Ref Stories Martin Underhay


Player, Coach, Manager and Match Official!

I was 38, years old, I came off the pitch after a ‘run of the mill’ game in the Dorset premier league. I’d played as high as the National League for many years and was holding onto playing county league football for as long as I could. I ended up cutting a 16 year old player in half with a poor attempt of a tackle.


Although my teammates thought it was great, it was that moment when I knew I was finished as a player. Is that what I wanted to do, absolutely not.
I didn’t even change, I just grabbed my bag and walked home, it wasn’t far. I walked in, threw my bag in the corner of the utility room and said to my wife ‘I’m done’!

I never played a competitive match ever again at any level.
I tried to manage, but found myself stressed and frustrated, as my standards were so much higher than the players.

I didn’t really know where to turn when it came to football, and then, by complete accident, I ended up refereeing an under 11 game at Exmouth Amateur’s. They had no referee so I said I would do it. Within 5 minutes I knew that this was my way back into a good level of adult football.

The next day I contacted Kevin Pike at the Dorset FA who couldn’t quite believe the conversation he was having at first, what with my horrendous disciplinary record, however, he listened to me and realised I was deadly serious about doing this and he got me to do the basic referees course, the initial six friendly adult matches, and then I found Myself in the middle of a Dorset Division 4 league match at Donhead Utd vs Bridport 3rd team. I loved every second.

I knew I wanted to push myself as far as I could and wanted to officiate to the best standard I could, this was my way back in.


Following 3 very successful years in Dorset, refereeing some great games, county cup finals, and representing The Dorset FA in many national cup competitions, I was promoted to the national list at level 4.

With this brought the National FA into focus for me and higher standards of teams and also higher expectations.
The challenges this brings are big but if you do it right, you can move forward, which I have done with further promotions, which mean you naturally then officiate professional teams and top level players. It’s down to how you can adapt and how you are prepared to receive information and training.



One unexpected challenge I had for instance was at Level 3 on Boxing Day 2018.
My mother had suddenly passed away on Christmas Day and with that being hard enough, I knew I had a game to officiate the next morning, a Western League Premier Division game between Westbury Utd and Bradford Town.
I mean who do you contact on Christmas Day to come off the match? I sent an email and I duly received a phone call early on Boxing Day from the FA, sending condolences.

I was on the way to the game when I received the call because it was a morning kick off as the home team were banking on a bumper crowd to finance the rest of their season. It was a good phone call where the FA said that maybe I should go there and simply call the game off as they could not get any more officials at this late stage. I said that it meant so much to the club financially that I felt it would be right to get through the game to make sure they got what they needed. I told nobody at the game whatsoever of what had happened.

Yeovil Town v Torquay this season 

I had to give a very early penalty, and I wasn’t totally myself out in the middle as I had extremely low tolerance levels on the day and I dished out more disciplinary sanctions in that game, than I had in any game before, or since. But the game was played, not too many dramas and the club got that bumper payday.

The next time I went there was the first game of the following season, I then told the secretary what I had done that previous Boxing day as he brought up, he was amazed I did that and thanked me. It’s nice that they can see that as officials, we do care about what we do and how it affects clubs.

I have never officiated on a Boxing Day since. I make sure that I keep that clear as a day for my family.

I’ve met so many people on the way who have refereed in the professional game or have gone onto referee for the PGMOL in the premier league and EFL. They include ‘trailblazers’ Sam Allison and Kirstie Dowle, who I have officiated with on countless occasions and have gone on to referee in the EFL, and now with Sam refereeing his first Premier League Match on Boxing Day 2023.


A lot of these officials have become good friends and are always there for you if you need some advice or guidance. I was fortunate to do a line to Ex Top Flight Referee Mark Clattenburg in a Charity match which was a great experience and Clatts was great.

The refereeing family is truly more amazing than I ever thought. Those days when I was a player when I thought it was an ‘Us and them’ situation, simply isn’t true. I wish players, managers and fans today would realise what it really takes to officiate a game, and the quite amazing things that happen. There are highs and lows as there is with anything but there are so many more highs.

It’s changed the way I view the game as a whole and has become a major part of my life.

Posted in Blog.