The Many Faces of Mark Clattenburg

I am not a referee.

But many of my friends and new readerfriends (a word I totally just made up) are referees, so it’s meant that I’ve started watching refs with a different eye than I did when I first became an officiating fangirl, way back when.

(Which basically went something like: “Oh, he’s cute. I’m a fan.”)

Take Mark Clattenburg’s Europa League semifinal performance in Turin on Thursday, with Juventus fighting to reach a hometown final against Benfica, who led 1-2 on aggregate coming into the game.

Throughout most of the match he was Classic Clattenburg: animated, expressive, and generally “matey”. There were lots of broad grins, eyebrow waggles, and friendly banter.

There was even an “it was this long” conversation with Stefan Lichtsteiner where I don’t even want to know to what they were referring. (Or I don’t know…maybe I do.)

On one memorable occasion, he lost his temper and indulged in the kind of pantomime shouting he probably reserves for his kids when they’re arguing over sweets. (“Hey! HEY! Get over here!”)

One person on Twitter referred to him as a “Hollywood ref”, and it wasn’t a compliment.

Then shit started to get real.

Incessant rain, hail, a ticking clock, fights, blood…the more out of control the match threatened to get, the calmer Clattenburg grew.

I noticed that the eyebrow waggling disappeared, as did the banter; his face grew more inscrutable with every passing call. Dissent was stifled with a single, calm shake of the head.

When the benches cleared, he calmly separated the teams, then pulled Juve’s Mirko Vucinic and Benfica’s Lazar Markovic aside, one by one, and sent them off without a second word.

When Paul Pogba’s trailing studs caught Ezequiel Garay in the face, and the latter writhed on the pitch spouting blood, Clattenburg mimed for a stretcher, his face betraying not a hint of emotion.

If he had continued his earlier attempts at Friendly Clatts, the whole thing would have exploded in his face and someone would really have gotten hurt. (Though Garay might dispute that it could have gotten worse – he was obviously in a lot of pain – it easily could have.)

By turning himself into a steady pillar in a sea of chaos, he kept the match focused. Not many referees could have managed it better.

“Hollywood ref”, indeed.

One comment

  • totally agree with you about his performance – very calm despite the chaos around him. Not as high profile, but reminded me of Webb’s world cup final masterclass – the only man who seemed determined to keep football as the spectacle, remarkably keeping 11 v 11 for much of a bloodbath.


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