Clattenburg not for Chelsea until end of season. If at all
And so one of the most sordid episodes in the illustrious history of the Premier League is over. Chelsea have belatedly expressed “regret” over their handling of the Mark Clattenburg affair, in which they mistakenly accused the referee of racially abusing John Obi Mikel, their midfield player, and we can all move on.
Or can we?
Enquiries by the Met Police and the FA exonerated Clattenburg. Not guilty. Chelsea, without actually offering an apology, have admitted a degree of culpability. Clattenburg, perhaps grudgingly, is again cleared. And the much-respected official will take charge of Southampton against Norwich City at St Mary’s Stadium tonight. From his peers, an overwhelming green light.
Yet, for Clattenburg, the stigma will remain. Certainly, for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign. I spoke with a senior refereeing official over the weekend and he revealed that it is unlikely that Mark will officiate another Chelsea match until the tail-end of this campaign. If at all.
It just can’t happen, can it? Give him a Chelsea game too soon, in which he awards a contentious penalty against the West London giants, and he will be roundly accused of exercising payback. And who could blame him, after he and his family have been dragged through hell and back over the past four weeks?
Even giving him a Chelsea fixture towards the conclusion of the Premier League programme is fraught with danger, despite the apparently friendly accord between the referees’ hierarchy, the Chelsea top brass and the Premier League at St George’s Park on Monday. Should Chelsea be in position for honours, where will Clattenburg stand if he penalises them in another controversial situation? The Twitter trolls, not to mention Rafa Benitez and his players, will be frothing with conspiracy theories.
This, of course, from a club who stoically stood by John Terry – and retained him as their captain – after he was found proven by the FA to have racially insulted Anton Ferdinand, the QPR defender. “You couldn’t make it up” does not get close to what the saner sections of the football world really feel about this.
The start of 2013-14 would appear to be the best starting point for Clattenburg. And yet still the stigma will stick when, at last, he takes charge of the men in blue. What chance has he got? Premier League managers have long memories regarding perceived referees’ decisions against them; just ask Sir Alex Ferguson.
Which is why I can’t stomach their pseudo-sympathetic reaction to Clattenburg’s plight over the past month. Many fine comments in support, total condemnation of Chelsea’s actions, and then back to slagging off the refs once the weekend’s matches come around. I’m sorry, the hypocrisy is sickening.
Of the part the Press have played in this sorry chapter, I don’t think there is much to reprehend it for. Chelsea put it out there, disgracefully hastily, and the Fourth Estate had no option but to react and report. What was there to dissect, to pillory and to attack was obvious. And was done. Almost all of the media were distinctly anti-Chelsea.
OK, the newshounds, as usual, were let loose and camped outside Clattenburg’s home in Durham. A horrendous and inexcusable consequence of sporting infamy and of those, from any walk of life, suddenly in the spotlight. That is par for the course. Nothing to do, of course, with the sports scribes; just a sad byproduct of day-to-day existence and the process.
There were a few dissenters, a few apologists. Pat Nevin was chief among them, the former Blues winger and now broadcaster reveling in his opposite views. That he has a regular column on the Chelsea FC website – and that he backed Terry in the Ferdinand case – might suggest a somewhat blinkered view. Why should he bite the hand that feeds him?
But, to be fair, his latest column is articulate, coherent and well-argued. As you would expect from the thinking man’s former footballer – despite the possibility that his musings could have been heavily censored by the Cobham “Thought Police” and, forgive me, that his justification of Chelsea v Clattenburg is utter tripe.
In my book, there is no justification for almost ending a man’s career on the flimsiest of evidence, especially when the heat of battle has not yet cooled. In the current climate, the race card is the most dangerous – and yet, to some, the most convenient – to flourish. Even a mega-stakes poker player, with his stack almost gone, would not dare play it.
Yes, we move on. But my refereeing “source” is still appalled by what has happened to one of his esteemed colleagues and is adamant that Clattenburg, though probably re-energised by his reappearance at St Mary’s this evening and deservedly so, will never attain the same level of respect again.
For that to happen to an innocent, an effective victim of knee-jerk lynching by an all-powerful rival, is unforgiveable.