Clatts has ruined Celebrity Refs, the Gauntlet and now helped melt Nottingham Forest’s entire brains

Dave Tickner
Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis and referee analyst Mark Clattenburg
Clatts has some explaining to do - and not to Evangelos Marinakis

Only a club so suspicious of referees could appoint a former one as lobbyist. And only Mark Clattenburg would have accepted that Nottingham Forest role.

 

It’s been quite a year for Mark Clattenburg, hasn’t it?

One can only imagine how jealous all the other Celebrity Refs are right now.

While Mike Dean is forced to sing for his supper by being the butt of Paul Merson’s jokes on a Soccer Saturday long stripped of its iconic must-watch status, there’s Clatts out front and centre.

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The primetime Gladiators gig alone, allowing him to show off his Euro 2016 tattoo and get more screentime than all the Glads combined, would be enough to have all his erstwhile colleagues writhing with jealousy.

And that’s before we even get to the astonishing job he’s got for himself at Nottingham Forest, albeit one that he probably does now have to pack in.

Gary Neville’’ Sky Sports tubthumping is not these days quite as consistently on the money as it once was, but he’s surely right about Clattenburg and Forest after yesterday’s absurdity.

And it could only ever really end this way. The very act of Forest hiring a former referee as some kind of bizarre gamekeeper-turned-poacher lobbyist against bias and injustice was itself the behaviour of a club lost to conspiracy theories and the basest instincts of the daftest fans.

From the moment Clattenburg took the job, it was only a matter of time until it placed him in an impossible rather than just excruciatingly embarrassing position. And that time is now.

Because he is now the official refereeing czar for a club that cheerfully implies Premier League officials are corrupt. He can’t be part of that, surely.

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It’s not a new observation, but it’s apparently one that needs repeating over and over and over again: you can question an official’s competence, even if that itself is often a pretty p*ss-poor and desperate act of blame-deflecting and arse-covering, but you absolutely cannot question their integrity. Not without some pretty compelling evidence. Hint: “He’s a Luton fan, him” is not compelling evidence. What next? Objecting to an official because he once referred to you as ‘Notts Forest’ on Facebook?

While we’re here – and this is indulging this nonsense far more than is sensible anyway – have we even really established whether an Everton win was actually the best result for Luton? Surely they’d want a draw? They’ve still got to play Everton, so even if you were going to bend the game to your nefarious Hatters-based ends, manipulating an Everton win probably isn’t even the best way to go about it.

But never mind that. A former referee cannot be party to the kind of tinfoil lunatic fan forum behaviour we’re seeing from Forest and expect to retain what’s left of his dignity.

We’re endlessly fascinated by Clattenburg’s journey. While other refs acquired their Celebrity Ref status as their careers developed, Clatts seemed to be born to it. He loved and loves the limelight – there is no other explanation for the Forest job, because we don’t believe he’s actually stupid enough to believe it’s a real job that can make any positive difference to Forest’s plight. But it gets him on the telly a lot.

Clattenburg’s career is so interesting, because while he isn’t the first referee to become famous via the job, he’s the first to so fully and unapologetically lean into it. His Wikipedia page is frequently unintentionally (we assume) hilarious – especially when you consider that Clatts is precisely the sort of bloke to task someone on his team with editing it.

His domestic career factfile jumps from “2004-17: Premier League – Referee” to “2024: Gladiators UK – Referee” with no hint of irony or any sense that those aren’t identical jobs.

His ‘List of notable matches’ refereed is an instant entry into our top 10 favourite internet lists. It is a fascinating insight into the career development and trajectory of the man.

2012 Football League Cup final
2012 Olympics men’s final
2013 FA Community Shield
2014 UEFA Super Cup
2016 FA Cup final
2016 UEFA Champions League final
UEFA Euro 2016 final
2018 CONIFA World Football Cup final
2022 Sidemen Charity Match
2023 Sidemen Charity Match

If he doesn’t already have a Sidemen Charity Match tattoo, we assume it’s in the pipeline.

Now, we do want to talk about his role on Gladiators. We’ve been wanting to do so for ages, and are cheerfully jumping at this chance now he’s back in the headlines.

Because while we’ve had a good laugh at the way his online CV jumps from Premier League to Gladiators like they’re the same thing, the manner of his refereeing on that show does indicate how he views the role of officials.

He is, frankly, a sh*t Gladiators referee. There, we’ve said it. It’s been annoying us for months. He is rubbish at it for two reasons that shouldn’t even be compatible, yet are: he lacks the charisma to carry off the pantomime element of it, but is also far too keen to get involved.

His “Contender, you will go on my first whistle” is transparently an attempt to mimic the iconic John Anderson. But it has none of the gravitas of his predecessor, precisely because he’s forcing it. And his attempted impression also manages to get the stresses and cadence all wrong. He also, and this boils our p*ss more than you could ever know, is simply incapable of timing a simple countdown from three to match with the audio and visual FX. The man makes everything look like a false start.

Is this worse than any number of erroneous penalty decisions that he feels obliged to draw to our attention? Yes, yes it is.

But that’s not even the worst of it. While Clattenburg tries and fails to have the gravitas and delivery style of a legend who never strove for it (and that’s the precise point) he also just can’t help getting involved in the action.

We know that this is partly the wrestling-adjacent pantomime of it all, but it has a deadening effect. The man simply cannot officiate Duel with any consistency whatsoever, while his heavy-handed rule-worshipping treatment of the Gladiators’ heavy hands has reduced the once-proud Gauntlet to an embarrassing farce.

The toughest part of Gauntlet for the contenders these days is having to do an interview with Bradley Walsh’s idiot son after collecting their 10 easy points. This actually is an example of refereeing standards being better 30 years ago. Clattenburg has destroyed it by making it all about him.

Much like we’ve done with this column. It’s got away from us, hasn’t it? We promised ourselves we weren’t going to let our Gladiators frustrations loose, but something really must be done for the next series. We’d suggest the Gladiators get together and hire John Anderson as a lobbyist.

To drag this back kicking and screaming to football if we absolutely must, Clattenburg’s desire for the limelight has now put him in an untenable position. In accepting the Forest role, he took on a position that could only ever end in this kind of impossible, conspiracy-addled mess.

Only a club that believed the worst of referees could look to make a hire like Clattenburg, and only a referee who thought an awful lot of himself would accept such a position.

Now everyone involved looks ridiculous. Including those of us who went on a 500-word tangent about a TV show.

And it’s all Mark Clattenburg’s fault. Because we can all play the blame-deflecting game to mask our own inadequacies.

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