Sam Wallace: Chelsea had no option but to report Mark Clattenburg for racism

Talking Football: A black player of theirs alleges racism. And people suggest they ignore it?

Sam Wallace
Monday 05 November 2012 00:00
Mark Clattenburg is keen on a swift return to refereeing
Mark Clattenburg is keen on a swift return to refereeing

At the end of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge is a door adorned with the sign "Officials changing". Beyond that door is a corridor, off which are the referee's changing room, a room for doping control and another in which radio interviews are conducted.

It is through the "Officials changing" door that Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay walked in the aftermath of the game against Manchester United eight days ago but not, Chelsea will submit, into the referee's private room.

Having originally visited the home dressing room, where he was made aware of the storm that was brewing, Gourlay went down to the "Officials changing" corridor and asked the Chelsea players and staff, who had by then left the referee's room occupied by Mark Clattenburg, to return to their dressing room. But the hare was already running.

The tunnel area at Stamford Bridge is surprisingly cramped. To the right is the press room where, if I delay going up the steps to the press box for kick-off, I can hear the buzzer to call the teams into the tunnel and that evocative sound of studs on a hard floor. Post-match, radio and television reporters are invited beyond the door from the press room into the tunnel and they would have seen John Obi Mikel come down from the home dressing room to confront Clattenburg.

By the time Gourlay was there, part of the Mikel-Clattenburg story was out. Even before Chelsea's explosive statement was released in the hours after the game, club officials were being asked by journalists about a row involving the referee and the whisper of a racial element was in the air.

As the events of an extraordinary week have unfolded, the question of what Chelsea and Gourlay should have done keeps being posed. Increasingly, it seems obvious to me that, however painful the fallout, he and the club had no choice but to follow procedure and make the complaint about Clattenburg.

Arsène Wenger said on Thursday that Chelsea would have been better served trying "to sort it out in the room", that he was a "deep supporter of doing that [solving disputes] internally". Wenger made a joke about the process only serving to make lawyers richer and preached "tolerance, fairness and explanation internally".

Sir Alex Ferguson said on Friday that he simply did not believe Clattenburg would have made a racist remark, so one can only suppose that had it been a black United player who had made the complaint, his manager would also have dismissed it. In 2008, United stood by the testimony of Mike Phelan and goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis, who alleged that a Chelsea groundsman racially abused Patrice Evra. The claim was dismissed by an independent commission.

Have I missed a reversal in the nation's mood? This time last week we were fearful that English football was teetering on the brink of a racial divide. The Professional Footballers' Association was hastily drawing up a plan to assuage the concerns of black players. There was a fear that our game had a genuine problem. Now there is outrage at a black man making an allegation of racism.

Place yourself in Chelsea's position. John Terry, their captain, has recently been found guilty of an FA race charge in arguably the highest-profile football disciplinary case of modern times. Ashley Cole and club secretary David Barnard have been heavily criticised for their conduct in the commission report. The club have spent the last few weeks reaffirming their commitment to anti-racism. Then a black player of theirs alleges racism.

And people are suggesting they should choose to ignore it?

Had they tried to deal with it "internally" (Wenger's advice) or just dismissed it (Ferguson's advice) it is inconceivable that, knowing what we do about the speed with which the news got out last Sunday, the nature of Mikel's complaint would have remained private. And when it did, along with Chelsea's refusal to act on the word of a black player, the whole episode would have looked like a monumental cover-up.

Had that taken place, there would have been calls for resignations at the top of the club's hierarchy, and rightly so.

Did Chelsea act too quickly in making two separate complaints against Clattenburg to the match delegate Nick Cusack, one of which, relating to Juan Mata, has already been withdrawn? Possibly they would have been better served being less specific. However, the regulations are quite clear on this point.

The FA rule book, page 123, Rule 14 states: "A participant shall immediately report to the association any incident, facts or matter which may constitute misconduct."

It has also been suggested that Chelsea's actions were somehow revenge for Terry's racism charge. Surely the dumbest argument yet. Given the events of the last 12 months, this is a club that wanted as little as possible to do with a race controversy. There are those at Chelsea who think Terry got exactly what was coming to him. Revenge on his behalf is the last thing on their mind.

Speaking to those who know Clattenburg, the response I have got to the question of whether he was the sort of man to make racial remarks has been along the lines of "never in a million years". If Ramires is the key witness then you have to wonder how certain he is of what was said. There are plenty of reasons to doubt Chelsea.

Which is exactly why there is a disciplinary process in place to deal with these issues. Should the FA press charges, the commission will, as in past cases, attempt painstakingly to recreate the events of 28 October and make a judgement on that basis.

When it comes to the events of that Sunday it is not up to what I think, or you think, or Ferguson thinks, or Wenger thinks. It comes down to a forensic examination of the evidence. If a few lawyers get even richer off the back of it, then we will just have to accept that unfortunate consequence.

Whatever your position on the Suarez-Evra affair, or the Terry-Ferdinand saga, both were subject to scrupulous legal process. Neither report was perfect. What is? Some people have, in both cases, disagreed with the findings. Some, including Kenny Dalglish, have argued that the civil burden of proof in commission hearings is too low. But at the end of both episodes all parties signed up to the findings and we moved on.

That is what will happen in the Clattenburg affair. Ferguson said that even if the referee is acquitted – or no charges are brought – he will be tainted for ever. I disagree strongly. And Ferguson placing that seed in the mind of the public will certainly not help matters.

Should he be proved innocent that is exactly what Clattenburg will be: innocent of racism. There will always be the occasional thicko who bears a grudge but the vast majority of football fans have a strong sense of fairness. He may even end up – shock, horror – quite popular.

It must be difficult and unpleasant for Clattenburg at present but, convinced of his innocence, he should trust in the process. Mikel's allegation was far too serious and complex to be hushed up – both morally or practically. As for Chelsea, they could doubtless do without all this, especially the consequences of the case being found against their player. The alternative, however, was unthinkable.

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