Recent memory of Terry episode burdens club

Difficult decision to make accusation given that issues at Stamford Bridge are seen through prism of their troubled captain

Surely there is not a single employee of Chelsea Football Club who arrived at Stamford Bridge on Sunday morning to open up the ground, to welcome Manchester United, who wanted that night to end this way.

But, after the end of the match, it was left to club officials to file a complaint about the conduct of Mark Clattenburg. The complaint went to Premier League match delegate Nick Cusack, who would pass it on to the Football Association. And the first lines were written in what could be months of acrimony, legal debate and the intense, bitter unpleasantness which seems to stain everything English football touches this decade.

On Sunday, Chelsea were still dealing with the loss of John Terry. Their captain sat in the stands, for the second match of his four-game ban for language used almost exactly one year before. Throughout, the United fans made clear what they thought of Terry's conduct and also that of Ashley Cole.

The whole racial abuse issue is still everywhere. The home fans, for their part, were not exactly hospitable to Rio Ferdinand, also reminding him that Terry had been England captain before him, and after. Terry, of course, is still Chelsea captain. That great unravelling which started at Loftus Road last October may yet have careers to upset. It nearly upturned the Professional Footballers' Association last week.

So when Chelsea officials heard about the complaints of their players regarding Clattenburg, there must have been caution. Not just a natural caution born of any issue this serious but also one based on recent events. Who could possibly want to see anything resembling the last 12 months take place a second time?

But clearly there was a sense, in the bowels of Stamford Bridge, at around 7pm on Sunday evening, that this was a matter of the utmost seriousness and one which Chelsea would engage with firmly. If the club felt that their players had been wronged – and, clearly, they do – they had a duty to support them.

The issue, though, is one of perceived credibility. There is a toxic accusation about that Chelsea, after the public humiliation of recent months, are interested to feel how the shoe feels on the other foot.

If there is anger at how their captain was treated by the authorities, how would the authorities like to see their own man tainted in the same way?

What that reading shows is that it is impossible for Chelsea to escape from the prism of the Terry affair. Their anti-racism measures are very important to the club. Owner Roman Abramovich feels very strongly about anti-Semitism and discrimination and is keen for his club to appear as welcoming as possible.

So Chelsea, trying to fight on behalf of players they feel have been wronged, have an issue. They will, in time, be shown to be right or wrong. But after recent events they find their credentials on these matters impugned. And so they have a job to persuade and convince the world that, while this is not what they wanted, they mean what they say.

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