More than a year after the fact, the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand incident lingers over English football like a brown cloud above a sprawling metropolis.
Back-to-back investigations, both drawn out, have led to the unique situation in which Terry is only now serving a four-match ban for acts he allegedly committed more than 12 months ago. Whether Terry is guilty or not, the nonstop finger-pointing, ugly accusations and negative publicity have created a black eye for English football.
Now, Terry's club finds itself involved in another racism controversy. This time, though, Chelsea are pointing the fingers at referee Mark Clattenburg.
The two situations have little to do with each other apart from the coincidence that Terry plays for Chelsea. But with that said, the first case can inform the second as it moves forward, and the lesson learned from Terry's incident must be this:
For the sake of the game in England, the Clattenburg controversy cannot be allowed to linger any longer than absolutely necessary.
The image of English football took a pair of hits in quick succession last year.
First, Liverpool's Luis Suarez was accused of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra during an October 2011 match at Anfield. Less than two weeks later, Terry was accused of racially abusing Ferdinand during a match between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers.
Both of the accused players eventually served bans. Both situations, however, quickly escalated into ugly sagas complete with needlessly melodramatic handshaking drama and ill-conceived T-shirt campaigns.
Less than a week has passed since the controversial events at Stamford Bridge, but already the situation is trending toward the unmanageable.
The known details are these. Clattenburg sent off Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres during Manchester United's 3-2 Premier League win at Chelsea on Sunday. Torres' sending off—for a second yellow over what Clattenburg deemed a dive—angered Chelsea, as did the decision to let Javier Hernandez's offside winner stand.
Beyond that, the picture becomes murky.
By Sunday night, Chelsea had accused Clattenburg of using racial slurs to abuse two players. By Monday, the Football Association had begun its investigation (via The Guardian).
The two players in question are thought to be midfielder John Obi Mikel, who is black, and midfielder Juan Mata, a Spanish international. According to Chelsea defender Oriol Romeu, a Spaniard who was an unused substitute in Sunday's match, Mata did not hear Clattenburg make any racial insults (via Daily Telegraph).
The Daily Mirror, meanwhile, is running with claims that an unidentified figure threatened to break legs in the post-match confusion. Clattenburg has been taken off duty for this weekend's games (via Daily Telegraph).
Who do you believe?
Clattenburg, of course, is set to fight the allegations (via The Guardian), as is his right. Clearly, then, the lines are drawn and a showdown looms.
Amid all the confusion, it seems certain that someone must be lying. The accusations are too serious to be merely a misunderstanding, and if they're proven true, Clattenburg should never referee as a professional again.
But if, as Henry Winter argues in the Daily Telegraph, the accusations are false, Chelsea must face serious penalties.
Either way, the authorities must investigate thoroughly and must come to the correct conclusion. And either way, this is about to get ugly.
But for the sake of English football, we can only hope that resolution comes as quickly as possible.