The Football Association is to investigate the England captain, John Terry, for using racist language after receiving a complaint from QPR about alleged abuse towards Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during Chelsea's defeat at Loftus Road on Sunday.
If the complaint is upheld, and that is notoriously difficult with such allegations, Terry is almost certain to be stripped of the national captaincy for the second time, and probably dropped from the England squad to travel to Poland and Ukraine for next summer's European Championship. In an ironic twist, Ferdinand's brother, Rio, may then regain the captaincy, which was previously taken from Terry after an alleged affair with the girlfriend of his England team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Terry, who denies the accusation, and is supported by his club, immediately said he "welcomed the inquiry and looked forward to clearing his name". It is understood his defence is that he did utter the foul, racist phrase concerned, but not in the context of abusing Ferdinand.
The allegation arose after television pictures appeared to show Terry using the words. This claim spread so rapidly via social networking sites that Terry released a statement on Sunday night denying he had abused Ferdinand.
The FA had refrained from getting involved after a member of the public made a complaint to Hammersmith & Fulham police, the local force, but had little alternative once QPR confirmed they felt the matter needed looking into. In a brief statement the FA said it "will now begin to make enquiries into this matter", adding: "The FA takes seriously any allegations of discrimination and abuse of this type." It is likely its first act will be to write to all parties. The investigation may take time as Chelsea are certain to instruct lawyers to defend their captain, which means it will probably cloud England's forthcoming friendlies with Spain and Sweden.
The statement came after a day of meetings at QPR, which did not conclude until after dusk. It is believed Ferdinand was reluctant to complain personally, but was very unhappy at the incident, and the club felt they should back him. However, as a newly promoted club, whose owner, Tony Fernandes, has only been involved in football for two months, they were aware that the issue could become a media circus and have significant repercussions – the Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas, admitted senior officials of his club had contacted their Rangers equivalents. Thus the length of time spent discussing the matter.
In Rangers' statement, Fernandes said: "As a club we will provide our players with our unequivocal support when alleged incidents like this occur. The club has, and will continue to support Kick it Out's One Game, One Community initiative, football's equality and inclusion campaign. However, we are keen to draw a line under this alleged incident and focus on our fixtures." Sunday's match began with statements regarding the Kick it Out campaign, whose month of action this is, being read out over the public address.
Villas-Boas appeared to be perplexed about the whole issue when he spoke earlier in the day. "How can such a small incident based on speculation arrive to a situation of such proportions with the England captain? It's something which surprises me," he said.
Of Terry he added: "He's put out this statement and we fully back John. John represents this country to the highest level internationally. He is a player with great responsibilities for the country. He is confident about it. He spoke to Anton after the game. He was present in our dressing room. I was there, passing by, when they spoke. From my view – I wasn't focusing on what they were saying – they seemed amicable.
"For us, it's end of story. It's a great misunderstanding, something blown out of proportion. John represents this country internationally and people who do that should have better and fuller support instead of stories based on speculation. I find it strange that people doubt a player who is hugely representative of his country. We have a multi-racial dressing room and we all respect each other's values. I don't understand how it came to this level."