Published on 23 Nov 2012 Sections

Clattenburg row: time for us all to support the ref?

Vindicated after almost a month of inquiries, football referee Mark Clattenburg is to return to work. Channel 4 News writer and football fan Malcolm Boughen asks if we should show him some charity.

Football referee Mark Clattenburg (Reuters)

It’s not often that Sir Alex Ferguson takes time out of his busy week to speak out in favour of a referee. The fact that he’s twice now voiced unequivocal support for Mark Clattenburg speaks volumes.

On Thursday Clattenburg was cleared by the FA of using “inappropriate language” towards the Chelsea midfielder, Jon Obi Mikel, during his team’s game against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 28. Earlier, a Metropolitan Police investigation had reached a similar conclusion.

But those bald facts hide the ugly detail of the allegations made by Chelsea against the referee – and the paucity of the evidence the club presented in support of them.

The game had been a highly-charged affair. Clattenburg had sent off two Chelsea players – including giving Fernando Torres a second yellow card for alleged diving. He had also allowed a winning goal for the visitors, even though Javier Hernandez appeared to have come back from an offside position.

Ugly detail

But those events, which would have been more than enough to fill many columns of coverage on the sport pages, were soon overshadowed when it emerged that Chelsea were accusing Clattenburg of saying: “Shut up you monkey” to Mikel. Given Chelsea’s all-too-recent involvement in allegations of racism over the John Terry affair, the claim was dynamite.

Unlike the Terry affair, the FA have handled these allegations with creditable alacrity, taking evidence from all players and officials involved and reviewing broadcast and un-broadcast footage of the game.

It found that Mikel had not himself heard the alleged words. They had been reported by his Brazilian teammate, Ramires, whose first language is not English and who was at least ten yards away from the incident. Two other English players standing nearby did not hear the words, nor did Clattenburg’s three fellow officials, who were connected to him by microphone and earpiece. There was nothing on the video to suggest the words were uttered.

So when Sir Alex, who had already said he did not believe the claims, repeated it this morning, it was not perhaps all that surprising after all.

“The unfortunate thing is that he has had to carry that stain for the last few weeks,” he added. “Everyone in the game is pleased for him now – apart from Chelsea.”

Barred from working

Clattenburg himself says that his life has been made “a misery” by the allegations and he hopes that no other referee has to go through what he has. He has been prevented from refereeing any matches since the incident. The referees’ union has already suggested that, as well as an unreserved apology, Chelsea should offer him compensation for loss of earnings, reputational damage and stress.

Referees are used to abuse from the terraces. If pushed, any football fan will admit that they always believe every referee favours their opponents. But the ordeal that Clattenburg has been put through is of a different scale and should clearly never have happened.

It’s been announced that he’s been made fourth official for Sunday’s game between Tottenham and West Ham at White Hart Lane. That’s probably a smart move to ensure as low-profile a return as possible, as publicly it will involve just a bit of waving of the numbers board.

But wouldn’t it be a good gesture if – when he returns to referee his first game at Southampton next Wednesday – the two sets of fans could unite to give him a standing ovation as a sign that we all support fair play? Let’s face it, it would probably be the first and last ovation he would ever get.