WE as a football-mad nation are well accustomed to hearing the expression “guts and determination” routinely bandied about in sports speak.
Those words, however, can certainly be applied to one tenacious local teenager who hit the headlines this week - for becoming Britain’s first wheelchair-user referee.
Cheltenham 19-year-old Nathan Mattick suffers from Cerebral Palsy, but was that going to ensure he blew time on his hopes of being actively involved in matchday scenarios? Not a bit of it!
Granted, he’s unable to manoeuvre his electric chair around the boggy outdoor pitches that prevail at this time of the year. But being on wheels hasn’t stopped him running the rule over small-sided indoor games and outdoor fixtures on firm artificial surfaces.
On Monday our county referees’ development officer Steve Tanner, and the GFA’s disability football development officer Jason Lee, met up with Nathan to present him with a referee kit.
And Tanner, who knows all about the hurly-burly of officiating at the highest level of the national game, was clearly struck by the teenager’s own “guts and determination” in overcoming the odds and demonstrating not every apparent obstacle is insurmountable.
“The Gloucestershire FA is delighted to be able to support Nathan in achieving his dream of refereeing,” Tanner said. “Nathan is the first wheelchair user who officiates in Gloucestershire and his commitment towards developing his skills is clearly evident.”
Lee added: “Nathan has refereed in the Gloucestershire FA Ability Counts League for the last two seasons since completing his basic referee course.
“His commitment to developing as a referee is clearly evident and the players really enjoy having Nathan officiating their games.”
Meanwhile the inspiration that is Nathan admitted of his exploits: “I was so nervous the first time I refereed at a game. I thought the players and managers would give me a hard time because I was in a chair and they would question why I was refereeing able-bodied football.
“But I had no problems. People with disabilities can do what able-bodied people do.
“You occasionally get nasty words but you get on with it. It’s important you respect every person.
“At primary school I couldn’t really get involved so I thought there had to be a way I could get into it. I contacted my local FA and they came back saying it was absolutely no problem.
“They said to do a course and that would qualify me for small-sided football refereeing.”