Bruce Buck explains why club accused referee of racial abuse, says reaction to it has been ‘very unfair’ and insists they’re not hypocrites despite supporting skipper

Evening Standard

Bruce Buck normally has a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach when Chelsea lose. “I feel horrible and I can’t sleep that night but I didn’t feel that way at all on Sunday,” says the club’s chairman referring to the home defeat by Manchester United two weeks ago.

In the decade since helping Roman Abramovich buy Chelsea, Buck has rarely spoken publicly, let alone about his turmoil over losing. But now, as we meet in a private club in the West End, he is willing to talk for the first time about, arguably, the most explosive event in this colourful club’s history.

Many in the game may feel Chelsea have crossed a line by accusing referee Mark Clattenburg of calling John Obi Mikel a monkey. For Buck, there is genuine bafflement that the accuser is in the dock.

“The reaction has been very unfair,” he says. “We weren’t interested in any confrontation with the referee or anybody else, had no thoughts of revenge on the referee. He made two obvious mistakes [sending Fernando Torres off and allowing Javier Hernandez’s offside winner] which changed the tide.

“I felt we had the moral high ground, so I didn’t really feel that bad about the defeat or have that feeling in my stomach. I thought we’d be treated very kindly in the newspapers next day.”

Nor was the decision arrived at lightly. “It was made after a great deal of anguish and after talking long and hard that evening about what should we do.”

But, says the American-trained lawyer, the club had no choice once the two players, Mikel and ¬Ramires, insisted that Clattenburg used the term monkey.

“We were guided by obligations that are imposed by the Football Association and also as an employer. FA rule E14 basically says a participant shall immediately report to the association any incident or matter which may be considered to be a misconduct.

“Misconduct is a defined term under the FA regulations and includes such racial behaviour. We also had to ¬consider the Equality Act 2010, which imposes an obligation on an employer to take certain actions if an employee is subject to discrimination by third parties.

“Suppose we had tried to sweep this under the rug and said to the various players, ‘Look, it’s not a big deal and the press are going to be all over us, maybe you want to reconsider.” If that had leaked out, we would’ve really been crucified.”

For Buck, this would have been a cover up, all the more difficult given that Chelsea are proud that both their assistant manager, Eddie Newton, and technical director, Michael Emenalo, are black.

The decision to press ahead was taken jointly by Buck and Ron Gourlay, Chelsea’s chief executive. After receiving a call in the directors’ dining room soon after the game, Buck went to the dressing room at around 6.15pm.

He says: “I spoke to the players involved, either because they were allegedly the recipient of that abuse or had heard it, three separate times. I asked them if they could be mistaken. I asked them, if they might have heard Mikel instead of monkey. I thought I had covered that base.”

The base he is talking about is the fact that, with English not the first language of these players, they might have misheard Clattenburg. But, not only did Buck speak in English to the players, he was further assured by the backroom staff the players spoke good English.

Indeed, Ramires was interviewed by FA officials eight days ago in English and there was no language problem. The former Benfica midfielder is a key Chelsea witness, having insisted that, as a black Brazilian, he was often called monkey in Portugal.

Clattenburg has not spoken ¬publicly about the controversy but it is known he denies Chelsea’s allegation. It has been suggested the referee might have used the word “monkey” but as a colloquialism, saying to Mikel: “I don’t give a monkey’s.”

Buck prefers not comment. The American is not familiar with the phrase. When I repeat it, he asks: “Is that a good British phrase of some sort?”

Buck is more forthcoming as he describes how, an hour and a half after the match, he, Gourlay and David ¬Barnard, the club secretary, met the Premier League match delegate to complain about Clattenburg’s language. Chelsea also alleged Juan Mata had been insulted, although when the club made their formal complaint to the FA the following Wednesday, they dropped that particular claim. However, Buck insists this does not weaken the Mikel case.

“When we did our very forthright investigations, having called in external lawyers who took witness statements, there was clear evidence on one and not enough evidence on the other. We told the FA that.”

And Buck will not accept Chelsea’s management lost control. “I don’t feel that way at all. The players were unhappy but they weren’t crying, they weren’t screaming.

“Don’t forget this is after Mikel had tried to go to the referees’ dressing room after the match and had come back, Roberto di Matteo and Eddie Newton having stopped him. Looking into the players’ eyes, I could see they were unhappy but no player or staff demanded that we file a complaint. They gave us their statements. The decision was made by us, the Chelsea management.”

This assertion contradicts a common perception that Chelsea’s senior ¬players have so much power they can even force the club to change managers. This was widely believed when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked last spring, nine months into a three-year contract.

“No,” says Buck. “It didn’t take the players to tell us we were not going in the right direction. I knew that, Mr Abramovich knew that. When Andre left, we were in a very difficult situation about to be bounced out of the Champions League, doing very poorly in the Premier League.

“The proof is in the pudding: Andre was terminated and we wound up winning two trophies. I want to hear you congratulate Mr Abramovich and Chelsea for making that change.”

For Buck, Chelsea’s present problem is due to the fact the media have conflated the Mikel case with the John Terry affair, the defender having retained the captaincy despite being given a four-game ban by the FA for racially abusing Anton ¬Ferdinand.

“The press seem to juxtapose ‘our support’ of John Terry and what’s going on here and looking at us as being a bit hypocritical. We have to divorce the John Terry situation from this. From our perspective, the latest situation was pretty straightforward. We have an obligation to report what may be misconduct. We did that, in good faith and not maliciously.”

But Buck goes on: “I can’t argue with the fact that, over the last 10 years, there have been a lot of public incidents in which Terry and Chelsea were involved. But I don’t accept that we have something in our hearts that says we’re going to chase the referees. It’s just not like that at all, honest. Chelsea are not run by John Terry. I don’t know how I can prove it to you but it’s not true. My club are run by Roman Abramovich.”

The 66-year-old admits the club made a mistake in the way they phrased their initial press comment on the Sunday night. “We felt we had to issue a statement because Sky was calling up Steve Atkins [Chelsea’s head of communications] saying, ‘We hear there was a racial incident.’ There were others who called Steve. The press room is next to the ref’s office and they heard something. If we were doing it again, we would probably have worded our Sunday statement differently and not gone into the details. But hindsight is wonderful.”

Buck is well aware the club will face criticism if the allegations are not proven. “But we had to do what we thought was right and you take the consequences,” he says.

And Buck has no fear this would mean heads would roll, let alone that he might have to consider his position.

“Sure, we’ve made mistakes, we’re probably the football club that’s most in the public eye anywhere in the world and that’s got to do with Mr Abramovich, that’s got to do with London, that’s got to do with Chelsea’s history.

“We just have to accept that. But I’m frustrated we don’t get proper credit for some of the good things we do. But good stories are not really what sports reporters are interested in.”

Buck knows that, when Ken Bates sold the club to Abramovich, it underwent a significant change, not least moving from an owner with a megaphone to one who is like a Trappist monk. However, he feels the Russian’s silence should not be misinterpreted.

“It’s not true that Mr Abramovich does not care what people think about Chelsea. Rightly or wrongly, Mr Abramovich changed English football forever. I feel very strongly that he hasn’t had enough credit for what he’s done. Chelsea’s heart is definitely not black.”

So, what can Chelsea do to repair their image? While Buck will not agree that the image has been affected, he admits that the present situation “has made some dents in our armour”. He says: “A lower volume generally from the club, from our players, from our managers and from our directors might have been helpful.”

As for the future: “We have to continue to try to be a good citizen and to do things for our community, country and players and play good football.”



We have a duty of care to John Terry in loco parentis. Not that, if he did something wrong, we weren’t going to say he didn’t do anything wrong. But we have to support him as a person. That’s different from saying that, no matter what Terry does, we approve. There are things players would do that we don’t approve of but that doesn’t mean we don’t provide them with care during their problem period. The situation is a very good deterrent for others to say to themselves, maybe, I shouldn’t behave in this fashion. Look at what he’s gone through over the last year. A week behind the glass wall in a court, the abuse he takes from fans. The enormous toll this placed on his family. The enormous legal costs, the cost in terms of Chelsea discipline, in terms of FA discipline, it’s an extraordinary cost. If you look at punishment and deterrent, I think it’s pretty much been accomplished here.


I’ve been dealing with him and his colleagues since about 1995 when he was a substantial owner of Sibneft.

Mr Abramovich is a private person but he’s very much a Chelsea fan and that part of his persona has definitely come through. The fans definitely know he’s a fan and that’s important. He wants to let the players do the talking on the pitch. He’s not interested in being a public personality or invited to A-list functions. He’s just a man of some wealth who loves football and loves Chelsea Football Club.

He does speak English pretty well. All his children go to English schools and his current partner grew up in Los Angeles. There’s English all round him 24/7. It is not true that, when he went into the Chelsea dressing room after we won the Champions League, he had an interpreter with him.


Mr Abramovich has spent millions on charity things. We have a Chelsea Foundation. We have a Past Players’ Trust. All set up under Mr Abramovich. Last year we had 31 different programmes. We’ve got two senior executives, one of whom spends about half her time on corporate and social responsibility projects. In this country, it includes education, meals for the aged, football activities to keep kids off the street. And we have the Right to Play and Blue Pitches programmes in 15 countries. We have the slogan: here to play, here to stay. Chelsea are the only club ever to contribute financially to Vision Asia, Vision China and Vision India, individual market related projects where they would build pitches, working with governments or with football organisations. In round terms, we contribute three to four per cent of our gross income of £255million.


We’re looking for a site close to Stamford Bridge and there are maybe three or four of those maximum. We could put a fantastic stadium at Battersea making use of the power station, which could be one of the most iconic stadiums in the world. We could put in an excellent stadium at Earls Court. But we don’t have those sites. Expanding Stamford Bridge would be very expensive, wouldn’t be very nice to look at and is not likely to be financially viable. We’ve thought about sharing with Queens Park Rangers or Fulham but we’re not considering it because we know how unhappy our fans would be. Most fans — 99 per cent — accept we might have to leave but they don’t want to move to Wormwood Scrubs or to Croydon. If we proposed something specific that made sense, the Chelsea Pitch Owners would support us. Battersea or Earls Court is likely to satisfy most fans.


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