Mark Clattenburg: The day Chelsea accused me of racially assaulting Jon Obi Mikel almost RUNNED my life
In 2012, Chelsea referee Mark Clattenburg was accused of racially abusing John Mikel Obi and Juan Mata after their 3-2 loss to Manchester United.
He had sent off two Chelsea players – Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres – and officials missed offside for United’s winning goal.
Here, in an exclusive excerpt from Clattenburg’s autobiography Whistle Blower, he tells his side of a story – including his own thoughts at the time – that made headlines around the world…
I knew I could expect a tirade of abuse from Chelsea supporters, but I didn’t beat myself up about my performance. At that moment I heard a commotion outside the locker room.
Mark Clattenburg was accused by Chelsea of racially abusing John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata
Damn it? Before I get to the door, he swings open. I jump back. John Mikel Obi bursts in, anger in his eyes. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo and coach Eddie Newton stop him. Mikel is out of control. “I’m going to break your legs!” he shouts. He waves. I dive away. A security guy struggles with Mikel, but he’s strong. I’m wearing my boots, I’m slipping. I get knocked back on some chairs. I try to defend myself. He still wants to hurt me. Mikel is eventually dragged back into the hallway. What just happened?
Di Matteo eventually returned to my dressing room. Like me, he trembled. I got the impression Chelsea were concerned about what I would include in my report. I have to be clear here – and this is important – at this point there was no racism. Would I report to Mikel what he had been doing in the locker room? Absolute.
Later my phone buzzes. I take a quick look: ‘Chelsea accuses referee of racist comments.’
What? Is this a joke?
Accusation of racism caused Clattenburg’s nightmare for 25 days and nearly destroyed his life
Mike Riley, my boss at the Professional Game Match Officials Board, calls. It has been leaked that Chelsea says I racially abused Mikel and Mata. The press has more information than we do.
In those early hours I realized the power of football clubs, the hold they have over the media and public opinion. It was terrifying.
I’m stuck. I can’t speak, tell the world I’m innocent. I can not sleep. I read the papers, I have to try to understand this. There are tears. This could ruin my career, my life. I am called a racist.
Within 24 hours of the match, my team of officials told the PGMOL that they had not heard any racist language through the headsets. Chelsea leaked information and tried to control the story. They let it be known that the Mata allegation involved me calling him a “Spanish t**t”, which was not true.
Two days after the game, Chelsea’s Oriol Romeu revealed that Mata had not heard those words. The club withdrew the allegation. It was also reported that Mikel had not heard any racial language. Chelsea now informed that Ramires and David Luiz would support the club’s claims. How can we trust Chelsea? They make it up along the way. This must be over, right?
Chelsea said Ramires was the only player who had heard the word ‘monkey’, not Mikel
wrong. Chelsea have filed a formal complaint with the FA. They said I said to Mikel, “Shut up, you monkey.” The language disgusted me, it was harmful and fictitious.
I am crying. My family has never seen me like this, Chelsea wants to get me.
Chelsea also say that Ramires was the only player who had heard the word ‘monkey’. To make their case even more implausible, it was now said that Luiz’s role was to translate for Ramires what his team-mate thought he had heard me say.
In a strange way it reassured me, because I knew I hadn’t said it. I also knew that Ramires barely spoke English. It reinforced my belief that this was a smear campaign made by Chelsea. At home, I began to slip into a dark place. It was then that I found an unlikely friend. “Mark, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson. I have spoken to my players and they have not heard you say what Chelsea are saying. We don’t believe you said it. We will support you.’
Sir Alex didn’t have to make that call and defend me in public, which he did later. But he believed that what Chelsea did was wrong. Later I was told that Chelsea threatened to sue him for suggesting that they were lying. But Sir Alex held on to his guns.
I was called to the first FA hearing and spoke to my lawyer. I said to him: ‘I want to know the moment Chelsea say this happened, then we can disprove it on the footage.’ The FA panel said they couldn’t tell us because they didn’t know. We’ve asked for more Chelsea footage. It took a few days for them to hand over the feed from an overhead static camera.
He had expected a response, but not the controversy that made headlines around the world
For the first time, three weeks after the game, Chelsea revealed the exact moment of their claim. There was a break in the TV footage when a rerun was shown. When the live feeds came back, I was on the screen with Mikel in the background. My lawyer said it looked like Chelsea was trying to substantiate their claim.
But the overhead footage proved I wasn’t near Ramires when he claimed to have heard those words. Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney were closer and both told the panel they hadn’t heard any racial language, and neither had Mikel. Twenty-five days after the game, the FA dismissed the case.
Mikel was later given a three-game ban for the referee room incident and the FA explained to me that they had to be careful not to be too strict as they didn’t want to stop players from reporting accusations of racism.
Three matches? Will the FA take 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 downplay what Mikel had done? If so, Chelsea won, Mikel evaded the suspension he deserved and I’m still the biggest loser in this. Hell, I’ve missed more games than Mikel will. I’m furious.
The club had made my existence unbearable. They didn’t care about the effect on my wife or my son at school. Chelsea and Mikel never apologised. Am I surprised? New. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief, brought Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to a meeting with all the umpires a few weeks later.
Chelsea were angry that officials missed an offside for the winner of Manchester United
Clattenburg revealed he received a call from Sir Alex Ferguson offering his support
Buck appeared in St George’s Park and walked around the room to shake hands with everyone. He gestured to shake mine. Don’t fucking dare. He said he didn’t understand our problems. We all looked at each other in disbelief – did this clown take the gamble?
As for Mikel, I don’t have time for him. I cannot forgive someone who has refused to apologize. I was planning to take legal action against the club. I was told to end my job as a Premier League referee to sue a Premier League club. There would be resistance to hiring lawyers against Chelsea. That frustrates me.
I still believe Chelsea’s motive could be retaliation for John Terry’s suspension. The FA had found Terry guilty of racially assaulting Anton Ferdinand on the basis of ‘the balance of probability’. Chelsea felt it should be proven to the standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Terry was found not guilty in a court of law. That’s why I think they pushed the allegation against me to test the FA’s “balance of probability” standard.
But I went further. So when I whistled the Champions League and European Championship finals in 2016, it felt like a f*** you to those who were trying to destroy me. If I can take one positive point, it is that the experience has made me stronger.
From WHISTLE BLOWER by Mark Clattenburg, published 30 September by Headline for £20. © Mark Clattenburg 2021. Visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books to order a copy for £18 (offer valid until 2/10 /21; UK P&P free on orders over £20). or call 020 3308 9193.