The Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, was left in no doubt as to the feelings of the Premier League's 16 Select Group referees over the Mark Clattenburg affair in a meeting with them on Monday that prompted yesterday's statement of "regret" from the club.
The country's top referees were critical of Chelsea's handling of the allegations of racism against Clattenburg and met prior to the conference with Buck at St George's Park to formulate their specific grievances.
The meeting was considered so sensitive that Buck was accompanied by the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore. Buck explained Chelsea's position and why the club had made their decisions, while Clattenburg and his fellow referees spelt out clearly what effect the case had had on Clattenburg personally.
As a result, yesterday, for the first time, Chelsea publicly acknowledged, in a joint statement with the Premier League and Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL), the referees' body, that they could have handled the case better.
The club stopped short of a full apology for their conduct over the episode, however, with the Football Association having already ruled that they had had a right to pursue the complaint.
Chelsea said "it [sic] regrets not having given more consideration before issuing a statement" on the evening of 28 October when they made the allegations following the game against Manchester United earlier that day. The club also said it "regrets the subsequent impact the intense media scrutiny had on Mark Clattenburg and his family".
In addition, Chelsea said they "would welcome" Clattenburg back to Stamford Bridge in the future, which was intended as a clear indication, insisted on by the referee, that they do not believe he was guilty of a racist remark. The FA's governance department had earlier ruled that in spite of the allegation from Ramires that the referee abused John Obi Mikel, there was insufficient grounds for a charge.
Although Clattenburg had been encouraged by his union, Prospect to push for compensation, he decided against it because he, and the PGMOL general manager, Mike Riley, felt that any payment from a club would affect the perception of impartiality of a referee.
For their part, the Select Group referees said they "appreciated" the chance to speak to Buck, adding: "His willingness to engage and answer all the questions put to him was welcomed." They also accepted the club had received a "good faith claim from one of their employees" and as a result "the club had an obligation under FA rules to report the allegation".
There were fears among the referees that if the club did not make some acknowledgement that the process had been mishandled they could all potentially end up in the same situation as Clattenburg. The referee has not yet said he wants to return to Stamford Bridge to officiate. But yesterday, PGMOL said it "would have no issue in appointing him to a Chelsea FC match".