The curious case of Clattenburg and the laws

by Don McMahon

In his most recent article, Tony quite accurately reviewed the seriously flawed logic of Mr.Clattenburg and his rather bizarre public revelation about how he manipulated a game to achieve a personal end.

Some people posted criticisms of UA’s concerns but there are many other issues that Tony didn’t mention and I’d like to review them for our members;


1) In order to keep the temperature of the match under control, a referee can intervene very early in the match and stamp his seal of authority on the game by carding or not, a player he is concerned about.  But he should never ignore serious and repeated foul play, as Clattenburg did, for the spurious reason he did.

The best referees keep the temperature down by being proactive and firm but fair with all players. They don’t EVER apply the Laws selectively in order to dodge a bullet, otherwise they aren’t impartial referees, they are just spectators.


2) One of the most important and principle duties of a referee (and assistants) is to avoid serious injury to players due to dangerous or serious foul play or violent conduct. It is not in their aegis to play God and decide how a game will play out, otherwise many refs would award dubious penalties to influence the final result (opps…seen that, been there) and avoid potential censure by fans management, the media, the League or players!  Allowing players to continue playing when they are guilty of the above is negligent and disreputable.


3) No referee or assistants in their right minds will EVER apply the letter of the Law without using their judgement and common sense, while respecting the spirit of the Law. I have seen some very poor officials apply the laws absolutely rigidly and without concern for the results. It always ended badly. However, the spirit of the Law must ALWAYS be respected as I am sure Walter and others on UA understand.

What is the spirit of the LAW? Simply stated, it is the original intent of the law (ie: handball law was created to differentiate Football from other sports where use of hands was allowed on the field by someone other than the keeper). If the letter is not immediately advisable, the spirit is ALWAYS essential.


4) During 48 years of officiating at all levels (including professional), I have NEVER seen 22 players decide in unison or otherwise, that violence or cheating is the order of the day. I have seen a few hotheads take the Law into their own hands, but only after the official failed to protect them or their teammates.

Proactive officiating means that the 3 officials and the 4th assistant work as a team to weed out the most serious breaches of the Law and apply the best practices to ensure the game is safe, enjoyable and entertaining. If a few players fail to get the message, the officials can use many strategies to re-emphasize the point, ignoring serious offences is NOT one of them.


5) Clattenburg went way beyond the laws in deciding how the game would be played out! It is an incredibly bold and narcissistic act to publicly proclaim that he determined the outcome because of a personal agenda (avoiding blame for a Tottenham loss) and a very risky thing to do for players from both sides, as someone could have sustained a serious injury in such a contest.

The PGMOL must review this statement and deal with it, otherwise the FA must step in and sanction such boldness. An official need NOT justify his or her decisions to anyone but must also avoid the limelight when such frankness can bring him or her and the game into disrepute as Clattenburg has done.

It isn’t all about Mark Clattenburg, it is about the game and the black eye it now must sport because of his revelations.

I don’t find his actions during that game and his candidness after the fact either reassuring or noble. He screwed up the match, risked injury to players, discrediting the game and brought his fellow officials into disrepute. I hope Walter and other experienced referees who frequent UA will support me in calling for retrospective sanctioning of Mr.Clattenburg!

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13 Replies to “The curious case of Clattenburg and the laws”

  1. Thank you Don and I dare add that not only a censure of Mr. Clattenburg but a review of the entire PGMOL edifice for tolerating such brazenness especially since ‘Game 50’ officiated by their boss. The FA cannot fail to act in this matter for the rest of the World is waiting to see how this plays out to give a verdict on the EPL brand. As of now it is not looking good.

  2. I would hope that the Saudi football authority would now review and terminate his contract – but I’m not holding my breath for that happening. I would also hope for the FA to publicly announce that he will never again be allowed to be employed in any capacity in football in this country again.

    I also wonder if any Chelsea player injured in the match willbring a private prosecution against him which, I would have thought would have a decent chance of being upheld given his revelations.

  3. Nice article Don, really educative. I however do not completely agree with some of your points. Viz
    1. I agree with point one but I’d like to say that isn’t the only way a ref can keep a match under control. I watched the match in question and can boldly say, both teams were physical on the night, spurs more so than Chelsea. Sometimes a ref decides how he plans to ref a match, the players hopefully notice in the first few minutes and adjust accordingly. For example 2 strong tackles from team A in the first five minutes, ref waves play on. Team B players realize the ref doesn’t mind a hard game, from then on their players stay on their feet and dish out as much as they get. Of course it’d be a failure on the part of the ref if he allows gbh go, so at the end of the day the ref is still expected to set the limit to which the players can go. Where you, I and clattenburg may disagree is on where that limit is set.
    2. True one of a referees major duty is to ensure the safety of the players, but that’s not his only major duty. Probably of more significance is ensuring the match is maintains its competitiveness and entertainment. It’s probably why refs seem to ref differently, big matches like derbies.
    I totally agree with points 3&4. On point 5, I doubt clattenburg was defending his officiating, as I haven’t seen much criticism of his handling of that match or indeed his statement as to why he did what he did. To me it seemed like he was even offering advice/ giving insight into the art of refereeing. He’s a very experienced and well respected ref(in the early days of UA ref reviews, Walter and co used to speak highly of him), and if I were an aspiring ref, I’d ponder seriously on his statements

  4. Maybe, Ref Clattenburg had a false sense of “immunity” in his new Saudi soccer federation role; maybe, he’s had a bit too much to drink (an offense in that country); or, perhaps, he’s got so bored he thought to himself “what can I do/say to get some publicity back in the UK. Whatever his motivation, that’s a most reckless admission to make and surely, this has to be viewed objectively and sanctions applied.

    It just goes to cast aspersions on the independence and fairness of the officials appointed by the PGMOL. It’s been obvious that certain officials are picked for “hatchet jobs” to favour or undermine the chances of clubsides. It’s rather sad.

  5. The whole episode is pretty shocking, but perhaps shouldn’t be when we see what the Spuds get away with.
    Think I read the PGMOL refused to comment. Clatts is in Saudi now, they can judge him as they will, but should he ever want to come back , I hope he is never given the option.
    His job should have been about applying the laws of the game, not pandering to his ego.
    In this, rare, occasion, the PGMOL should apologise .
    Who knows what other personal agendas might be at play with some of these refs.
    Why are the FA so quiet, well actually, we know.

  6. A society with a mentality of raping other lands and conquering and being proud of it will never have laws that benefit even it’s own people, in the end a crook is just a crook and will make laws for their own advantage in every area of society.

    The ref situation in football is just one of the areas of society that reflects this mentality.

    Some of the laws, and indeed some laws of society just do not make sense to me, they have become so complex that it takes a quantum computer to determine right from wrong and how to apply the law.

    Over the last weeks i just watched the Terminator movies, and realise that no wonder the machines(speak computers) decided to wipe out man.

    For those who saw The Matrix, and did not know that Terminator and Matrix both are the brainchild of a very astute person who wrote(conceived) it as one complete story.
    Matrix is actually the continuation of Terminator after the machines took over.

    Anyway, Lets enjoy the game tonight and hope to see some of the youth flex their skills.

    Is it being broadcast anywhere in UK?

  7. Courtesy of Bleacher Report

    > Live on BT Sport 2 (UK) and ESPN Deportes (U.S.)

    I will guess that means it isn’t on in Canada. But, I probably have work to do anyway. 🙂

  8. From the Express:

    Arsene Wenger is expected to heavily rotate his squad for the dead rubber, with the Gunners boss already confirming Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere will start.

    Arsenal fans can also expect to see Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Francis Coquelin and Ashley Maitland-Niles feature after the quartet were seen training this morning.

    However, it was a sparse turnout at London Colney with several big names expected to be rested tomorrow night – although Alexis Sanchez was spotted being put through his paces.

    I won’t try to guess a lineup. But I think Alexis is very similar to Santi in one respect; he loves to play football. I would not find it unusual for him to train, and not be in the starting XI or on the beach.

    The Evening Standard had this about Santi:

    However, Wenger said ahead of Arsenal’s final Europa League group game against BATE Borisov tonight: “I sent him a message because he had a new surgery and wished him well.

    “He answered ‘look I have to start again, from zero basically’ and it is very sad, honestly.

    Wishing the best in your continuing recovery Santi!

  9. Market Mark, how’s the East? Nice of you to pull your finger out, censure maybe, direct action, possibly, Arab money, why? Why certainly sir!

    A review USB essential in order to protect the stature of the premier League, as is an agreement of player eligibility in respect of EU citizen participants of the league.

    A potentially wise move, not so subtly disguised as an unwise one.

    Injury is a major factor regarding the spirit of the game and its laws, expansive enough to incorporate player fatigue due to international participation and fixture congestion, not withstanding player holiday minimum requirements.

    Injuries of a long term nature to players of The Arsenal have in the main, been a direct result of inadequate game management by the team of officials. Not so much but as in consideration of team and strategic mentality in deliberately and willingly participating in the dereliction of a duty of care from all game participants.

    A CB is required, Kos is suffering from acute accumulated fatigue and battle weariness, in order to prolong his career he will require cover. Holding and Chambers and their juniors are not ready, Montreal is better at CB than he is left back and he is not capable of tackling then physical specimens such as Pogba or Mariana, we are lucky neither were in alongside Zlatan, all the more reason we should have won!

    In terms of switching a back 3 to a 4, I’m waiting on a DM.

    Per, Nacho, Debouchy I all expect to leave in the summer for free, with the former likely to remain on the staff. That’s 3 of 25 spots opening up. Carl and Cohen will need pre season assessment. But I expect us to acquire both a CB and DM in summer if not also an AM and RW. Expect to lose someone else from the current squad, I hope Jack steps up and Elneny could go, God bless, but he isn’t being played for a reason.

    If Ospina was shifted for a young Englishman we could match quotas and rely on Reiss and Co unregistered as the make up of a second 18, combined with non starters.

    Shift from a 3-4 allows all of this, there is no other way. We missed a screen in the Liverpool, City and United games and cannot attack relentlessly the likes of Stoke or Watford.

    We are in touching distance of our Peo school of Messi!

    I expect the helm to be held by Arsene until that is compete with a good finish this year and wise money this summer. We are well in to the final two years ignore that project.

  10. Amos….good comments, but I thought I’d been clear on point one, that it is one of many strategies a ref can use to control a game, not the only one or necessarily the best one. It is always the context that decides which tactics the referee will apply.
    Yes, again I made it clear that it was one of the important obligations of a referee to ensure that the Laws are respected and enforced for the good of the game, the integrity of the match and the safety and enjoyment of the players but there are also other important obligations, such as ensuring that the time is properly recorded and time-wasting is avoided, that substitutions are done properly, that the keepers respect the laws, etc.
    Clattenburg wasn’t defending his officiating as much as he was justifying his allowing the game to become a debacle, for his own selfish reasons. what really scares me is that many officials in the EPL seem to follow the same reasoning!!!

  11. Andrew …

    Nothing will get done because the betting companies “own” football in this country. They own the media, they own the FA/PGMO and they own the government.

    Well, that’s how it appears, as Clattenburg is the THIRD retired PGMO employee to come forward with tales of corruption, yet NONE of them have been called before the Damien Collins let committee investigating the FA!

    It’s a farce, because it’s never going to ask really hard questions because of the BILLIONS involved across the sport.

    Then, our media and sporting “icons” have the nerve to point the finger at Russian sportsmen and women for cheating.

    Pots and kettles!

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