Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has told Independent.ie that he was on the receiving end of death threats as he revealed that his family were also abused during his time officiating in England’s top flight.
Clattenburg’s lowest point came as he was accused of racially abusing Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel in a game against Manchester United in October 2012, in an incident that he admits forced him to consider his future in the game.
Now the official who is quit the Premier League last year to take up a new role in Saudi Arabia had opened up on the vile social media abuse that flowed his way in a career that saw him take charge of the FA Cup final, Champions League final and the decisive game of Euro 2016 between Portugal and France.
“I’ve had death threats, my family have been threatened and it is not nice. People say what they are going to do to you, that they know where you live,” Paddy Power ambassador Clattenburg told Independent.ie.
“The odds of them carrying out these threats are low, but your children can still read it and that is not nice. When it affects your family, it is a horrible situation and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
“The low point for me was clearly the Chelsea v Manchester United game in 2012 and the racism accusation that cause such a storm. After 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.”
Clattenburg admits he was ready to walk away from refereeing for good after the racism accusations that were belatedly dropped by Mikel and Chelsea, but he suggests he was ‘trapped’ in a job he could not escape from.
“At the time, I wanted to quit and the support is not there in that kind of situation, but what can you do,” he asks. “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.
"Social media has probably not helped referees. It is not just the 90 minutes on the field any more as it is the backlash that follows if there is a controversial incident or a mistake that might have been made by the officials. That doesn’t just last for a few hours, it can go on for days and weeks and that is not easy.
"There are some nasty people out there and people who want to say things that they wouldn’t say to your face.”
Mark Clattenburg is refereeing the CONIFA World Football Cup in London, which kicks off on May 31 and can be watched through Paddy Power’s social media channels.