None of us can appreciate the depths of anguish that Mark Clattenburg must have experienced these past few weeks. Not only was his career and reputation in jeopardy over a case in which he was completely innocent, it was also a national controversy, demanding space on both front and back pages. Reporters camped outside his house. A referee's house.
As newspapers dredged up details of previous business dealings and speculated insidiously about his gelled hair, a rather dubious group known as the Society of Black Lawyers attempted to involve the Police as they tried to transform a very sensitive case into a cause célèbre, and a fountain of publicity.
Who knows just how bad things got for him. Suffice to say that yesterday he described the John Obi Mikel case as "the most stressful time of my professional life. To know you were innocent of something but that there was the opportunity for it to wreck your career was truly frightening."
In deciding there was no case to answer, the Football Association explained that, beyond the accusation of Ramires, there was no evidence whatsoever to bring a case against the referee - no other player or any of the officials, who were miked up at the time of the 'incident', had heard anything untoward, or indeed anything that could have been misinterpreted as such. Clattenburg was exonerated, football left relieved that a match official had not uttered a racial insult at a player. It had always seemed desperately unlikely from the moment the news began to filter out following that controversial night at Stamford Bridge. But here was confirmation in writing. Case closed.
This should have been satisfactory, but for many it is not. There have been calls for Chelsea to apologise to the referee, to compensate him financially, and even suggestions that Clattenburg will now take legal action against the club for defaming him. The referees' union have even asked the club to make a donation to the Kick It Out campaign. What kind of twisted logic is this? It's not as if Chelsea have been found guilty of racial abuse. Not this time.
Rather inevitably there has been a knee-jerk reaction to vilify Chelsea for their part in the matter, particularly given recent events that have cast a pall over Stamford Bridge.
'How dare a club with a captain found guilty of racial abuse and a fan making monkey gestures in the crowd make this malicious and false complaint and get away with it?' They ask. 'How could they say this about a referee without proof of his guilt?'
To that, Early Doors would counter: how could they not make a complaint?
What exactly were Chelsea supposed to do when Ramires told them he thought he had heard Clattenburg racially abuse a team-mate. The Brazilian barely speaks English, and his testimony should have been handled with the utmost caution, but should it be entirely disregarded on that basis?
Rules stated Chelsea had to lodge a preliminary complaint at the time, so they did. After following this up by speaking again to the players involved they subsequently dropped the complaint regarding Juan Mata and, with Ramires still adamant, made their complaint on the Mikel issue formal.
Again, what do we expect Chelsea to do at this point, tell Ramires to shut his mouth and get on with things? Is this the way we want to deal with allegations of racial abuse? As they explained yesterday, the club has "a duty of care, as do all employers, to act responsibly when such allegations are reported by employees."
It is suggested by some that at this point Chelsea should not have proceeded due to lack of evidence, but it is not their responsibility to collate witness reports and weigh up the intricacies of the case. They make the complaint and it is the responsibility of the FA to gather evidence. They did so, found there was none beyond the unsupported claim of one man, and rightly found that Clattenburg had no case to answer. The process worked.
Early Doors will concede it has reservations over Chelsea's decision to brief the press about the initial report to the FA on the night of the game against Manchester United. It is usually preferable to have transparency but it would have spared Clattenburg some grief if they had kept it under wraps, at least for a day or two until it leaked out anyway. There may well be questions to answer about why Chelsea made their complaint public at this point.
But by and large Chelsea followed due process and took due care. Anyone who thinks they would enter into such a complaint lightly, vindictively even, needs their head examined. As if a club that has dealt with PR disaster after PR disaster this year would willingly invite another. At all stages of this process, Chelsea probably knew that the case would be dismissed, yet they had to press on on behalf of Ramires and Mikel.
The Brazilian, too, should not be made a scapegoat here. The FA report stated it believed he acted in good faith and sometimes a mistake is just a mistake. One that has dramatic consequences and requires a man to be removed from his place of work for weeks, but a mistake nonetheless.
The key line in this report came right at the end. After completely clearing Clattenburg and refusing to criticise the action taken by Chelsea and Ramires throughout this process, the governing body added that: "The player and club were correct in reporting the matter to The FA." That sentence should end any calls for retribution or legal action directed at Chelsea.
There is a saying that democracy is messy. Well, justice can be too. But the last thing we want is for a culture to develop in English football where a player who is racially abused is fearful of reporting it should the case be not proven and they leave themselves open to costly legal proceedings. The responsible reporting of suspected racial abuse must be encouraged.
Mark Clattenburg will never get these few weeks back. For some people he will always have an asterisk against his name as the referee accused of racism. That is desperately sad for him and he should elicit nothing but sympathy in this sorry affair.
But it is for the greater good that Chelsea and the FA followed due process before clearing his name. There are a few reasons to vilify Chelsea. Making a complaint to the governing bodies after one of their players has reported racial abuse is not one of them.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Have you seen my CV? I have all the trophies you can win at club level." - A confident Rafa Benitez tackles scepticism during his unveiling as Chelsea's new interim manager on Thursday.
FOREIGN VIEW: "Between him and me there is appreciation and professional respect. Clearly not everyone in the locker room are friends of mine and outside there is almost no relationship between us. But inside the dressing room, we get along. Cristiano is no diva." - Xabi Alonso is clearly not a fan of striding round in pink swimming trunks and topping up a tan as he reveals he rarely sees Ronaldo outside of work hours.
COMING UP: We preview all of the weekend's football - with the highlight of course being Benitez's first game as Chelsea manager. It is the small matter of a home game against Manchester City. At lunch we bring you the result of our Goal of the Week poll while Jim White also blogs for us once again. The Fantasist is also in the house at 3pm for our weekly Fantasy Football chat.