In terms of who Graham looked at for support and inspiration, there’s one man who came to mind.
“I always worked really closely with Martin Bodenham. He was my Level 3 coach for a number of seasons, that was my first experience of having a dedicated coach.
“He would come to my games and he’d make all sorts of observations that he’d write down in his notebook. The amount of times he’d be watching, and I’d think, ‘I really hope he hasn’t noticed that!’
“Nothing used to get past him though. You’d often look over and see him in the stands having a natter so you’d think he really can’t be picking up everything, but nothing would get past him!
“It was always pretty spot on though, Martin would never give you feedback on something for the sake of doing it, there’d always be a valid point. So, in that sense, that was brilliant to be able to tap into that.”
Despite Graham’s fantastic rise to the Football League, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t always work out like that. When asked about the challenges he’s had, he’s keen to remind budding officials to be realistic.
“Every time you step up there’s always a challenge to embed yourself within that new level. You’ve obviously proved yourself because you’ve got the promotion and got to the next level up.
“With that though, you can sometimes get a bit of self-doubt. Then you also know you need to consolidate that position and blend in as best you can.
“The challenge is securing the promotion, consolidating at the level, and then developing yourself further. I think it’s just setting those small but realistic goals.
“It’s all well and good having the aspiration to referee on the Premier League but you’re never going to go from parks football straight to the Premier League. You’ve got to break that down into small tangible steps that are achievable and realistic.
“You’re not going to go through season by season, get promoted every year and go park to Premier League in 10 years. There’s going to be setbacks along the way, and you need to have that sensible mindset.
“I know some colleagues that have been at a certain level for years and once they’ve kicked on they’ve had another burst again. It may sound a boring answer but those little realistic aims, reflecting on yourself, it’s really important.”
It’s fascinating to talk to a match official at the elite level, and Graham gives us a great insight into the training and development that they go through.
“Being part of Select Group 2 at the moment and being with those Championship officials, we have a training camp once a month, usually at Loughborough University or St. George’s Park.
“We go through a lot of what went well in certain scenarios but also a good amount of time on what didn’t work as well. It’s important to do both because you don’t want to dwell on the things that went wrong and ignore the things that actually went really well.
“It’s expected that we get things right so you do tend to ignore the good things at times, so because of that it can cause a skewed focus on what didn’t go well.
“Equally, on the back of that, there’s a desire to want to do things better and to improve. I really enjoy going to those camps and having an open and honest discussion. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable if it’s a game you’ve been involved in, but if you open up about it, there’s a trust that what’s said will stay there.
“I think that’s really where you do your learning and make those improvements because you’re open and honest to that feedback that your own peers are providing to you. But equally you know whether you could have done more in a certain scenario or not.”
Graham anticipates the next question and smiles knowing it was going to be unavoidable. During a game at Charlton in the Summer of 2016, he was filmed in the tunnel practicing his flag signals, in a video that soon went viral making national news.
“I was totally unaware I was being filmed! That game was on a Tuesday and the Wednesday evening it had gone viral. The other assistant on the night phoned me up and said, ‘Graham you’re on the Daily Mail!’
“After being quite confused he sent me the link and I just thought, ‘Wow what a slow news day it must have been!’ Charlton at the time were quite notorious for taking a while to come out the dressing room and I just thought well there’s no movement so I’m just going to run through a few of my signals.
“Unbeknown to me there was a camera filming everything in the tunnel and amazingly, someone at Charlton thought that was worth releasing into the wider world on Twitter! I really couldn’t believe the traction that had.
“I had a habit of practicing a few signals if I’m waiting for a team to come out and I suppose the learning from that, is once you start getting involved in professional football, you never know when you’re being filmed!
“Luckily in this circumstance I wasn’t doing anything I shouldn’t have been doing! But looking at the comments that were submitted I was happy it was pretty positive around just taking my job seriously. If it’s my claim to fame, I’ll take it!”