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Wednesday 24 September 2014

Eamonn Sweeney: Sport's most appalling club

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 25/11/2012 | 17:00

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What a reprehensible bunch they are at Chelsea Football Club. And what a sordid caper the attempted lynching of Mark Clattenburg was. It is one of the low points in the history of football in these islands, another step in the descent of the Premier League towards the gutter. Mind you, Chelsea aren't in the gutter. They're in the sewer.

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In the past this column has been extremely critical of assaults on GAA referees by fans and players. But what Chelsea did to Mark Clattenburg was far worse. By accusing him of racially abusing Jon Obi Mikel in their match against Manchester United, the club were implying that he was not just a racist but a racist of quite spectacular stripe. Because you'd need to be a truly dedicated racist to display your bigotry in a high-profile match with several players in earshot.

Had the accusations been true, the destruction of his career as a referee would have been the least Clattenburg had to worry about. He'd have ended up becoming a pariah, a handy scapegoat for Britain's racial tensions, like the late Jade Goody or one of those clowns who get captured on someone's iPhone while indulging in National Front-style rhetoric on the bus. Only times a hundred. Mark Clattenburg would have been Top of the Racist Pops. If the allegations had been true.

But an English FA investigation found that they hadn't been true. And it also revealed that, as most people suspected from the start, this most serious attack on a man's character had been based on the flimsiest of evidence. Mikel hadn't heard Clattenburg, who was standing beside him, call him a ' monkey.' Neither had English-speaking players standing nearby or Clattenburg's fellow officials who could hear everything the miked-up referee said during the game. The sole witness for the prosecution was the Brazilian Ramires, who doesn't speak English and who passed the allegation on to Mikel and the rest of his team-mates after the game was over though the alleged incident had occurred in the 69th minute.

This was hardly the level of evidence required when mounting a possible career-ending attack on a referee. And I'd have to say that the FA enquiry's finding that Chelsea made the complaint, 'in good faith', strikes me as somewhat questionable. It is, perhaps, a politically correct olive branch extended to those who might otherwise accuse the FA of 'not taking racism seriously'. But if anyone's not taking racism seriously it's Chelsea.

You see, the boys from Stamford Bridge have form when it comes to telling lies about referees. In 2005, Jose Mourinho said that Anders Frisk had visited the Barcelona dressing room at half-time during the first leg of the Spanish club's Champions League first knock-out round match with Chelsea. That was a lie but Frisk was subjected to death threats by Chelsea supporters and forced into retirement.

Two years later, another lie was forthcoming after referee Graham Poll sent off John Terry during Chelsea's defeat to Spurs. Ashley Cole claimed Poll had said he'd made the decision 'to teach Chelsea a lesson'. A fortnight later, Chelsea withdrew the allegation and the club were fined by the FA.

At the very least you'd imagine that these precedents might have made the club hesitate before complaining to the FA, and going public with that complaint, on very questionable grounds.

Yet, after the United game, Chelsea made not one but two allegations of racism against Clattenburg. They also claimed that the referee had called Juan Mata a 'Spanish twat'. Once the FA announced that they'd be investigating the matter this complaint was dropped. At which stage it became pretty clear that there might be something dubious about the whole affair.

The inherent dodginess of it all became even clearer when it emerged that Chelsea had declined to get the Metropolitan Police, ever keen to involve themselves when football-related racism raises its head, involved in the case. The Society of Black Lawyers suggested this was because of a conspiracy between Chelsea and the FA to treat racism in the game as a football rather than a legal matter. But it is perhaps more likely that the flimsiness of the case discouraged Chelsea from going down the legal route. Wasting police time is, after all, a pretty serious offence.

Whereas it appears bringing a spurious and possibly defamatory case to the FA isn't that serious at all. Because, at the time of writing, it appears that Chelsea will get off scot-free. They haven't apologised to Clattenburg nor, for that matter, explained the withdrawal of the allegation concerning the abuse of Mata. The withdrawal of that allegation and the reluctance to involve the police were significant straws in the wind. So was the statement by Petr Cech that he wanted the FA to hurry up and conclude the case so it wasn't hanging over the club anymore. You'd think that if the Chelsea players believed their team-mate had been racially abused they'd have been boiling with the injustice of it all. The length of time the inquiry took wouldn't matter, the truth would be the important thing. Yet from day one Ramires' team-mates weren't coming out to support him.

Nobody was surprised to see Mark Clattenburg being cleared. Even the most rabid Chelsea partisans aren't claiming that he made a racist comment, they're parroting the self-serving contention of the club that it was somehow technically 'appropriate' for Chelsea to pass on the complaint to the FA.

But that doesn't really wash. There will be a perception that this affair perhaps occurred not because of linguistic misunderstanding but because during the game in question Clattenburg gave two terrible decisions against Chelsea which led to their 3-2 defeat, sending off Fernando Torres for a dive when the player had been fouled and allowing a clearly offside winner by Javier Hernandez to stand. The rage Chelsea felt after the defeat, and perhaps a lingering and undeserved sense of injustice over John Terry being caught calling Anton Ferdinand a 'black c**t', might lead people to think that Ramires' allegations would have found a receptive audience. Chelsea's behaviour towards the referee after the final whistle seemed likely to land them in trouble but instead the focus was switched to Mark Clattenburg whose name was dragged through the mud for nearly a month.

It's possible that Chelsea don't regret their behaviour at all. They managed to have Clattenburg excluded from Premier League action for four weeks although he'd been found guilty of nothing. (Had this happened to a player we'd never hear the last of it.)

The referee will now be under tremendous pressure and scrutiny whenever he takes charge of a game. Meanwhile, any referee who finds himself tempted to give a borderline decision against the Stamford Bridge club may well wonder if it's worth the hassle. So perhaps this was a result for the Blues.

And so the tawdry circus trundles on and much thought is expended on the question of whether Roberto Di Matteo was unlucky to be sacked or whether Rafa Benitez is the cure for what ails sport's most appalling club. Yet these questions are trivial compared to what Chelsea tried to do to Mark Clattenburg. A line has been crossed .

In a just world Chelsea would be docked points. But that won't happen. The bullies of the league have been allowed to bully once more and they'll go on doing it. Should Benitez work a miracle and steer the Blues to a title, we'll probably be told that this sorry saga 'energised' Chelsea or some such nonsense. I'm sure a suitably cringeworthy goal celebration for Ramires is being planned as we speak.

Meanwhile, Clattenburg must pick up the pieces of his career, get back on the field and try to forget his nightmarish month. That'll take a kind of courage the morally bankrupt millionaires of Stamford Bridge wouldn't know anything about.

Beautiful game, horrible people.

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