Mark Clattenburg's scandalous Sheffield United comments after West Ham draw hint at wider issue for Blades

Sheffield United fans enraged by former top ref's disparaging comments about their team's style
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Mark Clattenburg, the former top Premier League referee turned Gladiators official after the TV show was rebooted, has attracted the wrath of Sheffield United supporters after some disparaging comments following their draw with West Ham at the weekend. The Blades earned a deserved point thanks to Oli McBurnie's 103rd-minute penalty.

The Scottish international won the penalty about five minutes earlier after being clattered by Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who received extensive treatment on the pitch before being substituted with a cut lip. The penalty award has divided opinion amongst fans, pundits and observers alike but VAR did not recommend a review after the on-field decision by Michael Salisbury.

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Salisbury was curiously the VAR when Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana wiped out Wolves' Sasa Kalajdzic after missing a cross earlier this season. Salisbury declined to recommend a review on that occasion and the non-award of a penalty was widely decried, which may have played a part in his decision-making at Bramall Lane.

Former top ref Clattenburg disagreed with the decision in his column for the Daily Mail but his comments hint at what could be a wider issue for the Blades and McBurnie while ever they are in the top-flight. "This is not a foul by Alphonse Areola on Oli McBurnie. It is a foul by McBurnie on Areola!" Clattenburg wrote. "If you know football, and you know Sheffield United, and you know McBurnie, then you know he is going to try to disrupt the goalkeeper. He does that by launching his arm into Areola, who’s left with a bloodied lip for his troubles. It should be a free-kick to West Ham. Yet Salisbury awards the penalty to Sheffield United. 

"This is where VAR frustrates me most. This was a clear and obvious error that needed rectifying. The clock read 97:39 when the penalty was awarded and, because Areola was injured, it was 102:07 when McBurnie finally took it. That was a long time for VAR to study the incident, and yet they stood by the original call. It is no wonder West Ham were livid."

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Disrupt the goalkeeper? McBurnie wasn't even looking at him when Areola came from nowhere and clattered into him. "Launching his arm" into the goalkeeper is a serious allegation against a professional, especially one like McBurnie who often ends up engaged in physical battles with centre-halves as United get up the pitch. Is that the perception he, and United, have amongst referees?

Maybe that is why he doesn't get half the protection he should from them, when opposition centre-halves pull him this way and that in mid-air and leave him dumped on the deck without any punishment. Clattenburg had an unbelievable refereeing career before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2017, while McBurnie didn't play a Premier League game until after he signed for United in 2019. Have the two even crossed each other's paths in their professional lives, or is this the attitude and perception of United that pervades the Premier League referees?

As a former top ref he is obviously qualified and entitled to make his views clear on the decision-making but it was Clattenburg's "If you know..." comments that have sparked debate amongst Unitedites. Fan @Johnstonpickle tweeted: "He's not doing a lot to dispel the rumblings of referee bias is he? These refs should remain anonymous and simply turn up, apply the rules of the game and go home. We don’t need to see their personalities."

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Neil Colclough added: "Really think there’s a lot of explaining to do on behalf of referees. I think if I were Wilder and the club I would be seeking some explanation for these comments and go armed with plenty of evidence from the last few years that might back their suspected bias referred to here."

@SW_1889 posted: "Literally no one outside of Sheffield United was outraged when Spurs got 12 minutes of added time out of nowhere to beat us. When Souza nearly had his leg snapped. When Robinson was elbowed MMA style in the face. Or any other time a decision went against us. There’s an agenda…"

Gavin Puszczalowskyi said: "It means that referees judge situations on preconceived notions and not the here and now, which is extremely alarming," while @KevC12929993 added: "Just another elitist viewpoint.... They also mentioned on comms that our stadium/atmosphere was like a throwback... They talked us down even when we finished 9th...we don't fit in and they'd like us gone. I really hope we prove them wrong. UTB."

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