The Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck was left in no doubt as to the feelings of the Premier League's sixteen select group referees over the Mark Clattenburg affair in a meeting with them on Monday that prompted a statement of “regret” from the club.
The country's top referees were critical of Chelsea's handling of the allegations of racism against Clattenburg and met prior to the conference with Buck at St George's Park to formulate the specific nature of their grievances.
The meeting was considered so sensitive that Buck was accompanied by the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. Buck explained Chelsea's position and why the club had made the decisions they had, while Clattenburg and his fellow referees spelled out in clear terms exactly what effect the case had on Clattenburg personally.
As a result, for the first time, Chelsea publicly acknowledged, in a joint statement with the Premier League and Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL), the referees' body, that they could have handled the case better.
The club stopped short of a full apology for their conduct over the episode, with the Football Association having ruled that they had a right to pursue the complaint.
Chelsea said "it [sic] regrets not having given more consideration before issuing a statement" on the evening of 28 October when made the allegations following the game against Manchester United earlier that day. The club also said it "regrets the subsequent impact the intense media scrutiny had on Mark Clattenburg and his family."
In addition, Chelsea said they "would welcome" Clattenburg back to Stamford Bridge in the future, intended as a clear indication, insisted upon by the referee, that they do not believe he was guilty of a racist remark. The Football Association's governance department ruled that in spite of the allegation from Ramires that the referee abused John Obi Mikel, there was not sufficient ground for a charge.
Clattenburg decided against pursuing compensation because he, and the PGMOL general manager Mike Riley, felt that a payment from a club – in whatever circumstances – would affect the perception of impartiality of a referee.
For their part, the select group of referees said they "appreciated" the chance to speak to Buck. They said: "His willingness to engage and answer all the questions put to him was welcomed." They also accepted that the club had received a "good faith claim from one of their employees" and as a result "the club had an obligation under FA rules to report the allegation."
There were fears among the referees that if some acknowledgement was not made by the club that the process had been mishandled they could all potentially be in the same situation that Clattenburg found himself in. The referee himself has not yet said that he wants to return to Stamford Bridge to officiate and given PGMOL's tactical assignment of referees it may yet be some time before he does.
Yesterday, PGMOL said they "would have no issue in appointing him to a Chelsea FC match going forward." The statement added: "It was a thoroughly professional meeting. All parties now believe it is time to draw a line under this incident, learn from it and move on for the good of all Premier League clubs, players and match officials."