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Mark Clattenburg: Ex-Premier League referee says VAR could save a career


Mark Clattenburg showed 48 red cards in 292 Premier League matches

Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg says the video assistant referee could “save a referee’s career” but believes the laws of the game need looking at to make them more compatible with modern technology.

“I am all for it,” he said. “I want something that is going to save my refereeing career.

“Look at Martin Hansson, who missed the famous Thierry Henry handballexternal-link against the Republic of Ireland – it finished his career.

“We have lost focus that it was meant for clear and obvious errors, scandalous decisions.”

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Steve Crossman, Clattenburg also discussed his journey from electrician to top referee, the pitfalls of social media, the future for female referees, Ed Sheeran gigs and his tattoos.

You can hear the interview in full on 5 Live or on BBC Sounds from 19:00 GMT on Thursday.

‘VAR – the laws of the game are not compatible’

The Premier League introduced VAR at the start of the 2019-20 season. In a poll for BBC Sport this month, only a third of football fans across the UK said they believe it has made football better.

Fans have become used to seeing lines being drawn on replay screens as marginal offsides are checked, while handballs have also proved contentious.

Clattenburg says the laws must be reinterpreted to make better use of the technology.

“Have we taken the technology too far? I believe we have but when you have a new toy you want to play with it, use it in different ways,” he said.

“The laws of the game are old and they are not compatible with technology. We need to change the laws for VAR. Offside needs looking at. We want goalscoring opportunities, goalmouth action.

“We need to come back down to what we all wanted VAR for – to stop the scandal decision. The decisions that we can’t accept because the referee has missed it.

“We have got two big tournaments in the next two years, the Euros and the World Cup, so it has to work. Referees need it, it just needs to be improved so everyone can accept it.”

‘I can’t remember a minute of the Champions League final’

Mark Clattenburg
Clattenburg was in charge in Milan when Real Madrid beat Atletico on penalties in the 2016 Champions League final

Clattenburg reached the peak of his career in 2016 when he took charge of the finals of the Champions League and Euro 2016 within a few weeks of each other.

But, in a wide discussion about the impact of the pressure of such big occasions on the mental health of referees, he admitted to not being able to enjoy those nights.

“I did the Champions League final and the Euros final and I can’t remember anything about them, I didn’t enjoy them and that’s sad now I’ve retired,” he said.

“I just wanted to start the match and I wanted it to end. I was panicking about making a mistake. When it’s watched by billions of people around the world there’s no escape.

“I used to have nightmares on nights before games about making a mistake, missing a flight, there was so much anxiety.

“We get support, but it’s an isolated industry – you are on your own a lot. Some of the journeys home from games were really tough if you had a performance that people didn’t accept.”

‘Refs are hated – you get death threats’

You may think the lack of fans at matches in the Premier League at the moment would be a relief for referees – but the voices of dissent still get through.

Clattenburg worries for top-flight officials in the age of social media.

“I left the Premier League three years ago and I still get abuse all the time – during lockdown they were showing old games and it recirculated a lot of abuse,” he said.

“When social media started to come in halfway through my career I didn’t have any accounts so I didn’t read it but it’s always there. Some referees read it and it’s hard to manage it.

“Referees are the most hated species in football, people vent their anger at them. It’s a thankless job. That’s a society issue as well, keyboard warriors who are faceless and can constantly abuse you. Some people find that hard to deal with. Nobody likes negativity.

“You make decisions in a split second and most of the time you are correct. If you get them wrong you are going to get death threats and social media abuse. These things go on in your head before you make those decisions.”

‘Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you did OK’

Clattenburg made headlines in 2016 when he went under the gun and had tattoos of his two showpiece finals inked on his arm.

The former referee says they are not just decorative but serve a purpose.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done, it’s my body, it’s not illegal and nobody can tell me what to do,” he said.

“People can call it egotistical but when you’re having a down moment you look at them and think I did do something in my life and tried to be the best I can be.

“To walk out and be part of the biggest games in Europe makes me extremely proud. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you did OK.”

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