In the latest of our series of extracts from the interview conducted with Martin Cassidy, the CEO of Match Official charity, RefSupport, on the Toolstation Western league Podcast, presenter, Ian Nockolds, asks Martin whether he’s grown weary of calling out increasingly more worrying incidents of Match Official abuse, or whether he’s as up for the fights as ever!

MC: Absolutely, more so because what is definitely happening - and I’ve got some of the highest profile journalists who follow us, engage with us, and praise us, we’ve been on TalkSport and 5 Live, Sky News, even invited me onto Sky News a couple of Saturdays ago. 

Been on Sky Sports news a lot, I’ve never been on Sky News - they did a piece with me on there, which was really well received, and I’m going to be going in the studio talking about it. It’s a different audience, Sky News to Sky Sports News. These people understand what we’re trying to do. Because I get, you know, a smart Alec tweet off someone or whatever, and I say I’m not gonna answer it. And one of the reasons I won’t answer it is because they might have four followers. But then they’ll say, ‘ah, look, he can’t say anything because he’s got no answer.’ I know what the answer is, because I’m getting twelve or thirteen, fourteen messages privately saying, ‘Carry on. Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this.’ 

I had an eighty five-year-old ref who emailed me and said, ‘I’ve seen you on Sky Sports news. I wish I had you when I was refereeing.’ And I’m getting people to me now saying, ‘I wish I had you, someone who will put their head above the parapet’ - as an organisation, not just me, I mean the organisation, put their head above the parapet and go ‘that’s wrong, and here’s what you need to do about it.’ 

And we believe that, although it’s a negative thing we talk about, whether people disagree with what we do or not, it gets discussed. Even these people who are having a go, there’s people who will never agree with anything I say, absolutely because I’ve said something to them on Twitter in the past and pulled them up over an incident. It gets discussed, and it never used to get discussed ever in the public, it was tucked away in a corner. And now the FA and these other county FAs, they can’t control the discussion like they used to - not reply to an email or not publish what’s happened. Now, it’s there and we’re growing bigger and bigger and bigger, with all these journalists and broadcasters engaging with us, it’s not ever going to go away. That enthuses us as an organisation to keep going. 

We’ve got sponsors coming to us now so we can give free things away. FedEx have given us loads of bags, like hard plastic cups, little balls, pads and pens, and we want to be able to give it to people who have positive engagement about referees - which this team had, so we sent them up twenty bags, big kit bags, champions league logo on twenty baseball caps, they’re absolutely delighted, they’re absolutely made up. 

Some people are coming to us saying, ‘oh you know, didn’t know you do this’ and then we say, ‘look, if we start tweeting more and discussing more about positivity within refereeing this is what we want, we’ll give you gifts, we’ll talk about it.’ So, nominate a referee who comes to you at grassroots and does the line every week, rain, sunshine, whatever, and club linos. Those are the people that help referees, let’s get that discussed now. 

So, we’re starting to shape the argument, still talking about the not-so-positive stuff, but to bring positivity via a negative subject. There’s a lad - I don’t know if you’ve seen, did you see the Australian bit, mate, where the lad got his jaw broke? [Ian: Yes, I did.] So, I reached out to him, I found him, I talked to him every other day to see how he was. So, what I did then, I had to go to other referees in our group saying, ‘do us a favour, give us a video. Just do a ten-second video on WhatsApp, send it to me and I’ll send it him.’ 

This grew so big, there’s so many videos, this lad is absolutely delighted. And then, because I do work with Mark Clattenburg, he sent me a video. He was overjoyed that Mark Clattenburg went out of his way to say, ‘listen Khodr, I’ve seen what happened, that you got your jaw broke, I’m thinking of you. Reach out through REF Support and if you need anything we’re there.’ You know, that’s the positivity of a negative outcome, and that’s why we do it. That’s exactly why we do it.

In next weeks final instalment, Ian asks Martin for an update on Refsupports' body cam campaign, in which the Toolstation Western League were instrumental in securing a change whether in World football law. The full interview with Martin can be found online here.