As the UK’s first ever wheelchair user to qualify as a football referee, Nathan Mattick is striving to spread the word about how more disabled men and women should consider a career in this growing branch of the game.

Speaking at the Breaking Barriers series set up by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), Mattick said: “When I was at primary school the kids were playing normal football and I couldn’t really get involved – I had a walking frame. But I wanted to get involved in football and I felt refereeing could be an option.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Mattick was determined he would find a route into the sport he loved. Watching a match with his father as a young boy sparked the idea that refereeing could be the answer he was looking for – but it didn’t come easily for the 25-year-old.

He said: “When I started the refereeing career, I thought it might be too tricky to get involved with in a powerchair. I’ve had a few instances where people have put me down and said ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’, but you’ve got to prove them wrong and show them we are capable.”

Steve Child, a former Premier League assistant referee, echoed Mattick’s thoughts, describing how he faced relentless backlash for trying to get involved in the game. As a result, he started to deny his disability altogether, out of fear it would act as a barrier to him progressing up the refereeing ranks.


But with time Child realised how his disability could in fact benefit him on the pitch. Also speaking at the Breaking Barriers series, he said: “The fact that I wasn’t able to hear the background noise, the noise of the crowd, but could clearly focus on the noise of the play was a real positive to me, and helped me progress to the highest level.”

While Child admits that more must be done in the football community to promote inclusivity for disabled people, particularly by Premier League footballers, it is the disabled community themselves whose attitudes he’s most concerned about changing.

Child added: “We need to go into the disabled community and promote [refereeing]. Once we do that and people understand it is accessible, we can expect to have disabled referees in the Premier League in the next five or ten years.”

Mattick is even more optimistic about the future for disabled referees. He said: “Hopefully, one day, we will see people with disabilities at Old Trafford, at Stamford Bridge, at the Emirates. It would be a fantastic thing because it would show that disabled people can do anything. We just do things in a slightly different way.”

He added: “I think people have to realise we’re valid people as well and make sure we’re given the opportunities.”

Click here to find out more about the Breaking Barrier's webinar on racism in refereeing.