Category One official Craig Napier stepped out of his comfort zone with a heartfelt, honest conversation about his sexuality and his hopes for a more inclusive football environment in Scotland.
On the back of that chat with the Scottish FA's Lewis Irons he was blow away by the response from the Scottish football community.
Here, in his own words, he reflects on finding his voice.
“We need to see the climate change so that people feel they can be their true self and live happily and comfortably in their own skin.”— Scottish FA (@ScottishFA) June 2, 2022
An important conversation with Category One referee Craig Napier. pic.twitter.com/bYygya2k23
"If you ask any referee, they’ll tell you that they don’t want to be the centre of attention.
Just like I don’t want to be a poster-boy for my sexuality.
I know there are people who will shrug their shoulders and say, ‘why is this a story?’ and I would love to be able to agree with them. Or at least look forward to the day when my reaction would be the same.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet so we have to encourage conversation.
I was 18 when I confided in a close friend, but I kept it to a tight circle. It took another couple of years before I told my family.
I’m 32 now and it’s maybe only in the last two years that I’ve felt able to tell everyone that I want to know in my life and get to the stage where if someone asks me a question, I won’t try to avoid it or bluff my way through an answer.
I’m sure a lot of people will be able to relate to being in that situation. I remember another referee, in all innocence, asking what I was doing later that night.
I was going out with someone at the time, and it was a six-month anniversary. When I told them that they said, ‘she’ll be expecting a ring’. If that conversation had come a couple of years earlier, I’d have cut it short or not been as forthcoming. Now I feel like I’m at a different stage.
This feels like the end of a personal journey to self-acceptance. From being confused, not wanting it to be the case, hiding it and wondering if it would impact various aspects of my life.
Would it cost my friends? Will it stop me progressing as a referee for whatever reason?
I really don’t care now. Happiness is more important, and I’d rather be me.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been inspired by Jake Daniels. I’m in awe of his courage at 17, as a young footballer with so much ahead of him.
I read a book recently that talks about the power of regret and how the biggest regrets often come from inaction.
If I’d just told my mates – who have all been fine with it – at Jake’s age, I’d have had an easier, more fulfilling life. I can’t turn back the clock, but I can own it, use that experience and make sure anyone reading this knows there is another way.
Football should be a reflection of society, and the sobering fact is that there are no openly gay senior players in Scotland, when – statistically within the population – that shouldn’t be the case.
Whether people are put off at an early age, or wary of being themselves, there’s work to be done and we all have a part to play.
Hand on heart, every time I told someone it felt like a weight off, physically, and mentally.
I didn’t tell my best mate until 2020, having known him since I was 10 years old. He’d been a pro youth footballer. We’d shared a changing room and a football pitch.
I put off telling him, but I’d overthought it. When I eventually did talk, he said ‘good on you’. He wished I'd told him sooner. The people in your life already like you. If anything, they’re keen to find out more when they hear there’s another side to you.
Not everyone will be supportive but that’s a fact of life. Just talk, because when you eventually do tell people you’ll wish you’d done it earlier.
It would be great if there is someone within football, who is wrestling with the same things that I did, suddenly felt like they could open up to a team-mate after reading this.
I also want people to know that they belong in football, whether it’s participation or making a career from it. You shouldn’t feel excluded.
I’ve had great support and the response to the video interview has been pretty humbling.
One that touched me was from someone who had dropped out of football at a young age, because he thought people would judge him differently because of his sexuality.
Another referenced the people who reply with ‘we don’t need to know this’ by saying he could have done with more visible role models when he was younger.
I’m glad I can offer a different perspective and maybe a bit of hope.
I guess that’s what comes from finding your voice and harnessing the power of football."