Ethos Education

John Terry and Anton Ferdinand: Can everything be sorted out with a handshake, or are some things harder to forgive?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching on forgiveness.
  • Awareness of the importance of forgiveness and repentance in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
  • Understanding of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • Awareness of the effect of forgiveness in modern situations.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the factors that determine how easy or difficult it is to forgive someone.
  • Analyse a real-life situation where one person feels unable to show forgiveness to another.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine principles concerning forgiveness which may be relevant to the real-life case study.
  • Evaluate how biblical teaching on forgiveness might influence their own decisions about whether to seek or extend forgiveness in the future.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a newspaper report on the non-handshake incident at the Chelsea vs Queens Park Rangers football match in January 2012.


This lesson focuses on the forgiveness aspect of the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand dispute. If you want to use that incident to consider issues relating to racism, you might prefer our earlier lesson Racism in Football 2011 at

Ask the students to decide the relative severity of a number of different crimes, offenses and actions. To do this, put them into small groups and give a set of Offense Cards to each group. We recommend using a silent discussion to rank the cards. Tell the students to decide on one end of the table for ‘serious’ and the other for ‘unimportant’. The students then take it in turns to turn over one of the cards and place it where they think appropriate. Each student after the first may also, if they wish, move one card that has already been placed if they disagree with its positioning. Allow two or more further turns each after the last card is placed, to make sure that everyone has the chance to register disagreement over any disputed cards. From the moment the first card is turned, there should be no talking – the only form of discussion permitted at this stage is by the movement and placing of the cards.

The cards read as follows:

  • Someone physically attacks you.
  • Someone accidentally knocks you to the ground.
  • Someone turns your friends against you.
  • Someone calls you fat.
  • Someone racially abuses you.
  • Someone is more popular than you.
  • Someone gets you in trouble at school.
  • Someone makes nasty remarks about your Mum.
  • Someone steals your mobile phone.
  • Someone starts going out with the person you fancy.

Once the group has come to an agreement (or, in some cases, a repeating pattern of the same card being moved back and forth), allow them some time to verbally discuss (i.e. they are allowed to talk now!) their thinking within the group. Once all the groups have finished, bring them back as a whole class and ask which offences caused the most disagreement? Ask them to discuss where on their scale they would draw a line between ‘easy to forgive’ and ‘hard to forgive’.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the place of forgiveness in Christian thinking, with reference to a dispute between two footballers.


Explain to the students that an incident took place at a Premier League football match between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers in October 2011. England and Chelsea Captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. When the two clubs met again in the FA Cup in January 2012 (a few days before Terry faced court action relating to the alleged offence), there was much media speculation about whether or not Ferdinand would shake hands with Terry prior to the kick off.

You might want to explain to non-football fans that in recent years, English football has developed a protocol whereby all players shake hands with each of their opponents and the match officials before every match.

Ask the students how they would feel if they were in Ferdinand’s position. Do they think they would be willing to shake hands with John Terry after his alleged racist abuse? What difference (if any) do they think the proximity of the court date makes to this decision?

Explain that in the end, no handshake took place. The rest of the QPR team reportedly decided not to shake Terry’s hand, in support of their team-mate, and as a result the two clubs and the FA agreed not to stage the whole pre-match handshake protocol in this case, although QPR captain Joey Barton did shake Terry’s hand when the two captain’s met for the coin toss at the start of the match. The atmosphere of tension was not helped by the news that a bullet was sent through the post to the QPR training ground during the build up to the match. In view of all the relevant circumstances, what do the students think of the decision by the QPR team to collectively shun John Terry? What about the decision by the clubs and the FA to avoid a potentially awkward moment by cancelling all the hand-shakes? Why do they think Joey Barton did shake Terry’s hand, and was he right to do so?

For background information about the handshaking situation, see the following reports:

Ask the students to look at some or all of the following Bible passages and to ask what advice they might give to Anton Ferdinand and John Terry on the basis of it. Matthew 18:15-20; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11; Luke 15:11-32.

In discussing their findings, draw out the following points:

  • Christians believe that the main reason for forgiving other people is because God has already forgiven them so much.
  • God’s forgiveness is linked to the willingness of people to forgive others.
  • Forgiveness is important for the one who forgives as well as for the one seeking forgiveness, as it offers the prospect of peace and restored relationships.
  • John Terry has not offered any apology to Anton Ferdinand, and continues to deny having said or done anything wrong. While forgiveness isn’t necessarily conditional, Christians do believe in the importance of repentance as part of the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

How easy or difficult do the students think that biblical guidance like this might be for someone in Anton Ferdinand’s position? How easy or difficult do the students find it to forgive people who have hurt them deeply? Can they think of any situations in their own lives, past or present, where applying biblical principles concerning forgiveness might have resulted in things turning out differently? Would this have made things better or worse? What difference might such principles make to future situations they find themselves in?


Ask the students to write a newspaper report about the events at the Chelsea vs Queen’s Park Rangers match on 28th January 2012. The report should focus on the non-handshake and the reasons behind it, rather than the actual football and should include comment from Christian sources that reflect Christian belief about the importance of forgiveness. It is up to the students whether they wish to put words into the mouths of players, managers or other real people involved in the story.


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