Allegations that Mikel John Obi and Juan Mata were addressed with 'inappropriate language' will not go away easily – for the accusers or the accused
The closest there has been, when it comes to finding a precedent for the Mark Clattenburg case, came back in March when one of the Premier League's assistant referees, Scott Ledger, was investigated for making allegedly homophobic remarks. But then you look more closely into that inquiry and quickly establish that it was a world away from a top-of-the-table encounter between Chelsea and Manchester United and the kind of exposure that propelled the accusations against Clattenburg on to the news pages of the New York Post at a time when a hurricane has been blowing through the old city.
Ledger was reported because of some remarks he purportedly made while watching a five-a-side competition for 15- and 16-year-olds from South Yorkshire's referees' associations. In the end, the Football Association decided there was no charge to answer. The case was quickly forgotten and Ledger's career has hardly suffered. Look out for him running the line when Manchester United host Arsenal on Saturday.
Clattenburg, in stark contrast, has been told he is not needed this weekend. Associates talked about the 37-year-old being under near-intolerable pressure, with news crews camped outside his house and the homes of relatives. His doorbell was pressed at 7am on Monday morning and at various intervals throughout the day until 11pm. Referees are accustomed to unwanted visitors at their front doors — "the best hate-mail is always hand-delivered," Graham Poll recounts, "because it tells you they know where you live" — but it is fair to say Clattenburg, with a 16-month-old baby to look after, is already suffering the consequences of what happened at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Whether it is his own doing will be a lot easier to deduce once the FA's disciplinary investigators have collated all the evidence and decided whether it should issue a disciplinary charge or the opposite and send it the same way as Chelsea's complaints about Poll in 2006.
The chapter in Poll's autobiography detailing that case is called "Chelsea on the attack" and relates how Ashley Cole publicly accused him of remarking that the club "needed to be taught a lesson" after he had sent off John Terry and disallowed a Didier Drogba goal in a game against Tottenham Hotspur. Terry then alleged Poll had changed his story about the sending off because "that's probably the best option for him as it covers every angle". The FA investigated the claims, decided they were false and charged Terry instead. He was fined £10,000 after admitting improper conduct, with the FA concluding it was "disappointed no public apology had been forthcoming".
So there is previous when it comes to Chelsea concocting allegations about what a referee has purportedly said to their players after a bad result.
Not, of course, that it means that has to be the same this time. It is still too early to know what precisely Clattenburg said to Mikel John Obi and Juan Mata and until more becomes clear, the only thing we can be certain about is there will be grave repercussions for whoever is in the wrong.
Certainly, from a Chelsea perspective, this is one case they cannot afford to misjudge bearing in mind everything that has subsequently happened between Terry and the FA and the fact that when Manchester United return to Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday the former England captain is still suspended because of what he said to Anton Ferdinand a year ago.
For Clattenburg it is simple: his entire reputation is at stake and, with it, his career. For Chelsea there would be other ramifications. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Terry case, the club must be acutely aware about what accompanies allegations of this seriousness. If nothing else, that tells you how convinced they were on Sunday that it had to be raised.
It is a divisive, complex matter and what it does not need is knee-jerk judgment from people professing to know more than they do. Which is why Neil Warnock's comments were so bone-headed. "I have to say I am disgusted with what's gone on," the Leeds United manager said. "I'm on Mark Clattenburg's side. They are trying to kill him and I don't agree with that at all."
It's a nonsense. Warnock could criticise his own club, perhaps, for wrongly accusing another referee, Danny McDermid, of using foul language to their then manager, Dennis Wise, in 2007 (a charge the FA threw out) but if Chelsea have authentic reasons to believe one of their players was called a "monkey" and another a "Spanish twat", they are duty-bound to report it.
More questions should be asked, surely, if they decide not to pursue the matter. That, however, is not completely out of the question, believe it or not, and it is slightly disconcerting to hear from within Stamford Bridge that the club have not yet fully decided whether to proceed. Having come so far, they surely have to. And if not? The FA then has to launch a separate investigation into why.
The FA's disciplinary commission criticised Chelsea because of the "evolving" nature of Cole's submissions for Terry's hearing, heavily implicating the club secretary, David Barnard, because of "materially defective" evidence. The accused are now the accusers and, much like Clattenburg, cannot afford to get this one wrong.