Whilst still confident United had it in them to go and win the league, the 2-1 to defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was pretty devastating. To equalise in the second half, only to lose due to a soft penalty awarded a couple of minutes from time, left me upset, frustrated, and angrier than I’d been for some time. So it stands to reason that the last thing I wanted to see the next day was pictures of Patrice Evra all over the back pages throwing punches at the Chelsea groundstaff.
We’re all well aware that Evra is a bit of a loose cannon and if I was to be told any of our players had been involved in a ruck after the match, I wouldn’t have been overly surprised to find out Evra was at the centre of it.
He was certain to face a fine and possibly a ban too, with too many of our players possibly unsettled with just a crucial few weeks remaining. However, whilst all the headlines revolved around Evra’s charge, it’s important not to forget the charge going in Chelsea’s direction, for the apparent racist comments that came out of the Chelsea groundstaff’s mouth. The club have vehemently denied this charge, but recent history will tell you it’s not for the first time!
In a report sent to the FA, United claim that Patrice Evra was referred to as a “fucking immigrant” by Chelsea groundsman, Sam Bethell.
Carlos Tevez: “Patrice received a grave insult from a member of Chelsea’s staff. He demanded an explanation and from that moment these men just wanted to attack Patrice. Obviously it is normal that we tried to defend our team-mate but within a few seconds all of the United players were surrounded by stewards. I think that security cameras will show the provocation we received. I have never seen anything like this in my career.”
Gerard Pique: “Basically this came about because of the provocation of somebody who works for Chelsea. Patrice wanted an explanation but these men were very aggressive. All we were doing was finishing our work-out after the game. Even now I just do not understand the reaction of these people.”
Whispers emerging in the papers had this “grave insult” being something related to race. Chelsea got wind of these racism claims, so Peter Kenyon was straight on to the phone to David Gill, asking for a retraction to be made. Kenyon drew up a statement for both parties to sign, which United refused to do.
After this failure to have the situation resolved, Chelsea proposed that Bethell called Evra a “fucking idiot” rather than “fucking immigrant”. Whilst still unacceptable for a Chelsea employee to speak to one of our players in this way, it is certainly more acceptable that the racist remark he was being accused of. The problem is, “immigrant” and “idiot” don’t really sound anything alike. Sure, they start and finish with the same letters, but are we really expected to believe that so many people misheard what Bethell said? If it wasn’t misheard, then quite simply, they are lying about what they heard.
Gary Neville and Mike Phelan, along with Patrice Evra, reported their side of the story to the FA. Do Chelsea expect everyone to believe they were lying?
Following the Chelsea game, there were just two matches remaining in the league, with the clubs on equal points, and well as being less than a month away from the Champions League final.
Premier League rules state that after a match, the opposition players are entitled to a warm down on the pitch. Gary Neville, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, John O’Shea, Park Ji-Sung and Carlos Tevez were the players on the field, when reports say Chelsea groundstaff came on to the pitch. After being asked to move on, Gary Neville (of course!) claimed they were well within their rights to remain on the pitch, which is when it started to kick off.
Whether the reports of racism are true or not, the first question that needs to be answered is why were the Chelsea groundstaff on the pitch after the match? The groundstaff brought lawnmowers on with them when confronting our players. Why on earth were they cutting the grass immediately after a game?
Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to ask this question, although publicly has received no answer. “One question I want to ask is why were the lawnmowers on the pitch after the game to cut the grass? Aren’t they supposed to cut it before the game?”
Now, I wasn’t there, I don’t know the truth behind everything, I can only look at the facts and look at possible explainations. I don’t think it’s out of this World to imagine that the groundstaff were on the pitch with the intention of winding our players up. We had just lost a vital three points and with just goal difference ruling in our favour, Chelsea certainly would have loved for our players to be as unsettled as possible. This isn’t necessarily to say that the powers that be at Chelsea ordered the groundstaff on to the pitch to cause a fuss, but possibly the employees of CFC couldn’t resist having a pop following our defeat.
Regardless, whoever made the decision for them to be on the pitch 20 minutes after the final whistle sounded, I doubt it was with the best interest of the pitch in mind!
Protesting Too Much?
Whilst getting swept up in this argument, forming an opinion on who started it and what was said, it would be easy to let the club’s official stance on this be swept aside. For me, their behaviour has been just as outrageous as Bethell, in their unwavering defence of the groundsman accused of making racist remarks.
“I’ve not lost my job,” Bethell said in the tabloids. “I’m back at work tomorrow morning. It was handbags really. It was not as bad as it appeared. I’ve been told not to say anything about what actually happened.”
Whilst of course we have to go with the idea of innocence until proven otherwise, would it not be usual practice for an employee to be suspended pending an enquiry? The FA had announced they were going to get to the bottom of this but Chelsea FC were so confident that Bethell was innocent, no action was taken. Why?
Following Kenyon’s failure in obtaining a joint statement between the two clubs, clearing their club of the accusations, Chelsea were quick to deny all connections with racism, distancing themselves from this as much as possible.
This isn’t the first time Chelsea have taken such a strong line to a racist incident, without any evidence other than hearsay to back it up. Back in 2005, Samuel Eto’o claimed a steward called him “a monkey” as he left the field.
“Any complaint of racism has to be taken seriously – people don’t generally make these complaints up,” said Kick It Out spokesman Piara Powar. “Although Barcelona lost the game I don’t see how it would help Eto’o or Barcelona to make these kind of allegations without foundation.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Why would a footballer make up accusations like this against a football steward? What is Eto’o going to get out of it? To falsely accuse an opposing player would be lacking in morals, but at least it might get him somewhere. But what on earth would Samuel Eto’o achieve by saying a Chelsea steward was racist to him? Nothing. There was no positive to come from this, other than a racist steward losing their job for unacceptable behaviour.
“Chelsea utterly refutes any racist comments were made by any of its permanent or matchday staff,” read a Chelsea statement, and they cleared him of any wrong-doing.
When Sam Bethell was charged with with using abusive language aggravated by reference to nationality/race, Chelsea were quick to respond again.
“We believe there is no foundation whatsoever to claims that the incident which occurred after the Manchester United match on April 26 involved comments based on nationality or race, which has led to an FA charge against one of our employees,” read a Chelsea statement that day.
Chelsea are awfully quick to defend their employees over racism, without even taking time to look at the facts of the story. Why is there this eagerness to act before thinking?
What I can’t understand is why Chelsea are so adamant that their staff are innocent of these racist accusations. What reason do they have to think that they might not have employed someone racist? Surely it is not something that can be screened for, and not something that should reflect badly on Chelsea if the right action is taken.
Possibly Chelsea are desperate to get away from the racist connotations that come with Chelsea FC, following the links between their fans and the National Front, so will bat away any claims of racism that come their way without time for deliberation. Just a few years ago, almost half the fans going to Stamford Bridge claimed they’d witnessed racist behaviour at matches, and more recently, the anti-semitic abuse that former manager Avram Grant received from sections in the Chelsea crowd, are examples to suggest racism is alive and well at selected areas within the club.
However, by wholeheartedly denying the accusations of racism by their employees, they are putting themselves in a difficult position. In regards of the Eto’o case, the only body the steward was accountable to was Chelsea, who cleared him of any wrong doing. UEFA couldn’t get involved as the only evidence was Eto’o's word. However in the case of Evra, it is the FA who are going to bring the judgement, and where does that leave Chelsea if the man they have categorically defended is deemed to be guilty of the racist remarks? Are they going to continue to claim his innocence or will they concede they were wrong? Now that they have made the decision to back him, it is lose-lose for them if he is found guilty.
What I find more outrageous in this case though is that for Chelsea to say there is “no foundation” in the claims of racism, is to say that club captain, Gary Neville, first team coach and currently acting assistant manager, Mike Phelan, as well as various United players, are all lying about what happened. Now, if they were to lie about any old punch up, it would be out of line, but arguably just about forgiveable. However, for Chelsea to accuse United of making up lies, knowingly wrongly accusing someone of being racist, is entirely insulting. Where do they get off defending some random groundsman, and thereby insinuating the likes of Gary Neville and Mike Phelan are lying? Like previously mentioned, “idiot” and “immigrant” do not sound alike, particularly not alike enough for several United representatives to all mishear.
If this was John Terry or Frank Lampard they were backing, then fair play, you can understand Chelsea wanting to support such a strong figurehead for their club. However, it’s incredibly insulting to claim that there is no foundation to the side of the story Neville and Phelan have projected, rather instead backing some member of the groundstaff.
Bethell, the tattooed Millwall supporter, who lists drinking and reading hooligan books among his favourite pastimes, should be trusted ahead of Neville, Phelan, Tevez, Pique and Evra? Not only that, but we should believe that these people made up false allegations of racism to excuse a punch up? Insane!
I expect the FA to use common sense in this case, but know I may end up disappointed, if I’m honest. Whilst I’ll agree with Evra receiving punishment, as whatever was said to him it doesn’t excuse throwing punches, I sincerely hope the right decisions are made in regards to Bethell, from both the FA and Chelsea. I want Chelsea use a better sense of judgement than they have done so far. However, with Kenyon in charge of the situation, that might be a little too much to ask from them.
Made in Manchester is available for just £3. Some of the best football writers take a player each, from Sir Bobby Charlton to Ryan Giggs, George Best to David Beckham, Duncan Edwards to Paul Scholes, and many more, with 30 articles in total. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.