February 17th 2017
Clattenburg Makes His Mark

So the self-styled “best league in the world” lost what is commonly regarded as the best referee in the world yesterday – and it’ll be interesting to see how the FA puts a spin on this one.

The news that Mark Clattenburg had left these shores for Saudi Arabia to be the Head Of Referees over there makes for a good story, but it is symptomatic of far, far bigger problems within the sport.

Mark Clattenburg was good enough to be given the final of Euro 2016 and the Champions League final, and is one of the most respected officials in the game. If the FA can’t keep him, then what hope is there left?

He appears to be citing a lack of support from the FA over the Jon Obi Mikel and Juan Matta affair as one of the reason’s he quit. Back in 2012 he was alleged to have used racist language to the then Chelsea players. The FA, as Keith Hackett – himself a former referee’s chief – put it in the press this morning: “I think it’s down to poor management. There were incidents when the PGMOL haven’t supported or clarified decisions when they’ve needed to. Mark felt after the Mata incident no-one supported him. He was left high and dry.”

Respect is a two way street and for all those fine words about a “Respect Programme” (itself a joke)  the FA didn’t give much to its top official did they? And as he hasn’t been given an FA Cup fifth round game this weekend, then his last match over here was last weeks game between Arsenal and Hull (above).

Clattenburg has been a controversial character. He’s hit the headlines for all sorts of things, whether it be a failed business venture, his partner vandalising his car, the tattoos he got commemorating his achievements, or the hot water he got himself in for driving to an Ed Sheeran concert after a game at Crystal Palace, it’s fair to say that we know more about Clattenburg than we do about any of the other referees.

But it’s also fair to say that he’s the best – and the FA didn’t have a clue how to manage him.

Frankly, who cares if he got two tattoos? Who cares if he goes to see Ed Sheeran (apparently it was a “breach of protocol”  for the match officials not to travel together) as long as he gets decisions right on the pitch. And he did. More than anyone else. And the FA and the Premier League still lost him.

In their statement yesterday the PMGOL (the organisation whose job it is to look after the officials said this: “We understand this is an exciting opportunity for Mark, and it further underlines the high esteem for English match officials throughout the world game.”

Crucially, however, it added this. [Clattenburg is] “an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing”.

He may well be. And you can only hope he is. But more than that he is now emblematic of all the problems that the FA have within the game they pretend they are custodians of. When your best referee gives you the red card it surely has to been as a new low.

Last week the House of Commons told them to reform or else. Now, in a different – but probably more dramatic – way. Mark Clattenburg has done the same.

Andy Thorley

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