clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Clattenburg wanted to quit after he was accused of racially abusing Mikel

England’s former top official talks about his tortured existence as a ref

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Mark Clattenburg may have exiled himself to Saudi Arabia in the middle of last season for good money and poor football. But one thing hasn’t changed: the man still likes to read about himself.

He sent his first look-at-me dispatch from the desert in December, when he informed us that instead of taking control of the ultra-violent Battle of the Bridge in 2016, he decided to let Tottenham “self-destruct.” He didn’t want to be second-guessed by the media if Spurs failed to win the title over Leicester City.

That was both cowardly and a dereliction of his responsibilities. But it turns out it was an insight into the weakness of his psyche. Six months later, Clattenburg has decided he wants another taste of the media he once so feared. This time he’s talking about being accused of racism, of quitting and about getting drunk to cope with the very same attention he now seems to seek.

The racism charge was leveled at him by Ramires in 2012. The Chelsea midfielder believed he heard Clattenburg use a slur against Mikel John Obi. The FA ultimately ruled that while it believed Ramires was sincere, he was mistaken about what he heard. Clattenburg was cleared, but it took a toll on him.

“When I look back on the incidents in the Chelsea v Manchester United game in 2012 and the aftermath of that, I wanted to quit, but I was not in a position to do that.

“One day the whole truth will come out on what happened in that game and people will be surprised by that story. The incident on the day and what happened afterwards was not right and it left a lasting mark on me.

“It made me realise that football is not just a sport any more. There are bigger issues around that was not a football incident. Sometimes things happen in life that make you stronger and I am probably a better referee after that incident than I was before it, but it was still a difficult situation to live through.

Hey Mark, here’s a hint. If you have something to say, say it. Don’t play coy. Don’t imply that maybe Ramires was a bad actor in the unsavory incident.

Sound advice? Maybe. But not likely to be taken by Clattenburg. For a man who made his living dealing with confrontation on the pitch, he’s surprisingly incapable of handling it outside of the white lines. In fact, he says he turned to drink in England.

“I would drink a lot of beer at times to get away from the pressures. Decisions linger with you for a few days and my wife would often say move on and get over it, but you can’t.

“You avoid the TV, you avoid radio phone-ins. You don’t want anything to do with football if you have made a mistake, but the upside is when things have gone well and you can enjoy those moments.”

Clattenburg’s decision to decamp for Saudi Arabia in the middle of last season came as surprise to almost everyone. But it turns out that Clattenburg felt trapped. When Saudi Arabia was looking to replace the respected Howard Webb as its head of officials, Clattenburg jumped at both the money and a chance to escape the pressures of his job, especially in light of the Ramires incident.

“At the time, I wanted to quit and the support is not there in that kind of situation, but what can you do? In refereeing, you are stuck in an industry you can’t get out of and that is a difficult place to be in.

“You can’t step away from referee once you are in it for a very good reason. I have a family, they need to be looked after. I have left my profession as an electrical engineer behind and there is nowhere to go if I walk away from refereeing.

“This is a unique job in many ways and not always for the right reason. If you are a player or a manager or even a journalist, you can always get a job somewhere else if something goes wrong, but you can’t do that in refereeing.

“Who is going to employ me in a job outside football given my profile and the like? That is why I had to take the offer to move to Saudi Arabia when it came my way, as it offered me security to my family. People sometimes forget that referees are not there for a hobby or to live out the dream of being on the pitch as it is a job at the end of the day.”

-Mark Clattenburg; source: Yahoo UK

You can’t blame a man who’s looking for financial security. And there’s no question that Premier League referees, the good ones and the bad ones, are under enormous pressure. It is ironic, though, that he complains about his high profile, given his tendency to be a bit of a popinjay in the Premier League.

Clattenburg is 43 years old. FIFA no longer has an age limit for referees, so in theory it’s possible that he could someday return to whistle games in the Premier League. In theory. In practice, with the way he’s airing his dirty laundry in public and revealing his weaknesses, it seems highly unlikely. That’s for the best. For him and his family. And for us.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the We Ain't Got No History Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Chelsea news from We Ain't Got No History