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Feeding the ‘demon inside’: Ex-employee tells how and why he stole $22 million from Jaguars

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Feeding the ‘demon inside’: Ex-employee tells how and why he stole $22 million from Jaguars

Feb. 2, 2023 began like any other morning for Amit Patel. He was sitting in his cubicle on the ground floor of EverBank Stadium, home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Patel, a manager in the team’s financial department, was closing out the last cycle of expenses, as he did at the beginning of each month.

When Jaguars chief financial officer Mark Sirota asked Patel to come to Sirota’s office, he thought it might be to discuss a new project. But then Patel got there and Sirota lowered his voice and asked Patel to shut the door behind him. Sirota then told Patel a delegation from NFL security was in a suite upstairs waiting to talk to him.

Sirota escorted Patel through the office, then the bowels of the stadium. As they made their way to an elevator, Patel looked back and saw a contingent of human relations officials and team security trailing them. When he arrived on the fourth floor and stepped into a suite, he was met by one of the team’s lawyers and three men in suits, one of whom was sitting behind a laptop.

“I already knew they had everything on the computer in front of them. My entire gambling history,” Patel, 31, told The Athletic in an interview from his attorney’s office in Jacksonville last week.

When the NFL security team asked where Patel got the money to place the bets they had discovered, he lied. He said it was from family wealth and cryptocurrency. When they asked whether they could have access to his phone and computer, he looked to the Jaguars’ lawyer for advice, only to realize the lawyer was there to protect the team, not him. He handed his devices over and the lawyer took him for a walk around the concourse. As they walked, Patel feverishly calculated what those security officials might identify as they transferred data from his computer and phone.

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When his boss later asked him for his password to the company’s virtual credit card program, Patel knew it was over. He was caught.

FBI investigators subsequently discovered that Patel, over a four-year period, had embezzled more than $22 million from the Jaguars by creating fraudulent charges on the club’s virtual credit card and then covering his tracks by sending falsified files to the team’s accounting department. Patel’s attorney said the vast majority of what he stole he gambled away via online sports gambling sites. The government said he also used the money to fund a jet-set lifestyle and to purchase vehicles, a condominium, a designer watch worth over $95,000 and other extravagances.

Last Tuesday, in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Patel stood before a judge, voice quivering, and said he was “ashamed” of his actions. The prosecution asked for a sentence of 84 months, emphasizing the scale of his fraud, the media attention the case received and the message it would send to others who might “steal millions and live like a king.” Patel’s attorney asked for probation, citing his client’s gambling addiction and subsequent recovery efforts as reasons for leniency.

Patel received a 78-month sentence.

In his first interview since he pleaded guilty last year, Patel said that after months of anticipation, dread and unease, he feels a sense of relief to finally face his punishment.

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“I’m dealing with the consequences of something that happened a year and a half ago. I’ve been a completely different person since then through my recovery,” Patel said. “I’m dealing with something that’s happened in the past when I was a different person.”

Patel had roughly two dozen friends and family on hand at his sentencing, some of whom made statements vouching for his character. His older brother said he was the prototypical golden child who excelled at sports and school only to be derailed by alcohol abuse and gambling addiction. His high school teacher said he was a “model student.” His girlfriend insisted he was a good person who had taken responsibility for his actions and committed to a life of sobriety.

Government attorneys described him as a fabulist who conned his company and enjoyed the spoils. Court filings included pictures of Patel partying at swanky hotels, flying on private planes and flashing expensive bottles of champagne. In that filing, the prosecutor handling the case wrote that Patel continued to “enjoy the finer things” even after he was fired. Megha Parekh, the Jaguars chief legal counsel, issued a blistering assessment of Patel, stating that his actions invited an inordinate amount of scrutiny on the organization and diverted key resources and time from current employees: “He was our teammate and he betrayed us.”

Those depictions, while seemingly in contrast, coexist in Patel’s retelling, and he frequently toed the line between expressing remorse for his actions and ascribing those actions to a problem outside his control.

“I was battling with a secret addiction that nobody knew about,” Patel said. “Everyone thought I was doing great, dandy. You know, on Instagram they see you having fun, you’re with your friends and family, but there’s a mental demon inside.”

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Patel grew up in a strict household where his parents, who immigrated from India, expected academic excellence from their two sons. He said he was impacted greatly by two losses earlier in his life: Patel’s father died of a heart attack when Patel was 13, and one of his best friends died in a car accident nine years later when he was in college. By that time, Patel said his drinking, drug use and gambling were all-consuming.

But Patel also had an abundance of love and support coupled with ambition and opportunity. He was, as the government attorney described in court, an example of the American Dream. Popular and well-liked among his classmates. Elected class president at the Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville. Captain of his high school lacrosse team. And he had an entrepreneurial spirit, dabbling in e-commerce and side projects that suffused him with cash and freedom.

Like many people his age, Patel was drawn to gambling during the online poker boom of the early aughts and the ubiquity of fantasy sports. He said he first experienced the rush of gambling on a cruise trip to the Bahamas the summer before he left for college. The cruise featured a poker tournament and, though his mom forbade him to enter because he had previously squandered money on online poker by using her credit card, his stepfather slipped him a $100 bill.

A crowd formed around the poker table and he was in the middle of it all, winning the tournament and a $2,000 prize. He paid his mother back for a portion of the cruise and bought his then-girlfriend a necklace. He later posed for a picture with the money splayed out on a table and made that his Facebook profile avatar.

Patel enrolled at Florida State in 2010 but said the combination of partying and gambling led him to switch from his major of choice (engineering) to something more manageable (accounting). Poor grades prompted his transfer to Flagler College as he prioritized gambling over all else. He took a bus to an in-person poker tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where he finished 15th out of about 1,500 entrants, winning almost $7,500. But he was able to return to FSU for an MBA. Out of college, he went to work for Deloitte, and while there he used his corporate credit card to fund his gambling habit. But he avoided trouble because his brother helped him pay it off.

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In 2018, he landed his dream job with the Jaguars, a team he grew up supporting. By that point, he’d progressed from playing fantasy football to betting on baseball via offshore accounts to placing wagers on essentially anything he could. “You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re betting on Turkish women’s volleyball,” he said.

He’d ignore his mom’s calls, forget to brush his teeth, stay up late into the night, constantly refreshing his phone for scores and highlights while his girlfriend slept next to him. Once, in Las Vegas, he drove to the Nevada/Arizona border just so he could place a daily fantasy sports bet, which isn’t permitted in Nevada. When his bank account was low, he’d sell personal items, donate plasma, take out payday loans or rustle up work doing cell phone repairs. There were times he’d visit the ATM multiple times in a day, depositing and depleting.

“The worst part is there’s always a win around the corner,” Patel said. “And so that’s what you’re always chasing.”

In September 2019, Patel, then a mid-level employee with the Jaguars, was in the hole from gambling losses, his credit card maxed out. He was drunk, trying to think of a way to dig himself out of debt and feeling the “itch.” That’s when he allowed himself to consider using funds from the company VCC program he managed.

“I mean, the devil inside me is like let me just deposit $25,000 from the card. I’ll turn it into $50,000. I’ll put the $25,000 back,” Patel said.

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Given the level of attrition and lack of oversight within the Jaguars’ depleted accounting and finance department, the prospect of getting caught seemed low. In corporate finance, there is a concept called the fraud triangle: Opportunity. Incentive. Rationalization. Patel had all three.

The hole deepened as Patel’s gambling losses mounted. And so he continued using funds obtained from the Jaguars VCC program to place astronomical bets via FanDuel and DraftKings in hopes that he’d win big and save himself. Patel said his VIP rep at FanDuel would add 10 percent to his account for every $600,000 he spent, in addition to entry fees that were refunded and travel perks he was comped. A spokesperson for FanDuel declined to comment as the company still considers the situation an “ongoing matter.”

In the early days of the scheme, Patel would see an unannounced meeting placed on his calendar and believe the team had figured out his subterfuge. As the years passed and his actions went undetected, that fear never abated, he said, but he just couldn’t stop.

He’s not sure what tipped off NFL security early in 2023. (Employees of NFL teams are forbidden from betting on games.) But he recounted some brazen moves he made in the months before his termination. Twice, he bet on the Jaguars – once while he was in Kansas City for a game against the Chiefs — an $18,000 six-way parlay involving five UFC fights and the Jags covering the spread. (The five fights went his way, he said, but the Jags didn’t cover.) Later, he said he bet “a few hundred thousand dollars” on a Jaguars-Titans game, another loss. He also tried to withdraw money from a wire to place bets through FanDuel, which triggered a notification from the anti-money laundering team at the site. (He said his account was suspended after he unsuccessfully answered questions about the source of his funds.)

“I was so far in the hole I was like ‘Maybe I can win a million really quick on this game and pay them back,’” he said. “I was desperate.”

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In the immediate aftermath of getting fired by the Jaguars, Patel did not stop gambling. Instead, he continued scrambling to try to win and pay the team back. An absurd idea, he recognizes now, considering the sum he owed.

Patel was in rehab by the time the FBI got involved. His attorney referred him for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as gambling addiction. He cooperated with the government’s investigation and in December 2023 pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and an illegal monetary transaction.

In the 99 days he spent in rehab, Patel said he felt guilt and shame for the pain he caused his loved ones, friends and coworkers. But he also felt grateful. “I was so glad to be out of that torturous, endless cycle in my head,” he said.

Gambler’s Anonymous works similarly to Alcoholics Anonymous. You work the 12 steps. Identify the “character defects” that contribute to addiction. Patel still battles those, with perfectionism and ego surfacing more prevalently than he would like.

He bristled at the suggestion that he was a neophyte and historically bad gambler, as one report suggested. He was bothered by news accounts that only one person attended his plea hearing in his defense. (He told friends and family not to attend, he said.) And he pushes back on the government’s assertion that he was driven solely by greed.

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He contends that he bought some luxury items to flip for profits to subsidize his gambling, while also acknowledging that he was frittering away money on a country club membership, spa services and more. Though the majority of the money he stole from the Jaguars ended up with FanDuel or DraftKings, the government contends that Patel transferred over $5 million to his PayPal and other financial accounts.

He admits he enjoyed the trappings that came with having access to millions of dollars but said the cost of certain trips and events were reimbursed by the online betting sites, an incentive for him to continue spending with them: “They just give you this illusion that you’re winning because they’re just making so much money off of you that they need to keep you happy and keep you gambling,” he said.

Patel said he still has urges to gamble — the most recent one came a few months ago when he got an email from the Hard Rock Hotel Casino group, commemorating the opening of its new sportsbook. Patel talked about it in the GA meeting he organized; the group now meets regularly in a local church.

“Not everyone will get addicted to gambling,” Patel said. “But everyone can get addicted.”

Patel will continue treatment while incarcerated. He is slated to begin his sentence within the next 90 days. His attorney requested he be placed at the federal facility closest to his family in Jacksonville. When he gets out, he’ll be put on a payment plan – $250 a month directed to the Jaguars. Both the prosecuting attorney and the judge acknowledged he is unlikely to ever pay back the entire sum he stole from the NFL franchise.

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Said Patel: “I’ve just got to deal with these consequences and move on with my life and see how much I can use this to help a lot of other people.”

(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; photos: Don Juan Moore, Julio Aguilar, Perry Knotts, Don Juan Moore / Getty Images; courtesy of U.S. Attorney)

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Umpire who ejected Yankees' Aaron Boone doubles down despite manager calling it 'embarrassing'

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Umpire who ejected Yankees' Aaron Boone doubles down despite manager calling it 'embarrassing'

A wild scene unfolded at Yankee Stadium just five pitches into the game, as home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt tossed New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone from the game. 

However, it appeared a fan screaming toward Wendelstedt triggered the veteran umpire to eject Boone, who had words with him just seconds earlier, from the game. 

After the Oakland Athletics won, 2-0, over the Yankees, Boone spoke with reporters, during which he called Wendelstedt’s move “embarrassing.” He also implied that the Yankees would be contacting Major League Baseball about it. 

Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees argues with home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt #21 in the first inning during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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The YES Network broadcast caught the moment Boone was ejected, where the manager was pleading with Wendelstedt, pointing to a fan behind the dugout and saying, “I didn’t say a f—ing thing” after he was warned not to speak. 

But Wendelstedt said, “I don’t care who said it. You’re gone!”

UMPIRE ERRONEOUSLY EJECTS YANKEES’ AARON BOONE AFTER FAN YELLS FROM STANDS

The broadcast ended up showing an alternate angle of the moment Boone was ejected, where a fan was seen in the first row just behind the Yankees’ dugout screaming something toward Wendelstedt, who reacted immediately after hearing it. 

Aaron Boone talks with umpire

Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees argues with third base umpire Marvin Hudson #51 in the first inning during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

After the game, Wendelstedt told a pool reporter he had not seen a replay of the incident. 

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“Apparently what he said was there was a fan right above the dugout,” Wendelstedt said, via MLB.com. “This isn’t my first ejection. In the entirety of my career, I have never ejected a player or a manager for something a fan has said. I understand that’s going to be part of a story or something like that because that’s what Aaron was portraying. I heard something come from the far end of the dugout, had nothing to do with his area, but he’s the manager of the Yankees. So he’s the one that had to go.

“Everything you said is exactly kind of what was communicated on the field,” Wendelstedt continued. “That’s what Aaron said. He said that ‘a fan said it, a fan said it.’ I said, ‘I don’t care who said it.’ … It’s foolish to throw out a player if you don’t know who did it.”

Umpire Hunter Wendlestedt

Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt on the field during the second inning between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals at Petco Park on April 2, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Brandon Sloter/Getty Images)

While Boone watched the game from the clubhouse, the Yankees’ offense struggled mightily, scattering just three hits. 

The A’s finally got on the board with a two-run homer by Zack Gelof in the top of the ninth inning off Yankees reliever Victor Gonzalez. 

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Stopping Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving at forefront of Clippers' Game 2 strategy

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Stopping Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving at forefront of Clippers' Game 2 strategy

The final stats from Dallas’ dynamic backcourt of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving from Game 1 of the playoffs Sunday told one story of how they performed at a high level with a combined 64 points, but the defense the Clippers played against the sensational pair told a story of stick-to-itiveness that resulted in the most important thing:

Winning.

And because of Terance Mann and Amir Coffey, who started in place of Kawhi Leonard (inflammation in his right knee), the Clippers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series because those two followed the defensive game plan all the while knowing that Doncic and Irving could erupt at any time.

Doncic finished with 33 points, but he was 11 for 26 from the field and four for 12 from three-point range. Irving finished with 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting that included him going three for six from three-point range.

The task now is to try to slow down Doncic and Irving again in Game 2 on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.

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“It’s very challenging,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before his team’s practice Monday. “You got two of the best scorers in the league on the same team. So, when they’re both on the court at the same time, it’s kind of hard to double-team one guy and leave the other guy. So, you got to pick your poison. I thought for the most part our guys did a good job with executing the defensive plan. We still had I think 26 points that we gave up on game-plan mistakes, which is going to happen throughout the course of a game. But I thought we did it hard, and I thought we tried to do it our best. We just made some mistakes and so we got to be better with that.”

The Clippers were at their best defending Doncic and Irving in the first half.

Doncic was four for 13 in the first half, one for seven from three-point range and scored just 11 points.

Irving was one for six in the first half, missed all three of his three-pointers and had 6 points.

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But Irving heated up in the third quarter, scoring 20 points on 8-for-8 shooting.

Doncic got going in the fourth, scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting.

“They’re going to do whatever they feel like doing,” Mann said. “They both play at their own speed, at their own pace. So just like you said, just play tough, be aggressive and try to keep them in front as best you can.”

Irving joked after Sunday’s game that Lue gave Mann and Coffey cues on how to defend the point guard.

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Lue and Irving won an NBA title with Cleveland in 2015-16, making the two familiar with each other.

“You going to get a cue and then he’s going to do something else,” Mann said. “So, he’s a smart player and very good player, so I’m sure he picked up on that and started doing the counter.”

“Kyrie is a player that can score at all three levels,” Coffey said. “He could go left, he could go right. So, even with his tendencies, it kind of seems he’s got a counter to everything. So, like I said, just us trying to make it extremely tough for him. Throw some different coverages at him and just make it tough and make ‘em work for every basket.”

Coffey may get the job again and may start again with the uncertainty Leonard will play in the second game.

The plan was for Leonard to practice Monday, but Lue said they were “not doing contact.”

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“He’s going to go through practice today and we’ll see,” Lue said.

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Mark Clattenburg: The celebrity referee turned PGMOL agitator… via Gladiators

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Mark Clattenburg: The celebrity referee turned PGMOL agitator… via Gladiators

This is an updated version of an article first published on March 8.

It is two and a half years since Mark Clattenburg had his autobiography, Whistle Blower, to plug. No prisoners were taken in the book’s content or the promotional work ahead of its release.

Graham Poll, Martin Atkinson and David Elleray were all among the former colleagues Clattenburg swung for in caustic appraisals designed to settle old scores. And as for Mike Riley, his old boss at Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body responsible for overseeing referees? “A boring f**ker,” was the succinct description.

Less spiteful were the words chosen for Howard Webb, a man he had known for over two decades, but Clattenburg still made it clear this was a fractured relationship he had little wish to mend.

“When Howard doesn’t need you, he doesn’t speak,” Clattenburg told The Athletic in 2021, raking up a night at Euro 2012 when Webb attended a post-match party without telling his fellow Englishman. “He’s very unique in this. Everyone sees Howard as a nice guy and he is. I would never really criticise him as a person, he’s just someone I won’t engage with in the future because I don’t need Howard Webb, the same as he doesn’t need me.”

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It is a quote that has not aged well.

A return to the Premier League as Nottingham Forest’s refereeing analyst meant Clattenburg needed the ear of Webb, who replaced Riley as the head of PGMOL in December 2022. It is among Clattenburg’s duties to liaise with Webb, to be the conduit for a club who have felt aggrieved at decisions all season.

Ever since Clattenburg’s appointment two months ago, he and Webb have been in regular contact: the pair sat together at Forest’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Manchester United on February 28 in seats allocated by the home club.


Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg watch Nottingham Forest against Manchester United (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

But the relationship is already being severely tested.

On Sunday, after a controversial 2-0 defeat at Everton in which they were denied three possible penalties, Forest took their refereeing complaints to a new level when they alleged, in a post on X, that they had warned PGMOL not to appoint Stuart Attwell to VAR duties because he was a Luton fan.

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The Athletic reported that Clattenburg did have a conversation with Webb on Friday, 48 hours before the game, but had not asked for him to be removed from VAR duties at Goodison Park.

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In his column for MailOnline published on Sunday evening, however, Clattenburg did savage his former employers, saying they should have made “smarter appointments” and decrying Attwell and on-field referee Anthony Taylor for making a “hat-trick of howlers”.

That, however, was not the first time that Clattenburg has turned attack dog since his return to English football.

A controversial ending to Liverpool’s 1-0 win at the City Ground on March 2, where referee Paul Tierney incorrectly awarded the visiting side an uncontested drop ball, saw Clattenburg put up for media duties by Nottingham Forest.

“I haven’t spoken to the referee, I’ll leave that to the club,” he said. Yet it had not been for the want of trying. “I went to go into the referee’s dressing room (after the game) but he wouldn’t allow it.”

PGMOL did not dispute that. Rules are in place that stipulate only managers and select coaching staff, listed on the official team sheets, can approach officials after a game and, even then, it is up to the referee who enters their dressing room.

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Clattenburg was denied an audience with Tierney and had been expecting events to play out differently. Webb had raised no objection to Clattenburg seeing referees post-match in a meeting the men held shortly after his arrival at Forest. It is not unusual for an analyst to accompany a manager into such a meeting and present video evidence but, importantly, as long as he is an accredited figure listed on the team sheet.

It became the sideshow that made more headlines than Darwin Nunez’s 99th-minute winner. Forest had been on the end of another refereeing mistake, one that gave Liverpool the chance to attack at the other end (albeit almost two minutes later), and it was Clattenburg’s job to tell the world about it.

Forest say they appointed Clattenburg to try and create a positive relationship with PGMOL, the body they have addressed three letters of complaint to already this season. Clattenburg is there to create direct links of discourse, they claim.

Yet PGMOL maintain that all clubs already have that option open to them. Webb has made a point of being accessible to all Premier League managers and captains since taking control of the organisation 15 months ago, fielding calls and explaining the good and bad decisions his referees have reached. They might not like what he has to say, but accountability is the broad aim.

“Clubs are aware that Howard Webb and his colleagues are open to calls at any point,” said Tony Scholes, the Premier League’s chief football officer, in February.

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The question now is whether Clattenburg is the right man to try and facilitate better relations.


Clattenburg, in his own words, started his working life as a “daft electrician from Newcastle”.

Long before he was made the Premier League’s youngest referee aged 29, he had run the lines as an assistant in the Northern League before the same grassroots level presented a platform for him to take centre stage. Clattenburg, with a name not easy to forget, earned a reputation as one of the brightest young officials climbing the ladder. At 25, he had reached the EFL, four years before he was plucked out by Keith Hackett to reach the highest level.

Clattenburg’s ability as an elite referee was rarely in question. Along with Webb, who beat him to the Premier League by 12 months, Clattenburg was as good as it got in English football.

“He was an outstanding referee,” former Premier League official Mark Halsey tells The Athletic. “He was a natural, not manufactured. His communication skills were second to none.

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“Mark was exceptional, like Howard was. And he was a perfectionist. We worked together and roomed together many times. He’d analyse every game and look at what he could and should’ve done differently. He’d beat himself up if he got a decision wrong.”

But a divisive figure? “He didn’t suffer fools,” adds Halsey. “Mark was Mark. I wouldn’t question his character. He was as honest as the day is long. He would tell you as it was and some people didn’t like that. It’s how I would want people to be. He would never go behind someone’s back like some did when we were refereeing.”

UEFA recognition followed Clattenburg’s impressive rise up the Premier League ranks, culminating at his high-water mark as an official in 2016 when he oversaw both the Champions League final and the final of Euro 2016.


Mark Clattenburg in the 2016 Champions League final – a career highlight (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)

That Clattenburg has tattoos to mark both showpiece occasions, though, helps paint a picture of the image-conscious figure that became so divisive during his time in the Premier League.

Clattenburg was more like a footballer than a referee. He made headlines for owning a Porsche Boxster that was vandalised outside his home in Newcastle and a black BMW X5 that carried the personalised number plate C19TTS (Clatts).

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Poll would report Clattenburg to PGMOL bosses after turning up for one game carrying a man bag. A separate incident in 2014, when Clattenburg used his own transport to go straight from West Bromwich Albion’s home game against Crystal Palace to an Ed Sheeran concert in Newcastle, brought a reprimand as all Premier League officials are made to travel to and from games together.

Then there were the hair-loss adverts that Clattenburg continues to promote. One video, posted on his Instagram account before Christmas, concluded with him spraying a product from a range positioned in front of the camera. “Hair loss is a worry and make no excuses, I do what I can to keep it,” he says.

It has grown hard to know how seriously to take Clattenburg since his exit from the Premier League in 2017. In the hours that followed Forest’s galling loss to Liverpool, where he was explaining the club’s grievances to media outlets in the mixed zone, he could also be found reprimanding Viper for pinning down a contestant on the BBC show Gladiators.

“This is a formal warning,” said Clattenburg, who serves as the referee on the programme, which was revived earlier this year. “I told you in the locker room, no holding.” The pivot between family entertainment and the Premier League is an awkward one.


Mark Clattenburg in his new role on BBC’s Gladiators (BBC)

As is the relationship between Clattenburg and Webb. It began in the late 1990s when they met during fitness testing at Lilleshall before, according to Webb, becoming “quite friendly” as they climbed the refereeing ladder.

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Webb was there to toast his colleague’s success, too. Clattenburg’s first Premier League game, a 3-1 win for Everton away to Crystal Palace in 2004, was followed by a flight back to Newcastle, where he was joined for “a night on the lash” with Webb. In his own autobiography, The Man in the Middle, Webb says Clattenburg thanked his colleague for “getting him through (that first game) unscathed”.

The falling out at Euro 2012, where Clattenburg was part of Webb’s support team in Poland and Ukraine, has clearly rankled, but a call from one to the other in 2017 was hugely significant. Webb’s exit from the head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia had created a vacancy and Clattenburg, increasingly disillusioned with PGMOL, was encouraged by his former colleague to take up the opportunity. Clattenburg’s salary would be £525,000 a year tax-free, a huge climb on his basic annual Premier League wage of £100,000.

It marked the start of a well-paid tour of the world. Eighteen months in Saudi Arabia were followed by spells overseeing refereeing in China, Egypt and Greece, where he became personally known to Nottingham Forest and Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis in an unforgiving and hostile environment for referees. Marinakis has previously accused Greek referees of being “rigged”, while Olympiacos vice-president, Kostas Karapapas, threw a black mini-skirt at Takis Baltakos, president of the Greek football federation, last season.


Clattenburg’s return to England with Forest — the first appointment of its kind in English football — raised eyebrows throughout English football.

Many Premier League clubs were sceptical of the value he would bring, instead echoing the feelings expressed by Gary O’Neil, whose Wolverhampton Wanderers side have suffered from a number of high-profile errors this season.

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“I’m fine with our relationship with the PGMOL,” he said. “They’re always very clear and honest with me. They are always open to communicating after games. So no, I don’t feel the need for it (a Clattenburg equivalent) here.”

The referees themselves are said to be nonplussed yet relaxed by Clattenburg’s appointment. They know they will be subject to one of Clattenburg’s pre-match reports before they take charge of a Forest match.

Webb has yet to publicly comment on Clattenburg’s return, but plenty of others have.

“I’m disappointed with Nottingham Forest,” said Gary Neville. “It’s as if, ‘Look at all of this, woe is me’. I get it, some teams feel as though they’ve been hard done to, some teams feel they’ve had bad decisions against them, but to employ an ex-referee to tell you why you’re having decisions against you. For me, I think it’s a step too far.”

Neville went further himself on Sunday, saying that Clattenburg should quit his role at Forest in the wake of their allegations on X.

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“Mark Clattenberg must resign,” said Neville. “If he saw those words go out (questioning) the integrity of a referee and claims someone is a cheat for supporting another club, then he’s supporting what is being said. He would lose all credibility with referees in the game. He should stand down and distance himself from that statement.”


Evangelos Marinakis shows his anger at the end of Forest’s defeat to Liverpool (Jon Hobley | MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But while Clattenburg’s work with Forest is considered unusual, or even ill-advised, in England, in Europe such an arrangement is deemed far more commonplace.

Former Serie A referee Gianpaolo Calvarese was hired by Jose Mourinho, not someone traditionally sympathetic to officialdom, when in charge of Roma, while Carlos Megia Davila has been on Real Madrid’s payroll since 2009.

It is also a common practice in rugby union, where head coaches recruit former officials to backroom teams. Steve Lander, formerly an international referee, was an advisor to England when they won the World Cup in 2003.

“Why can’t Mark have a role at Nottingham Forest?,” asks Halsey, an ally of Clattenburg’s. “He’s been out of the Premier League for a number of years. Why can’t he be that liaison between a club and PGMOL, stopping the managers and owners from getting into trouble?

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“It can only help relationships. Forest have taken the initiative and employed a former referee as a consultant. Mark is ideal to do that.”

Either way, just as when he was refereeing himself, Clattenburg has found himself in the eye of a storm in the Premier League. With Forest’s relegation battle only likely to become more fraught in the weeks ahead, things are unlikely to settle down.

(Top photo: Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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