The former Premier League official tells FFT about VAR benefits, growing the game and why its his fault theres no English ref in Russia this summer
You’re refereeing at the CONIFA World Cup this summer, including countries like Matabeleland, Tibet and Karpatalya. How are you feeling about that?
I was approached to be an ambassador and referee, and what I like about it is the chance to work with nations that are less fortunate; that can’t get into FIFA because of their status; that have problems. There are some countries I’ve never heard of, but it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s played in London, and we’ll bring everyone together and enjoy the game we love. I’m reffing the opening match, the semis and the final, so I’m looking forward to being abused again! It’ll be nice to enjoy the game without so much pressure, too.
How will the standard be like?
You talk to people and realise how fortunate we are in this country. Some of these countries, you’re talking about dogs on the pitch during their cup final, cones for corner flags... that kind of thing. But you still see the positives of football – the fitness, the enjoyment, the joy. I’d like to put something back into the game one day. One of my dreams is to set up a refereeing academy and improve standards without the politics.
How are you finding Saudi Arabia?
It’s been interesting, a real opportunity. I haven’t got my family here, they’re back in the UK, but I travel back to see them and try to keep things balanced. I’m settled, I’m in my second full season and I’ve signed on for another year. I want to make some changes gradually. I’ve brought technology to the Saudi game and we’re trying to make the refs more professional. It takes time.
What do you think of VAR and its use in the World Cup?
I love it. I think the World Cup will be a big success and VAR will be part of that. What VAR does that people don’t understand is that it’s a deterrent. It’ll stop players cheating, feigning injury and trying to do bad things because they know that technology will find them out.
There will be some talking points, of course, and I know that makes football unique. But if it stops the blatant handball, the blatant cheating, the blatant goal that should have been given, then that’s great. We can’t have another Frank Lampard situation; another Thierry Henry handball. We can’t have huge decisions ruining the World Cup.
How much has the game changed during your time as a ref?
It has changed massively. The main thing is the level of exposure – all of the cameras, the social media. People say to me that refs want to be the star of the show, but no referee wants that, believe me. But your name is everywhere, you’re in the public eye. Some people can deal with it better than others. We’re just normal people. The Premier League is the biggest league in the world, so unfortunately as a referee, you’re going to be exposed to criticism.
What do you think about there being no English ref at the World Cup?
It’s my fault. I was on the programme, then FIFA made the U17 and U20 announcements, then I stopped and they didn’t have time to change it. But what I’ve said before is that English refs can’t be arrogant. There are only nine European refs going to the World Cup. There are two guys that didn’t make it – Jonas Eriksson and Viktor Kassai, who have done World Cups and Euros.
So what right do Michael Oliver or Anthony Taylor have to go? They’re young, they’re the future, but they don’t have the experience of those other two guys. They’ll have more international and Champions League experience soon. And who knows if I’d have made it either? My form might have dipped and I might have got dropped.
Keith Hackett said recently that Premier League refs are underpaid. Do you agree?
Relative to other people in the game – and I’m not including players – then yes, they’re underpaid. But compared to normal people, they aren’t. I was privileged to referee and earn the money I did. Police, ambulance drivers, schoolteachers and nurses all earn less than refs. So we’ve got to have some perspective.
Mark Clattenburg will be refereeing at the CONIFA World Cup, which is sponsored by Paddy Power and takes place in England between May 31 and June 10