Cover-up fear plus employee law were behind the decision to proceed with complaint against referee Mark Clattenburg

The Independent

Chelsea are well aware that should the FA and police investigations show that Mark Clattenburg did not racially abuse John Obi Mikel in last Sunday’s match against Manchester United, the club would face an enormous backlash. Referees are already threatening to boycott the club as a result of the allegation.

However, the club felt that they had to make the complaint because otherwise they would have faced the even more explosive charge of trying to cover up alleged racial abuse. More so as Mikel, who was allegedly called a monkey, and Ramires, who also claims to have heard it, felt very strongly on this issue.

Talking to a highly placed source within the club it is now possible to reveal what led Chelsea to take the unprecedented step of accusing a referee of behaving in a racist manner. At the conclusion of Sunday’s match the Chelsea hierarchy, despite the defeat, felt the club had secured the moral high ground.

In their view Clattenburg had made two major errors in sending off Fernando Torres and then allowing Javier Hernandez’s offside winner to decide the outcome. There were some post-match suggestions that the club had engineered these complaints against Clattenburg in retaliation but, in fact, Chelsea were not looking for any such confrontation.

However, this changed when it emerged that several players were furious about what they deemed to be insulting language used by Clattenburg, not only towards Mikel but also towards Juan Mata, who allegedly was labelled a “Spanish twat”.

Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman and a lawyer, who was in the directors’ dining room, was told about the incidents. He came to the dressing room to talk to the players. It was clear Mikel and Ramires, both of whom claimed they heard Clattenburg call Mikel a monkey, were very upset. Mikel had tried to go into Clattenburg’s room after the match to discuss the issue but failed.

As allowed under the rules, half an hour after the match the Chelsea manager, Roberto Di Matteo, did go and see Clattenburg but did not raise these issues. The discussion centred around why Clattenburg had made a potential game-changing decision to send off Torres and, particularly, how sure he was that the striker had dived and therefore deserved a second yellow. Television replays have since shown that Torres was fouled.

Chelsea were only able to talk to the Premier League match delegate about the Mikel and Mata incidents an hour and a half after the match. The delegate explained that the appropriate procedure was for him to inform his superior, who would then inform the FA.

By then Chelsea had carefully weighed up their options. As they saw it, they had a duty of care to their players. They also had to take into consideration FA rule E 14, which basically says a participant, meaning club, shall immediately report to the association any incident or matter which may be considered to be misconduct. Misconduct is a defined term under the FA regulations and includes such alleged racial behaviour.

Chelsea also had to consider the Equality Act 2010, which imposes an obligation on an employer to act if an employee believes he or she has been subjected to discrimination by third parties, such as a customer. In this case Clattenburg would be judged to be a third party.

The club also weighed up possible press and public reactions should it emerge that two black players had lodged accusations of being racially abused but Chelsea had done nothing about it. The club’s fear, having gone through the John Terry affair, was that they would then be accused of a cover-up of alleged racial abuse of their own players.

It was this that led to Sunday’s statement about the two incidents alleged by Mikel and Mata.

There has been much criticism of how Chelsea worded their statement but, according to the source, the club felt they had to say something. Several reporters had got wind of an incident involving Mikel and the Chelsea press office were getting calls. In retrospect, the club accept that the statement could have been worded more guardedly and referred in more general terms to possible incidents, but here again Chelsea were wary of being accused of a cover-up.

Things moved up a gear when, following the match delegate’s report, the FA asked Chelsea whether they were going to make a formal complaint. External lawyers were called in, witness statements taken from players and it was decided there was not enough evidence to proceed with the allegation regarding Mata. The player himself had not heard it; a team-mate claimed he had. But Mikel was adamant that he had been called a monkey and Ramires was doubly certain. Ramires is believed to have made the point that as a black Brazilian playing in Portugal he was often called monkey and would recognise the word in any language. I understand he was not prepared to back down on this. Chelsea decided the Mikel allegation had to be proceeded with.

Chelsea reject accusations that they were driven by player power. Rather, they argue that they were motivated by a desire to be good employers. Chelsea also remain sceptical of the public interventions by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, both of whom criticised them last week.

Unlike the John Terry case, where there was video evidence of what was said, this case will probably hinge on whose word is believed. Clattenburg is believed to be backed by his officials, all of whom are miked up. But even here there may be room for doubt, as some referees have put their hand over their mike when talking to players to avoid words being overheard or lip-read on camera. Chelsea may use this as part of their case when the FA hearing is held.

It is understood that in any investigation Clattenburg will deny the accusations made against him.


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