“Super Sunday”, then, didn’t quite end up as “Super” as those who trailed it might have liked. Since the start of the season, a sense of disillusionment has been growing amongst many supporters, and it seems unlikely that those who have been coming around to this point of view will have had their feelings assuaged very much by the events of yesterday afternoon. Headline stacked upon headline. In the first match of the day, Luis Suarez was denied an injury time for Liverpool in their derby match against Everton by a linesmans flag, a decision received with with incandescent fury on the red half of Merseyside and, if social media provides anything like a gauge on public opinion, barely-stifled sniggers elsewhere.
Then came the match between Chelsea and Manchester United. Even before the allegations made this evening by Chelsea against referee Mark Clattenburg, this had been a match in which he, rather than any of the players, had become the centre of attention thanks to his sending off of Branislav Ivanovic – not particularly controversial in itself – and Fernando Torres – an altogether more questionable decision which should probably should have ended in the other person involved, Jonny Evans, receiving a card of some description rather than Torres being dismissed – before Manchester Uniteds winning goal, scored by Javier Hernandez, was allowed in spite of the Manchester United having strayed into an offside position prior to scrambling the ball over the goal-line from close range.
All of this, however, may all fall into relative inconsequence should the allegations made by Chelsea against Clattenburg come to anything. The club issued a statement this evening which has taken todays events in a new, darker direction. The statement which came from the club this evening was terse but, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little short on the specific details:
We have a lodged a complaint to the Premier League match delegate with regards to inappropriate language used by the referee and directed at two of our players in two separate incidents during todays match. The match delegate will pass the complaint to the Football Association. We will make no further comment at this time.
It is understood that Chelseas complaint relates to comments alleged against Clattenburg towards two players. One of those players has been reported as being Mikel John Obi, and it has been stated that language of a racist nature. We, along with more or less everybody else in the world, do not know what is alleged to have been said or what the truth of such claims, and it would be improper to comment on that aspect of this situation until the truth has been established. We can, however, note with dismay the extent to which it is unlikely that there can be no happy outcome to the allegations made this evening, no matter what the truth of this story turns out to be.
On the one hand, if it is established that a Premier League referee has used racist language towards a player, there can obviously be no justification for such behaviour. In the event of such an outcome, there would of course be little alternative but to drum Clattenburg out of the game for good, but we would also be right to ask serious questions of the Premier League, the Football Association and the League Managers Association as well. Whilst it would be somewhat disproportionate to hold them directly responsible for this potential scenario, they do hold responsibility for the behaviour of an individual in their pay in exactly the same way as clubs should be held to account for their players when they behave in the same way.
The alternative to this scenario would be just as troubling. If Chelsea Football Club was found to have made a false allegation of racist language against a match official, the fall-out could be extremely serious for the club. Many allegations of bias are made against match officials on a seemingly daily basis by supporters, but for a club as an institution to make such a serious allegation so publicly is without precedent in English football – in recent years, at least – and, in the event of such an allegation being found to be false, it seems likely that the authorities would come down on it like a ton of bricks, and that’s before we even move onto the moral aspect of a new low being reached in the gamesmanship of the Premier League.
At this early stage, the only advice that seems to be prudent to offer at present would be to err on the side of caution. At this precise moment in time, very few people know the truth of what either was or wasn’t said at Stamford Bridge this afternoon (even though one journalist has already tweeted with confidence that he knows what was said), and for outsiders – whether supporters, the media or whoever – to seek to claim that they have some sort of inside track on this story would be fallacious. It is down to the Football Association and the Premier League to investigate the claims that have been made and act accordingly. Many people, of course, will already have decided who they believe. It’s probably an exercise in futility to suggest it, but a little restraint on the part of everybody as this story starts to seep into the public consciousness might the most prudent outlook for those of us on the outside looking in to take, for the time being at least.
It seems unlikely, given the amount of distrust and disillusionment that there is surrounding football in this country at the moment, that this story will end with both sides of it agreeing that an honest misunderstanding has taken place, so perhaps what is at stake at this stage is the integrity of a referee and, in a broader sense, perhaps the integrity of refereeing in England set against the integrity of a Premier League football club. In other words, the reflex reaction to such a dismal story is to form the viewpoint that the chances of there being anything like a “happy” ending to this story are very slim indeed. And that in itself can only mean further bad news and another winter of discontent for English football.
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