London- John Terry needed no reminding of the day when he was booed off by Aston Villa supporters while lying on a stretcher. It was 11 May 2013, and has gone down in the history books as the game when Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all‑time leading goalscorer. For the visiting captain, however, it was a less enjoyable experience. “I think the [chant] was ‘let him die’,” Terry said, laughing while wearing his new Villa tracksuit.
Outside of Stamford Bridge, where Terry spent 22 years and racked up more than 700 appearances, there have been plenty of insults thrown at the central defender over the years. Villa Park, where Terry will be playing next season after signing a one-year contract with the Championship club, was no different in that respect. “Quite hostile” is how Terry described his memories of playing at the ground. “I’ve been on the receiving end of that [atmosphere] and thrived on it,” he added.
Both parties will take little time to patch up their differences, now that they are on the same side. That is how football generally works and on that same theme it was interesting to hear Terry’s answer to a question about whether after everything he has achieved in his career, including winning 15 major trophies at Chelsea, he feels fully appreciated in the game. “Maybe not. I don’t know,” he said. “I think that’s a decision for you guys [the media] to make, or the supporters. I’ve run out at Villa Park many times and given as good as I’ve been given and wound people up, and I understand that.
“But when I walk down the street, whether it be a Tottenham supporter or an Arsenal fan, they will say: ‘I don’t particularly like you but you’re a good footballer and I appreciate what you’ve done in the game.’ That’s the message. But what I do get a lot when you spend time and have photos with people’s kids is: ‘You’re actually a nice guy.’
“People see you in a way and put you in a bracket of ‘right, he’s an arsehole.’ But that’s not me. You grow up over the years as well, and you live and learn as a human being, as a professional and a player. I’ve given as good as I’ve got over the years from supporters all over the country and at the end of the day when I retire, if they turn around and say, ‘He was a decent player,’ that will do me.”
By Terry’s own admission it will be a strange feeling to wear another club’s shirt and experience everything that comes with being the new boy. He flew out to Portugal with Steve Bruce, the Villa manager, on Monday afternoon to join the squad on their pre-season training camp, and was dreading the thought of having to sing in front of everyone as part of the sort of initiation ceremony that he has enjoyed laughing at over the years at Chelsea.
At the same time, Terry said that he was genuinely excited at the prospect of a move that “takes me out of my comfort zone”. There were no shortage of offers on the table for him, but Terry claimed that joining another Premier League club was out of the question, because he was unable to contemplate playing against Chelsea next season. Teams in China and Major League Soccer also showed an interest, as did Villa’s bitter local rivals, Birmingham City.
Terry admitted that he got himself into a bit of a state over the decision – “I pretty much wasn’t sleeping” – before Bruce convinced him with his regular text messages that Villa was the right move.
“I wanted it to be that once I decided, then I was 100% in,” Terry said. “I’m not 50-50 or 70% – Aston Villa will get 100% of John Terry this year.” With Terry expected to earn around £60,000 per week on a contract that has an option to be extended for another 12 months – plus huge incentives to be paid if Villa win promotion – the former England international will be picking up a Premier League salary in the Championship. Bruce believes, however, that Terry is “worth every penny” because of the contribution he can make as a leader as well as a player to a squad that finished 13th in the second tier last season and struggled to handle the level of expectation.
For Terry, who turns 37 in December, that challenge cannot start quickly enough. “It’s down to me to perform week in, week out to prove to the players I can still play. I’m not one of them players at the end of his career looking for a pay day. I would be somewhere else if that was the case. The ambition, really, is to get us back to the Premier League and if I can, then that would be an unbelievable achievement.”
The Guardian Sport