Spectre of racism continues to haunt Chelsea

Posted by Phil Lythell

ChelseaPA PhotosChelsea were in the spotlight once again this week

Just when you thought Chelsea Football Club and its supporters could focus on events on the pitch rather than those off it, two incidents come long in the space of a few days to ensure the murky spotlight of racism is trained once again on Stamford Bridge.

- Di Matteo dismisses Fergie remarks

It would be nice to go a day - let alone a week - without the words 'Chelsea' and 'racism' being mentioned in the same sentence after the year long flagellation received by the club from the media over the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand affair. Alas, that will not be happening in the foreseeable future following allegations against referee Mark Clattenberg in the aftermath of the fractious Premier League match against Manchester United and the actions of a moron purporting to be a Chelsea fan during the ensuing Capital One clash. Instead of talking about a challenging trip to Swansea, all the talk is being dominated by these unsavoury events.

The Clattenberg issue is an extremely strange one. The thought of a referee racially abusing one of the players he is supposed to be governing is virtually unthinkable and, if true, is surely unprecedented in modern Britain. The amount of abuse and opprobrium directed towards officials is so great and so regular that it would be an enormous surprise if he was proven to have snapped at that point especially given that the alleged target of his slur was John Obi Mikel, hardly the most difficult of characters.

On the other side, I severely doubt Chelsea would voluntarily place themselves under the microscope once again without being certain that there was a case to answer. The club's name has been dragged through the mud over the past 12 months and a false accusation will deepen the scars already tainting their public and corporate image. The fact that the allegation against Juan Mata was dropped due to lack of evidence on the advice of legal experts makes one think that they obviously believe there are sufficient grounds with which to pursue Mikel's grievances.

However, the grey area just keeps getting bigger. There is no recording of any exchange and Mikel himself did not hear the alleged abuse. The players reported to have been privy to Clattenberg's words are Ramires and David Luiz, neither of whom speak English as a first language and could easily have either misheard or misinterpreted the words. Unless Chelsea have unearthed some irrefutable evidence this could end up being another embarrassing episode for the club.

What certainly does not help is people entirely unconnected to the event speaking with authority on the subject. What good does it serve for Arsene Wenger to criticise Chelsea's complaint by claiming they have "little proof"? How on earth does he know? Leeds manager Neil Warnock has also nailed his colours to the anti-Chelsea mast without being in full receipt of the facts, not for the first time speaking out of an orifice other than his mouth. At least Sir Alex Ferguson was at Stamford Bridge at the time of the fracas but is it really wise for him to give his unequivocal backing to the referee when no details have been revealed?

Irrespective of the outcome of the case, shame has already been heaped on the club via the actions of one prize idiot seen performing a monkey impression towards United's Danny Welbeck. Football, and Chelsea in particular, have come a long way in the fight against racism since I started attending games in the early 1980s but clearly the message has not got through to all levels of society. And while it might be a cliche, it has to be asserted that this toe-rag is not representative of the vast majority of Chelsea supporters.

In the midst of all the acrimony of the John Terry case, the team itself was able to forget its troubles when it stepped onto the pitch. Roberto Di Matteo will be hoping for a similarly steadfast approach against Swansea on Saturday. He will also be praying that Sunday's headlines are all about a stylish Chelsea victory rather than anything more sinister.

Unfortunately, I suspect that whatever transpires at the Liberty Stadium most of the Chelsea-centric stories this weekend will revolve around the dreaded 'R' word.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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