Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has opened up for the first time about the allegation of racism made against him by Chelsea in 2012.
The highly-regarded official took charge of an ill-tempered affair between the Blues and Manchester United that October, which the Red Devils won 3-2. During the course of the match, Clattenburg sent off Chelsea pair Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres – and was also blasted for having missed an offside in the build-up to United’s winning goal.
The drama on the pitch, though, was little in comparison to what would unfold following the final whistle.
In a serialisation of his new book, Clattenburg has broken down the aftermath of that game, an accusation of racism against John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata that he says could have “ruined his life”. Most shockingly, he revealed that Chelsea midfielder Mikel had actually tried to physically assault him in the dressing rooms at Stamford Bridge after being told of the allegations. Here, per the Daily Mail, is his story in his own words.
Clattenburg on his confrontation with Jon Obi Mikel
“I knew to expect a tirade of abuse from Chelsea supporters, but I was not beating myself up over my performance. It was then that I heard a commotion outside the dressing-room door.
“What the hell’s going on out there? Before I get to the door it swings open, and with some force. I jump back, instinctively. What the f***? John Obi Mikel bursts in. I can see the rage in his eyes. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo and coach Eddie Newton are holding him back.
“Mikel is out of control, he’s trying to get at me. ‘I’m gonna break your legs!’ he shouts. F****** hell, he’s swinging for me. There are arms everywhere. I’m ducking to avoid them. A security guy is grappling with Mikel, pulling him away. That’s not easy, Mikel is strong. I’ve got my boots on, I’m slipping all over the place. I’m knocked backwards into some seats. I just try to defend myself. He’s still hellbent on hurting me. Get him out of here! Mikel is eventually dragged back into the corridor. What the f*** has just happened?
“Di Matteo eventually returned to my dressing-room. Like me, he was shaking. I got the impression Chelsea were concerned about what I was going to include in my report.
“I have to be clear here – and this is extremely important – at this point there had been no mention of racism to me, either from Mikel or Di Matteo. No one had made any accusation of that nature.
“Was I going to report Mikel for what he had done in the dressing-room? Absolutely. There was no disputing what he did. Mikel would be facing a lengthy ban.”
Clattenburg on the formal complaint by Chelsea
“My phone is buzzing in my pocket. I shouldn’t get it out, I’m going through airport security. I take a quick look, there’s a social-media notification on the screen . . . ‘BREAKING NEWS: CHELSEA ACCUSE REFEREE MARK CLATTENBURG OF RACIST COMMENTS’. What the f***? Is this a joke? A fake account? Mike Riley, my PGMOL boss, calls immediately.
“I answer. It has been leaked to the media that Chelsea are saying I racially abused Mikel and Juan Mata. My conversation with Riley is short and we don’t have any details beyond what is being reported. It seems the press have more information than we do.
“During those early hours overnight on the Sunday of the game, I realised the power of football clubs, the hold they have over the media and their influence on public opinion, driven by the blind loyalty of their fanbase. It was terrifying. It was the European champions against a referee – who would you believe?”
Clattenburg was suspended from his duties until the allegations could be fully investigated, but the 46-year-old admitted that the situation had taken a deep toll on him personally.
“There have been lots of tears. This could ruin my career. It could ruin my life. The fear is worse than going to prison. I am being called a racist. That is a real life-sentence, you don’t come back from that. Guilty until proven innocent, that is the English way.”
Clattenburg on support from Sir Alex Ferguson
“Within twenty-four hours of the game, my team of officials at Stamford Bridge told the PGMOL they had heard no racial language down the headsets. The sound quality is crystal clear, it was inconceivable that my two assistant referees and fourth official would not have picked up on something of that nature being said.
“Back at home, locked away and struggling to sleep, obsessively going over the events of Sunday, I began to slip into a dark place. It was then that I found an unlikely friend.
‘Mark, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson,’ came the unmistakable Glaswegian accent down the phone.
I was such a wreck, I did not even say much back to him. ‘I have spoken to my players and they did not hear you say what Chelsea are alleging. We don’t believe you said it. I believe in fairness, so we will support you.’
Sir Alex did not have to make that call and he did not have to defend me in public, which he later did. But he did so because he believed what Chelsea were doing was wrong. He put his neck on the block, not for me, but in the name of truth and justice.
I was later told Chelsea threatened to sue him for insinuating they were lying. But Sir Alex stuck to his guns, he thought it was nonsense.”
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Clattenburg on the collapse of Chelsea’s case
“Chelsea later confirmed that Ramires was the only player who had heard the word ‘m*****’, and not Mikel. To add further incredulity to their case, it was now said that Luiz’s part in the matter was to translate for Ramires what his team-mate thought he had heard me say.
“Once I had considered all of the new information, in a strange way it reassured me, because I knew I had not said what they were alleging. I also knew Ramires spoke hardly any English. It strengthened my belief that this was a smear campaign, manufactured for reasons known only to Chelsea.
“Footage from a static camera proved beyond any doubt that I was nowhere near close enough to Ramires when he claimed to have heard me use those words.
“There were two more players in closer proximity to me than Ramires – Chelsea defender Ashley Cole and United striker Wayne Rooney – and both of them told the panel they had heard no racial language, and neither had Mikel. 25 days after the game, the FA dismissed the case. I was not guilty, something I had known all along.
“Mikel was later given a three-match ban over the incident in the referee’s room and the FA explained to me they had to be careful not to be too harsh, because they did not want to deter other players from coming forward to report allegations of racism.
“I make no apology for how I felt at that moment.”
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Clattenburg on his reaction to Mikel’s ban
“Three matches? Are the FA taking the p***? He should be banned for the rest of the season, if not more. Was this the real reason for Chelsea’s accusations against me? Was it all an attempt to mitigate against what Mikel had done? If so, Chelsea have won, Mikel has dodged the ban he deserved and I’m still the biggest loser in this…I have missed more matches than Mikel will. I’m furious!”
Exactly one month after the game from which the allegations stemmed, Clattenburg returned to the middle for the Premier League match between Southampton and Norwich on 28 November 2012.