English football was in danger of being dragged through another racism saga today after police launched a formal investigation into whether Mark Clattenburg used inappropriate language“ towards Chelsea stars John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed they had acted on a "complaint" from the Society of Black Lawyers after the Blues accused referee Clattenburg of using comments understood to have been interpreted as racist in the club's acrimonious defeat to Manchester United on Sunday.
Press Association Sport understands the 37-year-old completely rejects the allegations against him, which are also the subject of a Football Association investigation.
A police statement read: "An investigation has been launched into alleged comments made during a football match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC at Stamford Bridge on 28 October 2012.
"Officers from Hammersmith & Fulham borough are in liaison with Chelsea Football Club and the Football Association.
"We continue to work in partnership with Chelsea Football Club and the Football Association in order to consider any allegation that is made in relation to the reported events."
The criminal probe came less than 24 hours after the FA launched their own investigation, which they were continuing today.
However, they could yet postpone it if the police request they do so, something they came under heavy fire for during the John Terry scandal.
The Metropolitan Police last night became embroiled in their second high-profile football racism case in 12 months after the man behind the mooted black players' breakaway union, Peter Herbert, wrote to them demanding an investigation.
He defended his intervention this afternoon, telling Sky Sports News: "What we don't want is for it to be swept away under the carpet.
"It must be subject to a full and proper investigation.
"It is to lend some seriousness and some weight behind what is happening in football."
Herbert admitted his complaint was based on reports rather than first-hand evidence but added: "We weren't there but we don't need to be there in order to report an incident.
"This appears to have had some cogency and so it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
"I think the Met Police have huge resources, expertise, and I have no doubt that this matter will be resolved and the truth will come out.
"If we've got this completely wrong then, of course, the police will tell us."
Chelsea, Mikel and Mata have so far chosen not to complain to the police and Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "Involving police or waiting causes a massive festering of the issue, which has continued to cause problems and is not good for the image of the game.
"Football has got to be confident enough to deal with it. I have said that to the House of Commons, the FA Council.
"We need to grasp the nettle and show we are more than capable of dealing with it."
He added: "I'm quite concerned that when this happened with the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand incident, the process got elongated.
"This time, I want football to learn from it and deal with it as transparently as possible.
"In football, the penalties can be severe. In a court of law, the penalty for racial abuse would be a small amount in comparison to what the FA could fine."
Taylor welcomed the FA's refusal to halt their own investigation, citing the International Cricket Council's decision to rule on the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal before it went to court.
It is understood Clattenburg had yet to be interviewed by the FA this morning but was ready to deny any wrongdoing, having vowed to co-operate fully with any investigation.
He was said today to have been shocked and angered at the allegations made against him and confident of clearing his name.
He is now expected to be spoken to by both police and the FA, possibly after submitting a written account about what took place during Sunday's Barclays Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.
Clattenburg has already filed what is known as an 'extraordinary incident report', which is understood mainly to deal with an alleged confrontation that took place in the referees' room after full-time.
Sources have told Press Association Sport Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, assistant manager Eddie Newton and chief executive Ron Gourlay were all present as Mikel angrily accused Clattenburg of having abused him during the match itself.
The referee, his assistants and fourth official are understood to have been stunned by the claims, with Michael McDonough, Simon Long and Michael Jones - who were miked up to Clattenburg - denying hearing anything of that nature.
The situation appears to have been complicated by suggestions that neither did Mikel or Mata, with reports claiming they were informed of the alleged abuse by team-mates.
Midfielder Oriol Romeu was quoted as having told a Spanish radio station that Mata had confirmed as much.
Clattenburg's fellow professional referees were today thought to be as shocked and angered as their colleague over the allegations against him and were rallying around him.
It was unclear whether he would elect to continue refereeing or take a break from the game while any investigation was pending but he yesterday accepted being stood down from officiating in the coming week.
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