Football: Chelsea facing the blues despite leap to the top

Chelsea's defender Cesar Azpilicueta (left) clears the ball under pressure from West Bromwich Albion's striker Salomon Rondon during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on De
Chelsea's defender Cesar Azpilicueta (left) clears the ball under pressure from West Bromwich Albion's striker Salomon Rondon during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on Dec 11, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Chelsea 1

West Brom 0

LONDON • On the field, Chelsea found joy yesterday, as a hard-fought 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion sent them top of the English Premier League.

Off it, the London football club faces the likelihood of being hit by a multi-million pound lawsuit for damages over sex abuse perpetrated by a former scout decades ago.

The Mail yesterday claimed the number of former players to have come forward, alleging abuse by the late Eddie Heath, has doubled to six in just a week, with the majority being from his time at Chelsea.

Chelsea's present owner Roman Abramovich - who bought the club years after the alleged crimes were carried out - sanctioned a £50,000 (S$90,000) payout last year to one of the victims, Gary Johnson, provided he did not go public about it.

That measure earned Chelsea a raft of criticism, prompting them to apologise profusely to Johnson and explain that the gagging order was "inappropriate" but had been included based on legal advice.

Johnson, though, is now demanding more compensation from the club. More former Chelsea youth players are expected to follow suit after they told the Mail that Heath was a well-known predator.

Chelsea also faced further trouble yesterday when their former assistant manager Dario Gradi, the director of football at Crewe Alexandra, was suspended by the Footballl Association.

The 75-year-old was ordered to step down pending an investigation after claims that he visited the parents of a Chelsea youth-team player to "smooth over" a complaint of sexual assault against Heath.

The going was hard for Chelsea too at Stamford Bridge yesterday against awkward opposition, but they will take satisfaction from prevailing in those circumstances.

The win, thanks to Diego Costa's superb finish 14 minutes from time, helped Antonio Conte's side reimpose a three-point cushion from the pack at the top.

The Spaniard's 12th league goal in his last 15 appearances gave Chelsea a ninth successive league win for the first time since 2007.

"For sure there was relief, it was a tough game," said Conte. "It was a good win and we must continue."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Chelsea facing the blues despite leap to the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe