United claim Evra was called 'immigrant' in Chelsea scuffle
Manchester United's statements to the Football Association on the Stamford Bridge fracas between their players and members of Chelsea's ground staff will detail allegations that Patrice Evra was racially abused.
It is understood that the United players warming down with Evra heard the words "you're just a fucking immigrant" said to the French left-back. Chelsea's position is that the ground staff were misheard and the actual words used were "you're just a fucking idiot".
United will not begin interviewing the players involved until tomorrow, once tonight's Champions League semi-final second leg with Barcelona is out of the way. The difference of opinion between the two clubs explains the failure of the respective chief executives, United's David Gill and Chelsea's Peter Kenyon, to agree a joint statement on Sunday.
United's players insisted from the start that a racist comment was the cause of the fracas. Sources close to Evra asserted this early on Sunday and that position was supported by the striker Carlos Tevez, who said he had "never seen anything like this in my two years in England".
But after a telephone conversation between Kenyon, who is currently in India, and Gill, United distanced themselves from the players' allegations. Kenyon is believed to have called Gill the moment he learned that United were claiming racist taunts had been the reason for the scuffle. Fuller inquiries with Evra and his team-mates have now hardened United's position – though Kenyon, a former United chief executive, and Chelsea, refute that.
As the FA sought all available footage on the incident from Chelsea's CCTV cameras, Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday underlined his club's confidence in their position over the clash with Sam Bethell, a member of Chelsea's ground staff who is understood to have denied the allegation.
Of the club's initial report on the incident, Ferguson said: "We are filing a report which will be sent to the FA. We are very happy with that, we are delighted with that. We hope the FA investigates it."
Ferguson could not resist a quip about the scuffle, which occurred after ground staff asked seven United players – Evra, Tevez, Park Ji Sung, Gary Neville, John O'Shea, Gerard Pique and Paul Scholes – to move so they could cut the grass. "Are you not supposed to cut it [the grass] before the game?" Ferguson said. "There's a good question for you."
Both clubs have been asked to supply the FA with statements. United have already submitted an interim report. The fracas started when a senior member of stadium staff asked the United players to leave the goalmouth, which was being worked on by the ground staff , and run further out on the 18-yard line. Neville insisted on their right to warm down. One player reportedly said, "We'll run where we like."
The clubs disagree about who – Evra or Bethell – threw the first punch. Chelsea have yet to comment but Pique said: "Patrice wanted an explanation but these men were very aggressive. All we were doing was finishing our workout after the game."
On a day of negative headlines – Rio Ferdinand's kick at a wall hit a female steward instead, and United lost of course – Ferguson defended his squad. "I trust these players," he said. "Their attitude and character is absolutely fantastic. I have pride in them representing me and the club."