The day Chelsea accused me of racially abusing Jon Obi Mikel almost RUINED my life: Mark Clattenburg lifts the lid on what happened at Stamford Bridge and how Sir Alex Ferguson fought his corner during 2012 controversy
- Mark Clattenburg was ready to face a backlash following Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat
- He had sent off two Chelsea players and missed an offside for United’s winner
- But Clattenburg was not expecting the terrifying controversy which followed
- An accusation of racism sparked a nightmare 25 days and almost ruined his life
In 2012, referee Mark Clattenburg was accused by Chelsea of racially abusing John Mikel Obi and Juan Mata following their 3-2 loss to Manchester United.
He had sent off two Chelsea players — Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres — and the officials missed an offside for United’s winning goal.
Here, in an exclusive extract 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 to expect a tirade of abuse from Chelsea supporters, but I was not beating myself up over my performance. It was then that I heard a commotion outside the dressing room.
Mark Clattenburg was accused by Chelsea of racially abusing John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata
What the hell? Before I get to the door it swings open. I jump back. John Mikel Obi bursts in, rage in his eyes. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo and coach Eddie Newton are holding him back. Mikel is out of control. ‘I’m gonna break your legs!’ he shouts. He’s swinging. I’m ducking. A security guy is grappling with Mikel but he’s strong. I’ve got my boots on, I’m slipping. I’m knocked backwards into some seats. I try to defend myself. He’s still hellbent on hurting me. Mikel is eventually dragged back into the corridor. What just happened?
Di Matteo eventually returned to my dressing room. Like me, he was shaking. I got the impression Chelsea were concerned about what I was going to include in my report. I have to be clear here —and this is important — at this point there had been no mention of racism. Was I going to report Mikel for what he had done in the dressing room? Absolutely.
Later, my phone is buzzing. I take a quick look: ‘Chelsea accuse referee of racist comments.’
What? Is this a joke?
Accusation of racism sparked a nightmare 25 days for Clattenburg and almost ruined his life
Mike Riley, my boss at the Professional Game Match Officials Board, calls. It has been leaked that Chelsea are saying I racially abused Mikel and Mata. The press have more information than we do.
During those early hours, I realised the power of football clubs, the hold they have over the media and public opinion. It was terrifying.
I’m trapped. I am not allowed to speak, to tell the world I am innocent. I can’t sleep. I’m reading the newspapers, I need to try to make sense of this. There are tears. This could ruin my career, my life. I am being called a racist.
Within 24 hours of the game, my team of officials told the PGMOL they had heard no racial language down the headsets. Chelsea were leaking information, trying to control the narrative. They let it be known 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 were now briefing that Ramires and David Luiz would back up the club’s claims. How can we trust Chelsea? They’re making it up as they go along. This has to be over, right?
Chelsea said that Ramires was the only player who had heard the word ‘monkey’, and not Mikel
Wrong. Chelsea made a formal complaint to the FA. According to them, I had said to Mikel, ‘Shut up, you monkey’. The language disgusted me, it was damaging and fictitious.
I’m crying. My family have never seen me like this, Chelsea are out to get me.
Chelsea also say Ramires was the only player who had heard the word ‘monkey’. To add incredulity to their case, it was now said that Luiz’s part 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 had not said it. I also knew Ramires spoke hardly any English. It strengthened my belief that this was a smear campaign, manufactured 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’ve spoken to my players and they did not hear you say what Chelsea are alleging. We don’t believe you said it. We will support you.’
Sir Alex did not have to make that call and to defend me in public, which he later did. But he believed what Chelsea were doing was wrong. I was later told Chelsea threatened to sue him for insinuating they were lying. But Sir Alex stuck 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 from the footage.’ The FA panel said they could not tell us because they did not know. We requested more footage from Chelsea. It took a few days before they handed over the feed from an overhead static camera.
He had expected a backlash 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 allegation. There was a break in the TV footage as a replay was shown. When the live pictures returned, I was on the screen with Mikel in the background. My lawyer said it looked like Chelsea were trying to make their allegation fit.
But the overhead footage proved I was nowhere near Ramires when he claimed to have heard those words. Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney were closer and both told the panel they had heard no racial language, and neither had Mikel. Twenty-five days after the game, the FA dismissed the case.
Mikel was later given a three-match ban over the incident in the referee’s room and the FA explained to me they had to be careful not to be too harsh, because they did not want to deter players from reporting allegations of racism.
Three matches? Are the FA taking 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 mitigate against what Mikel had done? If so, Chelsea have won, Mikel has dodged the ban he deserved and I’m still the biggest loser in this. Hell, I have missed more matches than Mikel will. I’m furious.
The club had made my existence unbearable. They did not care about the effect on my wife or my son at school. Chelsea and Mikel never apologised. Am I surprised? No. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, did bring Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to a meeting with all the referees a few weeks later.
Chelsea were upset that the officials missed an offside for Manchester United’s winner
Clattenburg revealed that he received a call from Sir Alex Ferguson who offered his support
Buck showed up at St George’s Park and went around the room shaking everyone’s hand. He gestured to shake mine. Don’t you f***ing dare. He said he didn’t understand our issues. We all looked at each other in disbelief — was this clown taking the p***?
As for Mikel, I have no time for him. I cannot forgive someone who has refused to apologise. I intended to take legal action against the club. I was told I’d have to end my employment as a Premier League referee to sue a Premier League club. There would be opposition to me engaging lawyers against Chelsea. That frustrates me.
I still believe Chelsea’s motive could have been a retaliation to John Terry’s suspension. The FA had found Terry guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand on the ‘balance of probability’. Chelsea believed it should have to be proven to the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Terry was found not guilty in a court of law. That is why, I believe, they may have pursued the allegation against me, to test the FA’s ‘balance of probability’ standard.
But I moved on. So when I refereed the finals of the Champions League and European Championship in 2016, it felt like a ‘f*** you’ to those who tried to destroy me. If I can take one positive, it is that the experience made me stronger.
Extracted from WHISTLE BLOWER by Mark Clattenburg, published on 30th September by Headline at £20. © Mark Clattenburg 2021. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to 2/10/21; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.
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