Referee Spotlight: Martyn King
In this month’s Referee Spotlight, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to Martyn King who talks us through his 25+ years in refereeing.
“I had a heart attack recently and I still had people saying ‘you won’t come back from that’ but I kept saying no if I’m asked to referee, and I’m allowed to, I’m telling you I’ll do it.” It’s incredible listening to Martyn talk with such passion about what he loves to do. Refereeing gave him a new lease of life when he took up the whistle at the age of 50, and it doesn’t look like even a heart attack will stop him now.
Before his life in refereeing, Martyn enjoyed a long period playing the game, where he represented the Merchant Navy and his employers at the time, British Telecom (BT).
His love for football has given him the drive to stay in the game for as long as he has. Refereeing for him started when playing was no longer an option.
“I hit a period where I got very badly injured on my knee and the surgeon said I might have a limp or would struggle to walk well again, but I came through it fortunately! I managed to get back playing football for various teams and played until 50.
“I was managing Hove Park Colts where my son played and we could never get referees, they were always scarce! Someone came and said to me, ‘well why don’t you go and do it?’ I just thought well I can’t do that I’m nearly 50 but I decided to, and I loved it from the start.
“It was a six-week course I did with a written exam at the end, I can’t remember my grade, but it wasn’t bad! I felt like I was back at school doing exams again at that age, it was a weird feeling.”
It’s fair to say Martyn took to the whistle straight away and was lucky enough to have some great people to look up to, but just to be out on the pitch again gave him what he believed to be a "new purpose".
“It was so exciting to be back on the pitch, I felt very fortunate. From there I met the well-known lot of Dave Jackson, Dave King, Paul Saunders but the biggest inspiration to me, was Martin Bodenham.
“What a fantastic man he was to me. I went out on the line for him several times and he kept encouraging me to go for promotion, but I just thought I was too old! Nonetheless he persuaded me to do so and next thing I knew I’d gone from Level 3 to Level 1 in the old system.
“From a teaching perspective though, Dave Jackson and Dave King have always been incredible for me. Dave King always had a lovely way about him and was very good at what he did.
“Me and Dave Jackson didn’t always see eye to eye! But he’s a great guy also and he definitely always gave me the best advice of, control them, don’t dictate to them. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of talking to players, but I feel like that’s gone out of the game a bit now."
Martyn reflects on his time in football which has essentially spanned over his entire life: “I knew when I started refereeing I’d be in it for the long run. I just love football and once I got that bug of being on the pitch again, it was never going away.
“I wasn’t mad about refereeing at county level if I’m being honest, I didn’t like the idea of turning up an hour before all dressed up and things like that it just wasn’t me! I’m much more of a park football man, grassroots is where my passion lied.
“Since qualifying in 1993, I’ve refereed across the Brighton Worthing & District League, Sussex Sunday, Mid-Sussex, various disability leagues so it’s been quite a period and I think I’ve been very blessed.
“The sheer exercise and healthy feeling you get from refereeing has given me a new lease of life. I have had problems with prostate cancer, but the consultant tells me that’s under control now and to keep refereeing.
“I’ve also done the PowerPlay (previously Pitch Invasion) at Stanley Deason for over 20 years, which I still do two nights a week and it’s so helpful for me fitness wise.”
Martyn has had a real diverse amount of experience which has seen him officiate multiple youth tournaments in London as well refereeing games in Brazil where his son lives. An experience he reflects on fondly, is a chance he had to go to America.
“It was a fantastic experience. I went out there to referee college and university female games. These women were unbelievable footballers, but I don’t think the refereeing was quite up to scratch there which is why they needed me!
“I seemed to be well received and one of the universities asked me to stay to coach and referee, but I felt it was too late on in my life!
“They were lovely out there though, the parents often asked if I’d come back for dinner and stuff they were so hospitable.”
With many things to be proud of, in a refereeing career that spans over 25 years, Martyn is taken back when talking of his proudest moments.
“I was lucky enough to do a cup final for the Brighton & Worthing League and I remember saying well the players won’t have me I’m too old! But they kept reiterating that I’d done well and deserved it.
“I loved it, honestly, it was a real proud moment for me. I had Robbie Carron with me on the line and he said to me ‘you’ll be alright today Martyn you can do it.’ He’s a good guy and it always helps when you have that.
“The main thing I have to look back on is that I hope I brought a bit of fair play to the game. I haven’t had too many critics anyway! You get one or two of course but usually it’s all in good jest.”
Now in his late 70s, Martyn is aware of the limitations that can come to him at that age. He often turns to his wife to repeat the questions asked to him due to his difficulty hearing! But for him to have the desire to carry on doing what he loves to do has to be admired. Despite many people writing him off, he has no plans to pack it in just yet.
“Everywhere I go seeing people in football I get the same comments, ‘you can’t still be involved in football!’ I always find it funny because I see people that I used to referee and now I’m refereeing their kids or grandkids!
“With the two knee replacements I've had, I always get people telling me I won’t come back from it, and I always say 100% that I will. After the heart attack I had in December, the doctors told me I was more than healthy enough to continue if I wanted to!
“The only time I really got knocked was a few years back, someone accidentally came in the back of me during a game and I done my hip. That time I was told I definitely wouldn’t come back! But here I am.”
The next question to Martyn seemed an obvious one. Just how does he retrieve the mental capacity to carry on despite so many setbacks. Martyn’s mindset, however, is just to keep doing what he loves to do.
“Football has just given me such a lovely momentum in life, and I feel like I’m achieving something, doing something useful. It’s given me purpose, discipline, communication skills, but health is the big thing and it’s free! I actually get paid for it, but I don’t do it for the money believe it or not.
“My mindset has always been well if they want me to ref and I’m allowed to then I will. If anything, it was more of a boost for me to continue because it gave me something to aim for. I just love the game and everything it has done for me and I’m so grateful to be on the pitch.”
It's always fascinating to talk to veteran referees who have given so much to football. Martyn, against all odds, is still doing what he loves to do, and that’s really inspiring.
Lastly, he added words of wisdom to aspiring referees: “From my experience, any young person who loves football, has a passport to a world of opportunity.
“Football is a global industry that can take you anywhere and it gives you the chance to obtain level of respect that is very unique.
“It could be crucial to young people to have refereeing on a CV showing that you have management skills, communication skills, the ability to control people, what a thing for young people to have.
“To any young person thinking of becoming a ref, it’s a no brainer to be part of such an iconic sport. Refereeing has given me, friendships, respect and richly rewarded my life.”
For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 768573