Mark Clattenburg received growing support yesterday from fellow referees and even some leading managers despite the launch of a police investigation into the allegation that he directed "inappropriate" language of a racial nature at John Obi Mikel.
The police inquiry will run alongside the investigation that was instigated on Monday by the Football Association, with the game's governing body determined that its probe should continue and be completed as quickly as possible.
There is a strong feeling that the FA must not be delayed by the police action, as was the case when allegations of racial abuse were made against Chelsea captain John Terry and the entire FA process took almost a year to conclude. The FA says it was asked on that occasion to suspend its investigation but, to date, it has received no similar request from the police over Clattenburg.
Chelsea have not yet formally complained to the police and are continuing with their own internal investigation before taking the next step. That investigation is expected to be completed today and was being aided by external legal counsel.
The club, whose secretary David Barnard was criticised by an FA commission following the Terry case, want a level of independence to their own investigation into what happened during Sunday's fractious 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. They are well aware of the severity of the accusations and, according to several sources, the decision to complain on Sunday night to Nick Cusack, the Premier League's match delegate, was not taken lightly. It has been alleged that Clattenburg referred to Mikel as a monkey and it also claimed that inappropriate language was used towards Juan Mata.
According to sources, as many as "three or four" players are prepared to support Chelsea's complaint, although it was suggested yesterday that Mata had not personally heard the comment to him. "Neither Juan nor Fernando [Torres] told me they heard it because from, what I have understood, they didn't hear anything," Oriol Romeu was quoted as telling Cope, a Spanish radio station. "It was someone else who heard it, but not directly at them. I only know Chelsea made a complaint and I think there could really be a problem if what Chelsea players say happened really happened. If there was really a racist comment or something said against a Spanish player this will be serious."
The police decided to launch their investigation following a complaint from the Society of Black Lawyers and after contacting Chelsea. In their statement yesterday, however, they made a point of saying that they had received no direct complaint from either Chelsea or the FA.
"We continue to work in partnership with Chelsea FC and the Football Association in order to consider any allegation that is made in relation to the reported events," said a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police.
Clattenburg continues to enjoy the "full support" of referees' union Prospect while his employees, the Professional Game Match Officials Board, still intends to consider him for matches while the FA and police investigations are ongoing. PGMO has decided that Clattenburg should be stood down from matches this weekend due to the spotlight that would inevitably surround him but, as things stand, he will be in contention to return to refereeing next week.
Clattenburg's refereeing colleagues are also supporting him, including, it is understood, the officials who worked with him on Sunday and whose evidence will be so important in establishing exactly what was said. The referee, his two assistants and the fourth officials all wear microphones and can be heard by one another during a match.
According to one official, Clattenburg "said nothing" and intends to "fight this all the way". There is also a feeling among referees that Chelsea should be held accountable if the allegations against Clattenburg are not proven.
Clattenburg also received supportive comments from several high-profile managers yesterday. "I have always found Mark Clattenburg to be an excellent referee," said Harry Redknapp, the former Tottenham and West Ham manager. "The whole thing looks beyond belief. I can't understand that anything we are reading about could possibly have happened. I don't think he is that stupid to have said something that would put him in that kind of trouble. I find it all a bit unreal but only time will tell."
Neil Warnock, who was the QPR manager during the game against Chelsea when Terry was alleged to have abused Anton Ferdinand, said: "I have got to say I am disgusted with what's gone on. I'm on Mark
Clattenburg's side. We ask referees to man-manage and that's what he does. I'm sure he might have said a few things but are you telling me if Chelsea had won that game that there would have been one iota of a complaint?
"I think he has made a mistake [for sending off Fernando Torres] but they are trying to kill him and I don't agree with that at all. Let's wait and see when it all comes out. Hopefully, everything has been caught. I hope if it is proved wrong, that the players, whatever they alleged Mark to have said, get done as well."
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor also welcomed the FA's desire to deal quickly with the case. "Involving police or waiting causes a massive festering of the issue," he said. "Football has got to be confident enough to deal with it. We need to grasp the nettle and show we are more than capable of dealing with it."