Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has opened up on some of the harrowing threats he received in the early days of his refereeing career.
Clattenburg is one of the English top-flight's most recognisable and respected referees after a 13-year career in the Premier League. The 47-year-old called time on his career back in 2017, but was involved in some of the biggest matches possible, including the Champions League final and the Euro 2016 final.
Before his big break in the top-flight, Clattenburg had stints officiating in the Football League and non-league – and he has spoken out on how tough he found the job in the younger years, including some shocking abuse.
Clattenberg, who was speaking exclusively at the launch of Ladbrokes' 5-A-Side Bet on the Champions League Final, recalled: "I remember how lonely I felt in some of those dressing room sin the early days, essentially I'm a kid out there on my own and I've got to manage a game on a Sunday morning between a load of blokes who are a lot older than me, most of who had probably been out the night before. I used to get the most horrible feeling in my stomach walking out, knowing I had to pass everyone. The worst part about it was the stares, because the players wanted to know who was reffing the game.
"I was young, you know, I was 16 or 17 at the time, refereeing men's football was very, very intimidating. They're staring you up and down while you find two people on the sides to act as your assistants. They'll stand on the halfway line with a tab in their one hand and a flag in the other. Half the time they're flagging the wrong half and things like that! You had to accept it; it's just how it was.
"I remember one situation in particular which was really difficult for me. I was isolated, on my own, young and inexperienced. It was in the Morpeth Sunday League. One player in particular had abused me so much during the game, I decided to take the easier option and not send him off. And then he started kicking players and abusing me again. I mean, he gave me no choice in the end; I just said enough was enough and I showed him a red card."
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Unfortunately for Clattenburg, his decision left him on the end of a backlash from the offender. He added: "He threatened me right there. He told me he was going to break my legs after the match. I was so scared. I was 17 at most. It was so scary; I felt awful. I don't know how I managed to referee the last 20 minutes; he was stood on the sideline trying to intimidate me.
"All I could think about was my exit plan. At the final whistle, I was going to just run to my car, get in it as fast as I cold and leave. I don't even think I stuck around to receive my match fee! I just decided that I wanted to be out of there. The moment I finished the match, I was avoiding all conflict, avoiding going near the dressing rooms, and I just decided to get out of there."
But despite being subjected to such a terrifying ordeal, Clattenburg has insisted that incidents such as that are rare.
He said: "People asked me why I carried on after that, but it was because I loved it. Why was I going to let one individual spoil what I loved doing? That sort of thing, to that extreme, was rare."
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