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Big Interview: Game of cards – and tattoos for ref Mark Clattenburg

By Joe Edwards | Football | Published:

In 2016, Mark Clattenburg achieved the unknown for a referee – and he will never forget that illustrious year.

Mark Clattenburg

Actually, he looks back on being the man in the middle for the Euro and Champions League finals – as well as the FA Cup final – with such fondness that he bears tattoos of both of the competition logos as a constant reminder.

The 44-year-old, who refereed in the Premier League for 13 years before spells in Saudi Arabia, and now China, also has the Olympic rings inked on his skin after officiating the 2012 men's final in London.

Clattenburg has earned a fair amount of criticism – something, as a referee, he is very much used to – for having those tattoos.

But he has no regrets at all, and explained: "Many people have tattoos of their girlfriends names, don't they?

"It's things I'm proud of. I came from a council background, not a difficult life, but I wanted to work hard.

"What I want to do with my body is up to me, and I wanted to celebrate what I've achieved.

"Refereeing the Champions League final, a Euro final and an FA Cup final in the same season is unknown.

Mark Clattenburg and Joe Edwards

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"When I started refereeing, there were 33,000 of us in England, so to be chosen for the Champions League and Euro finals is so huge.

"It's a memory. You can easily forget the past, but when you do look, you think, I've achieved something in life. It's something to be proud of."

Clattenburg, from Consett, County Durham, refereeing the Euro final between Portugal and France, which the former won 1-0 after extra-time, came as a result of England being humiliated by Iceland.

Had the Three Lions not suffered perhaps their most embarrassing victory ever and made it to the showpiece clash, Clattenburg would not have been on the Stade de France turf.

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"I was lucky as when England didn't do well in tournaments, that meant the referees – me and also Howard Webb with the World Cup final in 2010 – went further," he said.

"We were one of the big nations in footballing terms, so us referees always got kept on if England got knocked out.

"I needed the luck with the Euros because if England or Wales get to the final, I don't do it.

"You've got to have a bit of luck, so if England dominate the World Cups and Euros, and say Man City dominate the Champions League, that'll stop referees from here being involved.

"But we have some quality, capable referees here in England."

And which English referee could follow in his and Webb's footsteps?

Mark Clattenburg

"Michael Oliver, once he gets some more experience," said Clattenburg.

"The referees who have all done the top finals tend to be in their late 30s, you need that experience.

"There's a lot of young referees at the moment and over the next 10 years, they'll gain so much experience, how to deal with situations and different cultures.

"Once they get that experience, I'm sure they'll reach the very top."

Clattenburg, with his spiky black hair, was one of the most recognisable referees in the Premier League until he left in 2017.

That was to become head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia, replacing Webb of all people.

He spent two years there, and is now refereeing in the Chinese Super League.

But will he make a Premier League return? Probably not.

"I left the Premier League a couple of years ago and I've never looked back. I've been so busy," said Clattenburg.

"I went out to Saudi Arabia and did two years, which ended in February.

"That was always my plan, to do two years.

"In Saudi, I ended up in a management role which, really, was a conflict of interest.

"Now, I want to enjoy my refereeing, doing what I love and sacrificed a lot of things for.

"I think my Premier League days are finished.

"It was an exciting 13 years, but I'm enjoying going around the world and seeing different parts of the world.

"In a lot of countries now, they're looking for foreign referees as there's a shortage of top quality referees now, even in England.

"We've got an Australian coming over here, Jarred Gillett, so countries are more open to referees coming in."

The highs of Clattenburg's career are the aforementioned finals, as well as the 2012 League Cup final and the 2014 Uefa Super Cup.

But, naturally, there have been lows too.

An error which has followed Clattenburg for years is one where, in 2005, Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll fumbled an ambitious attempt from Tottenham's Pedro Mendes well over the line at Old Trafford, before desperately clearing the ball away.

Much to Carroll's relief, and to Spur's anguish, the goal was not given by Clattenburg and his assistants. And it is a clanger fans across the country still remember to this day.

"It is highs and lows. As a referee, there's always highs and lows," said Clattenburg.

Mark Clattenburg

"When it becomes your profession, it's different.

"It takes a lot of dedication – fitness levels, preparation.

"Thirteen years is a long time to try to be at the top, and the problem with referring is if you make one mistake, you're the villain of the piece.

"You'll always upset one team or the other, and you're never going to be 100 per cent accurate – even with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology."

And what does Clattenburg make of VAR, which has massively divided opinion among fans over the past few years but is being implemented in the Premier League next season?

"Well, I refereed with it in Saudi Arabia, I brought it into Saudi Arabia," he said.

"There was less criticism. You're not going to keep everybody happy, but there's more fairness because there's not going to be a simulation that wins a penalty.

"The criticism is that it takes too long, but like any new technology, it's going to take a little bit of time.

"With refereeing, when you're using a matter of fact, it's easy.

"For example, with offsides, although there is criticism with that as the benefit of the doubt has gone now.

"If you're using technology, you've got use it for the smallest of margins.

"Therefore, people don't want it in.

"But if it stops scandalous decisions, that's what you want.

"An example I was involved in was my first game at Old Trafford where Mendes shot from the halfway line and the ball went in, but Carroll clawed it back out and the goal wasn't given.

"That was a scandal as it cost Tottenham two points, getting one instead of three.

"That could have had massive consequences, and these are the types of decisions which should be eradicated by the technology.

"It's not going to be please everybody, but that's life and why we love football."

With the issues which have surrounded VAR, some have suggested referees doing post-match interviews – like managers and players – to explain their decisions.

Clattenburg is not a fan of the idea, and thinks it will not be necessary if football looks at what has been done in cricket and rugby.

"With video technology, I don't think it should happen," he said.

"I'd like referees to explain their decisions there and then.

"Sometimes it can take a few minutes for a bit of dialogue – nobody knows what's going on.

"That's the frustration but if it was a bit like cricket, the referees could explain themselves to the crowd.

"I'm all for trying to explain decisions, it makes your life easier."

It is fair to say Clattenburg has done a lot in the game, and is still going strong, so what would his advice be to those looking to carve out a living as a referee?

"Referees will probably think they're better than they are," he added.

"When you're a young referee, you think you've made it.

"But you're only as good as your last game.

"I used to think I was going to be the best, but it'll hit you the following week and you'll have a bad game.

"You've always got to learn from your mistakes, work hard.

"If you work hard, you'll always achieve your goal. I probably overachieved. I worked hard and got the rewards."

Clattenburg was speaking at the 5's Pavilion and Sports Ground in Hednesford as part of his work as a Leisure Leagues ambassador.

Joe Edwards

By Joe Edwards
Multi-Media Sports Journalist - @JoeEdwards_Star

Sports reporter for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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