Chelsea were left facing serious questions yesterday as the fall-out from the full judgment on John Terry's Football Association race charges engulfed the club.
They were forced to deny that their long-serving secretary, David Barnard, had orchestrated a cover-up over Ashley Cole's evidence to the FA, after the independent regulatory commission described Barnard's evidence as "materially defective".
Cole responded on Twitter by calling the FA "a bunch of twats" and insinuating that it had accused him of lying (above). He subsequently apologised for it, claiming he had tweeted "in the heat of the moment" having seen news of the commission's findings immediately after training.
The independent regulatory commission that found Terry guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand on 23 October last year at Loftus Road said that the Chelsea captain's defence had "no credible basis". His evidence was described by the commission in the full judgment, released yesterday, as "improbable, implausible and contrived".
The furore over Cole's tweet cast doubt over whether the player, who has 98 England caps, would join up with the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland over the next 10 days. However, Roy Hodgson spoke to Cole yesterday afternoon and the player will report to the new St George's Park on Monday.
It is understood that Chelsea are considering disciplinary action against Cole, who deleted his offending tweet but not before it had caused considerable embarrassment. Not least because he posted the message at the same time as Roberto Di Matteo was giving his weekly press conference.
Di Matteo, whose side face Norwich City at home today, said of Terry: "At the moment he is our captain and is available to play." Di Matteo denied that his players were "out of control".
The commission's 63-page judgment was very critical of the manner in which Cole, via Barnard, later inserted into his witness statement the allegation that he heard Ferdinand use the world "black" during his exchange with Terry last October, a key part of the case.
Terry has maintained that he called Ferdinand a "f****** black c***" as a sarcastic exclamation in response to being first accused by Ferdinand of saying the words. In the criminal case at Westminster magistrates' court in July, Cole gave evidence to say that he had heard Ferdinand use the word "black", the only witness to corroborate Terry's account.
Yet the commission noted that Cole did not mention the use of the word "black" when he was interviewed five days after the incident by FA investigators Jenni Kennedy and Adam Sanhaie. Instead Cole referred to Ferdinand uttering a word beginning with "b" which he said he thought referred to "Bridge", a reference to Wayne Bridge.
The beginning of what the commission described as the "evolution" of Cole's evidence began on 3 November when Barnard emailed an amendment to the player's witness statement that included the claim he could have heard Ferdinand use the word "black".
In an email to the FA on 13 September this year from Barnard, he made a new claim: that Cole said he had told the FA in his interview more than 10 months earlier that he had heard the words "f******" and "c***" in a sequence with "black". Barnard's email accused the FA investigators of "inconsistencies" in preparing Cole's statement.
The FA investigators strenuously denied to the commission that they had missed Cole referring to "black" in his first interview and provided their notes as evidence. The commission found: "All of this causes the commission to have real concerns about the accuracy of Barnard's recollections, and the motivation for the assertions that he makes."
The commission suggested that the amendments made by Barnard were done so with the "clear purpose" of providing support for Terry's case. They also regarded the exchange between Barnard and the FA as "cogent new evidence" that would have influenced the thinking of the chief magistrate who heard Terry's case in July.
Barnard is an FA councillor and has been at the club for 10 years. A Chelsea spokesman said that Barnard did not accept the commission's criticism: "David co-operated fully with the FA at all times. He stands by his evidence and doesn't accept the criticism that has been made. It should also be noted that David was not given the opportunity to give oral evidence... so we feel any criticism is unjustified."
The club also said: "Ashley stands by the evidence that he gave and does not accept the criticism that has been made." Neither Terry nor Cole gave evidence in person to the commission. Chelsea have refused to comment on the Terry judgment until a decision is made on whether he will appeal.