Mark Sharpe

Deaf Awareness Week 2024: Mark Sharpe Shares His Story

Mark has been a Referee in Lincolnshire for 14 years, and has hereditary deafness

Approximately 11 million people in the UK are deaf or have hearing loss. Deafness and hearing loss can have a range of challenging implications, especially when it comes to communication. And communicating with others makes up much of what we do as individuals.

Overcoming these obstacles can involve hearing therapy, lipreading classes and learning sign language. Hearing loss can also sometimes lead to withdrawal from social situations, emotional distress or loneliness.

These challenges are no small feat - so we must all do our bit to support those who need it and learn more about how deafness can impact life.  

Deaf Awareness Week 2024 will take place from the 6th to the 12th of May. The UK Council on Deafness created Deaf Awareness Week to increase the visibility of challenges the deaf community face and educate others on how they can support them.

Being deaf brings unique challenges that not everyone will experience. Part of these challenges can be to do with mental health and exclusion from others. That’s why it’s up to everyone to come together to create a more inclusive society that values every individual. 

To celebrate Deaf Awareness Week this week, we’re shining a light on an amazing individual involved in grassroots football in Lincolnshire who has been Refereeing for the last 14 years. This is Mark Sharpe's story.

Mark's Story

My name is Mark Sharpe. I have hereditary deafness. I am a Cochlear implant recipient; this helps me day to day to communicate. In the past, I wore increasingly larger hearing aids which over time I was not benefitting from. Today when Refereeing, I will wear the implant receiver if the weather is good, otherwise I will Referee deaf. Since 2010, I have been a Lincolnshire FA registered Referee. I am a Level 5 Referee, my highest level achieved. Currently I officiate on the Ability Counts League and Lincoln Sunday League.

I began my Referee career in 1999 via a Surrey FA course. It started by me being unsure about a decision I had seen on TV and couldn’t quite understand so I sought clarification. Remarkably, the current Laws of the Game were in the sports section of my local library. Satisfied about my query I saw an FA advert on the back, “ Become a Referee!”. My playing days were over a long time ago and I had turned to road running before my enquiry. So, I thought 'why not?' I was fit, thought I could do reasonably well as I had an understanding from the players perspective having played to a reasonable standard. Wearing hearing aids whilst refereeing, I thought would be a challenge both as acceptance and to my own confidence. Mark Sharpe

It took three assessing years to get to the today equivalent of Level 5. I had fantastic assessors, their advice, experience helped me become a better Referee both on and off the pitch. My hearing loss was not an issue to them when assessments took place. I enjoyed appointments in finals of Surrey FA’s County Cups, the Leagues I officiated on too, both as a Referee and Assistant Referee. I was an Assistant Referee on the Ryman Football League and Referee and Assistant on the Combined Counties and Suburban Leagues. I qualified as an Assessor with remits to new Referees and Referees seeking promotion to Level 4. I was enjoying my roles but there was always this knowledge I was relying on lip reading and my aids more. I experienced a lack of understanding to my disability on occasions, more on pitch, technical areas, rather than off it. Inclusivity was not even a profile back then; I was a Referee who is deaf.

I was not confident enough to Referee deaf for every game at this time, if it rained, hearing aids are not waterproof, I would stop play, go to my touchline bag, take my aids off and resume. Games could be difficult like this, I hoped it stopped raining. My pre match protocol, team sheets and so on, always had my disability mentioned, including that taking my aids off would happen. Early days of awareness, inclusivity coming from me, maybe? They would have to work with me as best they wanted too, even if it rained. My Referee journey changed by chance in 2007.

Whilst at a Fulham Academy appointment, I had noticed some players in Fulham tracksuits using sign language to each other. Fulham Deaf FC.  At this point my sign language was non-existent. However, with a bit of work I had exchanged contact details and subsequently the Referee Coordinator and European Deaf Sports Organisation’s (EDSO) Football Technical Director, Andrew Scolding was in touch with an invite to officiate on the GB Deaf Finals. Amazing!  All Hard of Hearing (Hoh) or Deaf officials were used for them. It was quite surreal to Referee a deaf football match for the first time, as it was so quiet on the pitch, apart from the occasional shout or, yes dissent verbally or in sign language. Of course, the spectators, were cheering both vocally and using sign language.

From there I was invited to the 2007 European Deaf Football Championships in Portugal. Such was the lack of organisation by Portugal FA that they could not decide to take on Deaf officials, much to EDSO’s disappointment. I thought that was it, not going to get a chance again. EDSO Football however kept in touch. In 2011 I was invited to the European Deaf Football Championships in Denmark.

This was a big step for me as the standard of some of the teams was high. This is International Football. I was lucky that my now good friend Andrew Rodda was appointed too. We were the only two Deaf Referees there, other hearing officials came from Denmark and Sweden. Andrew was the path Deaf Referees trod later. At the time he was a Football League Assistant Referee and Conference Referee, had officiated in previous Deaf Euros and the Deaflympics, and showed that ability counts and disabilities were what they are. I learnt so much from him, regarding protocol before, during and after matches. Attention to detail and controlling the controllables were high in his approach, as you would expect at his level. It did not matter whether it was deaf football or not I applied the same principles Andrew had showed me.

EDSO are organisers for all Deaf Sport competitions in Europe. At the time officials for football were appointed via the National FAs of the competition organisations for Deaf tournaments, namely hearing Referees. EDSO were determined to reach out to Deaf Referees in Europe to officiate on Deaf tournaments. The search started.

A club competition, Deaf Champions League (DCL), London 2013, was the first when all the officials appointed were Deaf/Hoh. Subsequent DCL tournaments took place in Belgrade ’14  and Antalya ‘15 to assess which Referees would be invited to the 2015 European Deaf Football Championships in Hannover, Germany. Along with eight other Deaf Referees I was invited to the two-week tournament. This event was going to use both Deaf and DFB (German FA) hearing officials. Lincolnshire FA were encouraging and donated match day  LFA badged polos and an older LFA badge which I wore on all my four different coloured shirts, even though it did fall off on occasion!  Of the 13 match days I was either Referee, Assistant or Fourth Official with a mixture of Deaf and DFB officials per game, hard work? yes, enjoyable? absolutely. I made new friends that are still friends today. My colleagues came from all over Europe, some born deaf others like me hereditary others through illness such as meningitis and many other reasons.

Today, because of Deaf/Hoh Referees being included in National and International tournaments, both in 11 v 11 and Futsal the European Deaf Referees Union (EDRU) was formed in 2018, as a founding member I am proud we are recognised by organisation bodies EDSO, DCL and importantly UEFA. 30 Deaf European Referees are members, all  Referee on hearing football leagues in their respective countries. We have conferences and workshops, give availability of officials to OCs all for inclusiveness. I have achieved promotions, cup appointments and involvement in Deaf football here and abroad. It has been a journey and a bit; however, I became a Referee because wanted to be involved, included, and not let my lack of hearing deter me. I was shocked and happily surprised when I was awarded the  ‘Outstanding Contribution to Refereeing’ at the Lincolnshire FA Awards in 2022. I am grateful for the recognition. Awareness has changed for the good of all. I am happy that I had been able to contribute to helping others to take the step into Refereeing, I hope potential Referees see that Ability Counts and we are all included whatever disability we may have. There is never a reason to hide it. The support is there through mentoring, assessing and nowadays qualified inclusive officers within the County FAs and The FA.
Thanks for reading,  good luck, work hard and remember you are never alone as an official. 

How To Support Deaf Peers

Educate Yourself

Many people remain unaware of what life is like for a deaf person and the struggles they face. Familiarise yourself with educational materials and the different types and causes of deafness. Find out what adjustments you can make to reduce stress and improve wellbeing. They might be small shifts - but they can make a big difference to the deaf community. 

Tips For Speaking To Someone Who Is Deaf

There are several things you can do to improve communication with deaf people. Try the tips below:

  • Don’t say it doesn’t matter
  • Speak one at a time
  • Don’t speak too slowly or quickly
  • Smile and relax
  • Keep your mouth on show
  • Speak clearly without shouting
  • Face towards the person while you’re speaking
  • Repeat if you need to do so

Ask What Helps 

No two people are the same. Many deaf students have different communication approaches, and some may use combined methods like hearing aids and lipreading. Don’t let worries about saying the wrong thing or approaching the topic stop you from having the conversation altogether. Instead, simply ask how they communicate and what you can do to help. This way you’re respecting their needs and finding out what works.

An Open Conversation 

It's important to let your deaf peers know that support is available should they need it - and whenever possible check in with them yourself. When communicating with a deaf person, it is important to maintain eye contact, use clear and concise language, and avoid speaking too quickly. It is also helpful to be patient and willing to repeat or rephrase information as needed. By having an open conversation and being mindful of the person’s communication preferences, you can help create a positive and supportive learning environment where all students can thrive.


For more information on what Lincolnshire FA does to make football more inclusive in Lincolnshire, click here.

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