Trail of emails could reveal why Cole altered his evidence in Terry affair: FA may investigate how the word 'black' got into Chelsea star's statement
23:20 GMT, 6 October 2012
Ashley Cole could face an FA investigation into his conduct if the governing body decide there is evidence that he tried to mislead the disciplinary commission which found Chelsea captain John Terry guilty of racial abuse.
While Cole, in line to make his 100th England appearance on Tuesday week, might have been anticipating plaudits from the FA, it will be the job of the ruling body’s disciplinary chiefs to decide whether they should bring two charges of ‘improper conduct’ against the Chelsea defender.
And if they charge him on the basis of the ‘evolution of his evidence’, as the disciplinary commission put it in their judgment on the Terry case last week, then the FA will be empowered to demand the trail of internal emails at Chelsea to discover exactly how Cole’s evidence came to be changed.
Doing their day job: John Terry and Ashley Cole turned out for Chelsea
Sources close to QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, the victim of Terry’s abuse, believe the FA should investigate the way Cole’s witness statement was handled at Chelsea.
And a source, who has chaired FA disciplinary hearings, said: ‘If I had been the chairman of this commission, I would want them charged. The disciplinary team at the FA will now get some advice from the legal team, but the chairman (of the independent regulatory commission) might have a word with them and say that he didn’t like what he’d heard during the hearing.’
Cole will almost certainly face one charge for his ‘bunch of t***s’ tweet, which he directed at the FA in response to criticism of him in the disciplinary judgment and for which he can expect a fine.
A hasty apology and a conversation with England manager Roy Hodgson on Friday at least saved his place in the England squad. And on Saturday Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo confirmed that the club have started a ‘disciplinary process’ over Cole’s outburst.
All fine on the pitch: Terry and Cole helped Chelsea to a comfortable win
More worrying for Cole is the possibility of an additional FA charge of improper conduct if it is felt that he had misled the commission, a charge that Chelsea secretary David Barnard, an FA councillor who sits on the international committee, could also face.
Although it was Terry’s reputation that was further diminished by the commission’s finding that he had racially abused Ferdinand, it was the ‘evolution’ of Cole’s evidence that ultimately captured the headlines.
The much-anticipated written judgment on the case was peppered with scepticism when it came to Cole’s account of what he had or had not heard Ferdinand say on the day he was abused by Terry.
Was it a word beginning with ‘b’, as the notes in his original FA interview said Or was it definitely the word ‘black’ as Cole, using Barnard as a conduit, later insisted it was The change was crucial to Terry’s insistence that he had used the word ‘black’ only in response to Ferdinand using it.
Something to smile about: Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay and secretary David Barnard were in the stands watching the win
The commission decided that it had ‘considerable doubts’ as to whether Cole’s evidence could be relied upon to support Terry’s account and had ‘very real concerns about the accuracy of Mr Barnard’s recollections and the motivations for the assertions he makes’.
The Commission also drew attention to Terry’s criminal trial last July, in which he was cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence, saying that, had Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle been in possession of the FA’s initial interviews with the players, he ‘would have examined Mr Cole’s evidence … very carefully indeed or scrutinised it even more closely than he may have done’.
Chelsea have said they will back Terry, Barnard and Cole, claiming that they had all co-operated with the FA at every stage. The club will not be issuing a statement until the process is complete, with Terry now having until October 18 to decide whether he will appeal against the verdict.
Only then will the club, who have a zero tolerance policy on racism, decide whether to impose their own penalty on Terry and whether he is allowed to keep the captaincy.
Interested spectator: England coach Roy Hodgson also watched from the stands
According to senior FA sources, both Barnard and Cole could, in theory, face another investigation and Chelsea could be ordered to disclose all emails relevant to the case.
Almost one year on from the original clash between Terry and Ferdinand, the case looks as though it could yet run and run. So a week that might, for once, have focused exclusively on the good that Cole does — namely as an outstanding left-back — has been sabotaged by the player himself.
On Tuesday, Cole will shake hands with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the official opening of the FA’s new national football centre at St George’s Park, Burton. It should be a hugely important day for the FA’s long-term vision for the game but it is in danger of being overshadowed by the Cole affair.
Seven days later, Cole could join Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Peter Shilton and David Beckham in the most exalted ranks of the English game by winning his 100th cap for his country when England play Poland in a World Cup qualifier in Warsaw.
Heading home: Fernando Torres scored as Chelsea beat Norwich 4-1
The achievement might have prompted the FA to honour Cole on the night. But that now seems unlikely.
Roy Hodgson is entitled to despair. On Thursday he had been invited to eulogise over Cole’s England performances in anticipation of him reaching a century of caps. ‘It must be fantastic to play 100 times for the national team,’ said Hodgson.
Asked if Cole might be picked as captain for the Poland game to mark his century of appearances, Hodgson replied: ‘I’ve not considered it and it is something that would need an awful lot of consideration. You would need to discuss it with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have been captaining the team. It’s not something you should take lightly. I’ll have to dodge the question but it’s worthy of consideration.
‘What is more worthy of consideration is that Ashley, at a relatively young age and with more football left in him, is likely to get his 100th cap very soon and that is fantastic. I don’t think we should underestimate the value of that.’
Referring to Wright, Moore, Charlton, Shilton and Beckham, Hodgson added: ‘They are top-class names, legends of the past, it must be great to know you are joining that. We don’t have a Hall Of Fame as they do with baseball in America but these people are our Hall Of Famers and now Ashley will join that group.’
Hodgson was, of course, merely responding politely to questions about Cole. Gerrard was always likely to retain the captaincy for the Poland game given that Cole has told past managers he does not want to lead the team.
If you ask coaches, managers and even rival players about Cole’s footballing abilities, they all echo Hodgson’s praise. But therein lies the Cole conundrum: He is as disastrous in managing his image off the pitch as he is good on it when dealing with the world’s best wingers.