Clattenburg: “Just a working-class guy who was lucky enough to do something I loved”

We haven’t seen much of Mark Clattenburg recently, but we will be over the coming weeks. For a start, he is joining the ITV panel for a World Cup that will use VAR for the first time. The man who left the Premier League to take up a position as Saudi Arabia’s head of refereeing has plenty to say and should make for entertaining viewing. Tanned, toned and fresh from taking charge of the Crown Prince Cup final in Saudi, Clattenburg will look the part in Russia. And he feels that referees should have more opportunities to speak their mind. “That is one thing I would change”, he begins, “I would let referees have a voice. It was hard, especially when you are perceived in a certain way. People call me arrogant, but my friends and family know that’s not true. I’m shy, if anything. You have to carry yourself in a certain way around these top players, but do you think I walked around like that at home? It wouldn’t be allowed! There were so many situations I couldn’t speak about and that was frustrating, it leads to speculation you can’t control”.
OK then, let’s set the record straight. We start with John Obi Mikel, the Chelsea player he was accused of racially abusing during Manchester United’s 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge in 2012. “I had sent off two Chelsea players and there was an offside goal late on as well, so it was pretty heated coming off”, explains Clattenburg. “Mikel came into my dressing room and certain things happened which I’ll leave in there. But then Ramires made the allegation that I’d called Mikel a monkey on the pitch. The first few days I was soul-searching — you know you’re innocent yet you’re made to feel otherwise. It took four weeks for Chelsea to reveal the moment it had allegedly happened, and after that it was very quickly dismissed. But Bruce Buck (the Chelsea chairman) didn’t understand that referees are normal people living in a normal house. He thought we lived in a gated community with security and wandered into work every day carrying a washbag. The media were camped outside my house for days on end. It made world news. That is hard to deal with, I tell you. I knew it wasn’t true, but I could not speak. Me and my family went through hell — I even thought about quitting”. Even now, a sour taste lingers. “If Mikel had come out and apologised, OK, be a man about it”, he says. “But I haven’t got respect for someone who makes a mistake on someone else’s allegation and can’t then say sorry”.
It was in 2014 that Clattenburg was dropped from a round of top-flight fixtures after driving alone to an Ed Sheeran concert following a game rather than travelling with his officials. “That’s one way to get the weekend off,’ he laughs. ‘That was blown out of all proportion, like most things involving me”. Such as in 2013 when Southampton made an official complaint after Clattenburg told Adam Lallana: “You’re different since you’ve played for England. You never used to be like this”. Clattenburg reflects: “Well, he had changed! He was a nice guy, I got on with him. After England, he was completely different, that’s my opinion. And I chose to have that dialogue with players, it’s part of managing the game”. Finally, Craig Bellamy, of whom he once asked the Manchester City bench: “How do you work with him all week?” - “I was just being honest!” says Clattenburg. “He was the hardest player I ever had to referee - he always had a bloody answer”.
Attention turns to his role as the first referee to join a World Cup TV panel, lining up with regulars including Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill and Slaven Bilic. “I’m not there just to hang people out to dry when they make mistakes or go, “Yeah, he was great”, he says. “I want to explain how they made their decisions, right and wrong. There is a thought process we go through and I want to take the viewers inside the referee’s mind. It’s about insight, not just saying that should have been a red card or a penalty”. Just days before he left for Saudi Arabia last year, Clattenburg, now 43, honoured a fundraising commitment at a social club on the seafront in Seaham, County Durham. He could have made his excuses - his name was on the back pages with the news that the nation’s No 1 referee was leaving the country - but he kept his promise to a North East boys’ club. Clattenburg told one story that night which he repeated to Sportsmail. It hints at one of the reasons why this country’s top official was ready to walk away: his personality clash with referees’ chief Mike Riley and his governing body, the PGMOL. “We were away in a hotel and I was Mike’s fourth official”, says Clattenburg. “We came back after lunch and his speakers were missing from his bag. He came banging on my door: “Where’s my speakers?” I told him: “I haven’t got them”. We went to the game and I was off checking the team colours. When I came back my bag was all over the place in the dressing room, and he’d thrown everything out looking for those bloody speakers. I wasn’t happy. I said: “If you don’t put my clothes back in my bag I’ll f****** clip you”. That’s perhaps why he doesn’t like me!” Tantrums aside, there is a wider frustration with those at the helm of his profession. “I have a lot of respect for Mike because he has built a big organisation and given them more business sense”, he adds. “I just feel they get things wrong - they don’t retain their best guys. Graham Poll, Howard Webb, me, they’ve lost all that experience. Other countries are employing our top referees to educate their own. How can that be?”
Clattenburg had just refereed the biggest and best game of his life when he returned to the changing room at the San Siro. It was the Champions League final of 2016, won by Real Madrid following a penalty shootout with Atletico Madrid. The officials had been flawless. “I turned on my phone and all that came up were loads of pictures of me doing something daft with my tongue”, he says of the viral clip which was tagged ‘Clattenburg’s Lizard Tongue’. “I didn’t even know I’d done it. I think my mouth must have been completely dry. I’d just had the game of my career and all I’m watching is this Lizard Tongue! I couldn’t do it again if I tried”. Clattenburg, who had already presided over that year’s FA Cup final, went on to referee the final of Euro 2016 in which Portugal defeated France, a match awarded to him by UEFA chief and former World Cup final referee Pierluigi Collina. During conversation he will often mention the Italian unprompted. “He was a different class”, says Clattenburg. “He studied tactics, he knew before the player committed the offence what they were going to do. That’s the difference between someone like him and Mike Riley, who didn’t have that skillset. Not many do. But when Collina’s number came up on your phone, I’ll admit, you feared a telling-off. I remember after a Malmo versus Atletico Madrid game, he told me it was unacceptable I’d worn the same colours as one of the teams. He was right, it was amateurish. I thought my career was over. But the next week he gave me a big appointment and I felt a million dollars. I thought, “I’d die for you”. I went up another level. He turned me into a world-class referee”. With that elevation came the three prestigious finals in just two months. He does not reject the notion; however, that motivation then became an issue. “Definitely”, says Clattenburg. “I’d put so much into that year - commitment, fitness. It just exploded, getting all of the finals in one go. The only thing left after that was getting to a World Cup, and that’s my only regret. But sometimes job offers don’t come along, especially in refereeing. That’s why you see refs in the Premier League in their 50s. You’re stuck, there’s no get-out. I was given a chance and, financially, I could look after my family. Once I’d had a conversation with my wife, it all added up. And at least I can watch Newcastle with a little bit of enjoyment instead of watching the referee!”
Clattenburg was born in Consett, County Durham, and was refereeing in the Northern League at 19, by which time he was also working as an electrical engineer. “I used to go to Newcastle reserves games as a kid with one man and his dog and I’d watch the referees”, he says. “I started so young and became the youngest Football League referee in history at 24. That’s been beaten by another Geordie now, Michael Oliver, and quite rightly. But I’ll say to Michael, “Be careful, you can achieve everything too quickly”. It was the award of the FA Cup final - an honour allowed only once - which accelerated his decision to leave. But it is that match, a 2-1 win for Manchester United over Crystal Palace, which he also wishes he could re-referee more than any other. “It just didn’t work out in the crucial moments”, he says. “I wasn’t happy with myself. And that stays with you for days, you’re miserable at home. But it was Palace as well, and their fans had a thing about me. I had 13 games with them in the Premier League and they never got a win. I remember they played Aston Villa when they were rock bottom. I thought: “Great, this could be the end of it.” Then Wayne Hennessey threw one in and Villa won 1-0! I thought: “This run is just jinxed”. The abuse Clattenburg has received is not confined to the terraces. He was at the races one day when a sausage roll was thrown towards his head by a Chelsea fan. Then there are the online insults, which grew especially fierce after he revealed the tattoos celebrating his achievements of 2016. “They want you to be a perfect role model as a referee”, he says. “But life doesn’t work like that. I’m just a working-class guy who was lucky enough to do something I loved. The tattoos... I was proud, it was everything I’d worked for, I should be able to enjoy that”. Spend time with Clattenburg and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. There is relief, you feel, that his cards are now on the table as opposed to in his pocket. But one last question: did he have Riley’s speakers? “No, I swear”, he laughs. “I’m still not sure if he’s found them!”

Source: Daily Mail