Before Jarnail Singh stepped onto the pitch to referee his last match in May 2010, he was met by crowds of fans asking for signatures and selfies – not your typical send-off for a League One official.

His lasting impact on the game, as the first ever Sikh to referee in English Football, has not gone unnoticed, and culminated with the Lifetime Achievement award at the first Asian Football Awards in 2012.

But the Indian-born referee did not always feel so warmly welcomed by fans. Speaking at the Breaking Barriers series set up by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), Jarnail recalled the horrific moment he was racially abused when officiating a grassroots match.

He said: “I got called the P word. There were two people there and I went up to them and said: ‘Listen gentlemen, have you got the courage to repeat it?’ Of course they didn’t.”

Jarnail added: “I think I handled it quite well to be honest.”

While the 59-year-old admits the incident took place a long time ago, racism continues to be present in football, darkening and damaging the game. Jarnail’s son Bhupinder Gill, known as Bhups, is also a qualified referee, but never anticipated that he would have to endure the same racial abuse his father did.

Reflecting on the incident, Bhups said: “I was running the line and somebody shouted behind me in the stands: ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I turned around, obviously I shouldn’t have because I should have been focusing on what was happening on the pitch, and I said: ‘Who was that?’ I was in complete shock, I told the referee and they reported it.”

He added: “It was quite sad really, but it didn’t put me off – you have to pick yourself up and that’s where you have to show your true character. I never thought it would happen to me.”

These shocking stories feed into a broader conversation of racism in football. But while positive movements are being made in some corners of the game, Bhups and his brother, Sunny, claim that refereeing is all too often overlooked, particularly when it comes to promoting ethnic and gender diversity.

Sunny said: “Raheem Sterling spoke about BAME people not being represented enough in the media – two or three months later this all changed. That’s what I call smashing barriers, they did this straight away.”

He added: “The best people to do this are Sterling or Marcus Rashford. People forget about inequalities in refereeing, but if these players think about it they would probably promote that too, but they aren’t going to have this in the back of their mind.”

Bhups and Sunny themselves intend to be a driving force for change, and will soon become the first south Asian brothers to officiate on the same team in the English Football League. They may be competing against each other to become the Premier League’s first ever south Asian referee, but the pair are working together to promote racial diversity in every part of the game, hoping to prove to aspiring BAME individuals across the sport that they can go all the way.

Click here to read more about the PGMOL Breaking Barriers Series.