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When referees fight

When referees fight


In football – a sport worth billions – high refereeing standards are crucial. Could they be undermined if referees are consumed with rivalry and infighting, as a new book alleges.


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, is a toxic culture among referees threatening the standard of officiating in the Premier League?


Some figures came out recently which said that clubs in England’s top division are worth a total of five and a half billion pounds.

Since the Premier League was launched in 1992, revenues have shot through the roof.

In many instances, the result of a one-off game can be worth millions of pounds. Clubs which get promoted to the Premier League, for example, can earn £135 million. And that goes up to £265 million if they can avoid relegation and stay in the division for a second season.

So it stands to reason that refereeing decisions have become vitally important. A penalty given or not, a player sent off… or not.  These decisions can affect results. Which in turn affects finances.

“Added time. 2-2. Otamendi… it is! Fired in by Gabriel Jesus to win it surely for Manchester City! Or has he? It’s no goal… handball by Laporte.”


“And they are very very strict, the law has been tweaked this season. You cannot get a goal even if you’re not the scorer of it.”

Sky Sports Football

And whether people like it or not the Premier League is a product, a business. The integrity of that product depends on the quality of referees.

Of course, the new VAR, or Video Assistant Referee system, is there to help them.

“Referees need it because, like you’ve just said, the game’s getting quicker erm… players are getting smarter and referees need to have that support. In the World Cup, if it saves the one decision, the scandal decision… if it saves that and saves the referee’s career… because referee’s careers are on the line… then I’m sure referees will want it.”

Mark Clattenburg

But new revelations from an ex-referee make for some really uncomfortable reading.

And they’ve made me wonder if standards are being compromised by toxic in-fighting among those in charge of matches?

Former referee Mark Clattenburg has written an autobiography. It’s called Whistleblower.

And there’s a lot of strong claims that have been published in an excerpt ahead of the book’s release later this month.

Clattenburg quit his job as a Premier League referee in 2017. He was only 42 at the time.

It meant that English football had lost an official who was considered good enough to take charge of the FA Cup final, Champions League Final and European Championships final just a year earlier.

“This one’s for the Champions League final in 2016… Real Madrid Atletico Madrid… this one’s for the Euro final in 2016… Portugal France. But guess what? Everyone forgot about the Olympic Games in 2012 in London when I refereed the final match there.”

Mark Clattenburg, Paddy Power

Since then, he’s worked in Saudi Arabia, China and Greece.

He said, at the time, his premature exit was down to abuse from fans.

But in his book, he goes on to point the finger at his former colleagues. He describes fellow referees as “snakes, climbers and backstabbers.”

So as you can see, he doesn’t hold back.

He even says that he traded punches with another referee Martin Atkinson at a five-a-side match. He accuses Graham Poll of reporting him to the PGMOL, the professional referees association, for turning up to a game with a “man bag”.

These don’t seem like the kind of stories you’d normally associate with refs at the very top of their profession.

Things get more sinister when Clattenburg tells readers that one referee, who is not named in the book, reported him to the referees association for potential match fixing after he’d bought a big new car – an Audi R8.

An investigation completely cleared Clattenburg, and they found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

He says that there’s competition over who is assigned to which matches, and that some referees only want the big, high profile games. Some, on the other hand would rather take charge of smaller matches to avoid criticism.

After Mark Clattenburg had decided to step down as a Premier League referee, he says that fellow ex-referee Mike Riley asked him where he would like to go for his final game in charge.

Clattenburg says he replied that he would like to go to Tottenham so that his family could watch. The match he was given was West Brom versus Leicester.

Of course, we’ve only heard one side of the story here. And we all know being a referee can be a thankless task.

But perhaps these revelations from Mark Clattenburg should provide the impetus to take a closer look at the PGMOL and whether there are some unhealthy power struggles between the top referees that need to be eradicated.

Many of them are getting older, some even over the age of 50.

“Is the standards dropping? Possibly not. Is the group getting older? 100 percent. They’re getting too old and they need to bring younger guys in.” 

Mark Clattenburg

Would up and coming referees really want to be part of that same culture that Clattenburg described?

The Premier League is depending on the squeaky clean reputation of their referees. And in-fighting really could put an unnecessary spotlight on their multi million pound matches.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.