John Terry will come face to face with a largely hostile soccer public for the first time since being charged with alleged racist abuse when he skippers Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Thursday (2000 GMT).
The 31-year-old England captain was charged with a racially aggravated public order offence by the Crown Prosecution Service on Wednesday following an altercation with Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match at Loftus Road in October.
He has been ordered to appear at West London magistrates’ court on Feb. 1 and will plead not guilty after strenuously denying the allegations over the last two months.
He is sure of an extremely hostile reception in a highly-charged atmosphere at White Hart Lane, where he has been sent off for Chelsea twice in the last five seasons.
Terry’s case made the front and back pages of most of Thursday’s papers, with some supporters’ groups calling for him to be stripped of the England captaincy and the Kick It Out anti-racist campaign “saddened” by Chelsea’s “blanket support” for their player.
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, however, said he believed Terry had the mental strength to cope with the stress of the case which is why he will be playing against Spurs in Thursday’s bearpit atmosphere.
“John has told me he is in the right frame of mind to play and has shown fantastic commitment to the team,” said Villas-Boas.
“His performances have been good and I don’t doubt his integrity as a person.
“He represents this club to a maximum level and we’re very grateful to have a player of his quality in our team, in what he represents in terms of history and achievements at the club.
“We know exactly his human values and personality, so we will support him whatever happens.”
Terry responded to Wednesday’s charge by saying: “I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible.
“I have never aimed a racist remark at anyone and count people from all races and creeds among my closest friends.
“I will fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence. I have campaigned against racism and believe there is no place for it in society.”
Tottenham have warned fans that stewards will adopt a “zero tolerance” policy towards abuse of Terry and will be wearing headcams to record the crowd.
Matches between Spurs and Chelsea are often played against a backdrop of seething ill-feeling from both sets of fans, with the stakes even higher than usual on Thursday as Spurs start the game in third place in the table, one position and two points better off than Chelsea with a match in hand.
Chelsea enjoyed a 32-match unbeaten league run against Spurs home or away for 16 years from December 1990 to March 2006, but Spurs are now unbeaten at home by Chelsea for five league matches since November 2006.