James Lawton: A game diving into the gutter frames plight of Clattenburg

Mark Clattenburg may not always have been a model of propriety but it is still hard to believe that the referee could have been so monumentally careless of his own and what is left of football's reputation.

A bitterly aggrieved Chelsea allege that the official used inappropriate and racially abusive language while dealing with the protests of their players John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata, and this takes the national game back to square one after all that carefully confected kissing and making up.

If you have the energy, you might want to weep at this latest evidence of a game too rich for its own good locked into another bout of witless self-destruction. Here, one inclination is to be extremely sceptical that this latest storm will prove all that it was cranked up to be in the first wake of Clattenburg's controversial handling of Manchester United's win over nine-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Another one is that, if Fernando Torres, right, was widely judged to have been most harshly victimised when Clattenburg gave him a second yellow card for diving, his fate is not going to cause prolonged distress in this quarter, especially when it is remembered that his first might easily have been red.

The truth is that Torres dives almost as a matter of course and if you live by such gut-churning artifice there is a very good chance you will from time to time also die by it.

The cast changes from weekend to weekend but the offence has some staple characters and any number of inappropriate defenders. One of them at the weekend was Everton manager David Moyes, who is awarded more usually the highest marks for both exemplary professionalism and decent instincts.

In a sermon plainly aimed at the talented but amoral Luis Suarez before Sunday's Merseyside derby, Moyes said, "People want to see the game being played correctly, they will not stand for players going down too easily. I think players should stay on their feet and if I had a player who was diving regularly I would have a word.

"It's not the way to play but I must be honest and admit this is a tricky area. A penalty to win a tight game once in a while might be a different matter."

Inevitably, perhaps, the most egregious case of diving at Goodison Park came not from Suarez – he should have been dismissed for a revolting foul on Sylvain Distin – but Moyes' captain, Phil Neville.

It took us back into that hole which English football has become incapable of avoiding – the one where only one consideration has any passing validity: any short-term gain that can be grasped, whatever the sickening cost to that old idea that football is a sport of identifiable values.

You don't have to enjoy iron chains of memory to recall the argument around the story that a young Michael Owen had been advised by his England manager, Glenn Hoddle, that a requirement of an international striker was to nick a penalty or two. Or the astonishment that greeted another young player – Owen's Liverpool team-mate Robbie Fowler – a few years earlier when he waved to the referee that he had not been fouled by Arsenal's David Seaman. The official pointed to the spot, Fowler took the kick sheepishly and it required his team-mate Jason McAteer to score from the rebound.

That was a mere 15 years ago. It might have been a hundred. But who then could have anticipated the speed of football's descent into the gutter? Who could have imagined the day when a manager noted for an outstanding commitment to the good name of the game would itemise the occasions when cheating might be quite all right?

Chelsea had a fair body of grievance on Sunday and it may just be the case that it will prove more substantial than some of us suspect when the case against Clattenburg is submitted to due process. What is certain is football's pathetic failure to install some basic video assistance to referees was the most obvious cause of the injustice of United's winning goal.

We can, though, be equally sure that Chelsea should be on their own if they seek to make a martyr of Fernando Torres.