasing information out of ?Tiger? for me, chuckling at the salty tales.
The book was improved immeasurably by Ken?s photographs of the old man and by his guidance on its contents.
Anyone who cares about the history of cricket ought to spend some time in the marvellous museum at Edgbaston. That was Ken?s enduring legacy to the county club he loved so much. Scores of his matchless photographs adorn the walls and in his later years, he acted as curator, always on hand with an anecdote, patiently explaining to the youngsters who Don Bradman was. A friend of Ken?s incidentally.
I hope and believe that Warwickshire will re-name it the Ken Kelly Museum, to set alongside the plaque in his memory that will be installed in the Press Box at the other side of Edgbaston.
It would be fitting that his contribution should be recognised in more than one part of a ground that was revitalised so impressively during Ken?s long and committed innings there.