We meet in a pub in Norton Lees and France are playing Germany in the European Championship semi finals. Antoine Griezman is scythed down on the edge of the box and Martin calls it immediately: “booking”. Sure enough the official pulls out his card.
Martin started refereeing as a 16 year old back home in Bungay, Suffolk. He was helping out with his brother’s under 8s team and the club offered to put him through a refereeing course. He got a reputation as a good referee and the local leagues started calling. When the time came to apply for university he knew where he wanted to go: “the home of football”. In the Steel City Martin’s craft developed. While his mates were sleeping off hangovers he was “up early and on the bus to some obscure part of Sheffield”.
The more we talk the more I learn about the sacrifices that come with this lonely job. What’s the pay back? Martin answers philosophically: “it makes you realise the kind of person you are, you learn about your morals. I remember once being on a bus and breaking up this fight. I didn’t even think about it; I acted purely on instinct. It was a real world situation where I used a skill set that I’d developed on the pitch”.
Naturally, I ask him about the abuse. “It tends to go hand in hand with a bad performance”, he says stoically. “If a good referee makes a mistake, they don’t dwell on it – they just focus on getting the next one right.” If success for a referee comes in such small measures, what are Martin’s best moments? “The times when I came off the pitch and felt that everybody appreciated my hard work - it’s a cliché but it’s a relief when you get 22 handshakes. You’re never gonna score a goal, so that’s the best you can hope for.”
In 2015 after 15 years of refereeing, Martin quit. “We’re talking about every Saturday leaving the house early and getting back at night, and midweek games too. I’ve got a young family and a career. I want to spend my life with the people I care about.”