Mark Clattenburg says stress was a big factor in him leaving English football and discusses John Obi Mikel accusation

Mark Clattenburg refereed at England's highest level for 13 years and was widely considered one of the best European referees in that time; official also opened up about the incident with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel back in October 2012 when he was accused of using "inappropriate language"

Mark Clattenburg in November 2016
Image: Mark Clattenburg was widely considered as one of the best European referees of his generation

Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg believes mental health is a serious issue among officials and said the huge pressure is why he left in 2017.

Clattenburg refereed at England's highest level for 13 years and was widely considered one of the best European referees in that time.

As well as his 297 Premier League matches, Clattenburg also took charge of a number of high-profile matches across the globe, including the 2016 Champions League final and Euro 2016 final.

However, he admits the pressure of refereeing at the highest level is why he left the league for a role in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation back in February 2017.

"The stress levels of refereeing in the Premier League [were a factor]," Clattenburg said.

"Most referees last eight-10 years and then finish because of the stress, the training every day, and the pressure on your body. To do 13 years was a very difficult ask."

But with more conversations around mental health in football today, Clattenburg feels more referees might get the support they need moving forward.

"I think in the past, it was [seen as] a sign of weakness but now more and more people are speaking out. Therefore, football is supporting not just the players, but the referees," Clattenburg added.

"When I was coming through the system, I had to use people - friendships. They used to help me deal with issues that I used to have - dealing with abuse, issues in your private life.

"It's always difficult because you're in the public eye and you have a responsibility, but, either way, it's important that people go out and get the help they need."

Mark Clattenburg left the Premier League to take up a role in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in February 2017
Image: Clattenburg left the Premier League to take up a role in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in February 2017

Clattenburg's career in the limelight coincided with the growth of social media, with the referee calling on social media companies to do more in the fight against online abuse.

"I'm still getting abuse now on social media and it's really sad to see the abuse that referees take," Clattenburg added.

"I got death threats and the social media companies wouldn't do anything about it. What does it take, somebody to get hurt? Or like what we are seeing now, players getting racially abused? It's not correct, it shouldn't be around in today's society."

Clattenburg also feels that if referees were able to speak after games and explain their decisions, they may be understood a little more by fans, players, coaches and analysts.

"I'm all for referees being transparent, I'm all for referees being open," he said. "Why not? It's an open world.

"Referees need to communicate their decisions. I think if it's done in a controlled environment it would benefit the game because people can understand why a referee made a decision - right or wrong."

Referee Mark Clattenburg during the Premier League match at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, 2017 (PA)
Image: Clattenburg has opened up about the incident with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel back in October 2012

'I fell out of love with the game after Mikel incident'

Clattenburg also opened up on the period of his career when he fell out of love with the game after being accused of using racial language towards Chelsea's John Obi Mikel in October 2012.

The club made a formal complaint to the FA against Clattenburg about his alleged use of "inappropriate language" towards the player during a match against Manchester United with a police investigation also launched.

And although the FA cleared Clattenburg of wrongdoing and the police investigation was also subsequently dropped, Clattenburg felt he was treated unfairly throughout the ordeal.

"To be accused of something that you haven't done is really difficult to deal with," Clattenburg said.

"To be found guilty of something before you'd even had the chance to speak is really difficult to deal with because I've always believed that you should be innocent until proven guilty.

"However that wasn't the case and I didn't want to come back and referee at that point because unfortunately I fell out of love with the game.

"But I had a mortgage to pay, a family to look after, and therefore I had to go back to refereeing. I was lucky that over the years I fell back in love with football and it made me achieve what I actually did."

Clattenburg's new book Whistle Blower: My Autobiography is released on September 30.

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