Lucy Clark is proudly England's first transgender referee. She's the star of Dapper Laughs' docu/film Fanatical and has enjoyed a steep rise to fame over the past 12 months. Nevertheless, her love of the beautiful game has been tainted for over 40 years.
It's a Tuesday, 7 pm, and Lucy Clark is on the other end of the line describing every monotonous detail of her referee career from admin duties to remembering spare batteries for her stopwatch.
We've asked for a brief 'day in the life' description yet Lucy begins with a thorough explanation of the mental health preparation that kick-starts 14 days prior to any game when the fixtures are released. And this is all for a midweek clash in the Combined Counties League, a modest Level 5 on the National League System.
Fortunately, Lucy isn't in a rush, as she's decide not to referee tonight.
After all, it is her birthday...
You don't become transgender
I probe as to whether there was a sticking point when Lucy knew her gender didn't feel right and, to my uneducated embarrassment, she's quick to explain that you don't simply hit a switch and "become transgender".
The 48-year-old unriddles the feeling of entrapment within the wrong body. It haunted her since childhood and forced a peculiar bond with football.
On one hand, the beautiful game offered a young boy known the perfect opportunity to get involved with a male-dominated sport.
However, the brutal football culture of the 1980s meant that Nick was forced to develop a split personality. He turned on a laddish and alpha-male masquerade when it came to game day and never felt that he could truly be himself whenever the F word was involved.
"I always felt that I was in the wrong body and I knew this since I was very little. Obviously back then, the 70s and 80s, there was no support or information out there.
I knew how I felt but I couldn't talk to anyone about it. As far as I was concerned, I was the only person in the world who felt this way."
Yet despite this, Lucy says that the simple element of meeting up with the boys and having a kick around saved her life.
There was deep confusion as to her gender identity yet football enabled little Nick to identify as another 'normal boy' who loved football. At an age where exclusion and bullying are grave fears, football was the outlet that allowed Nick to fit it.
"When I was young, football saved my life. It was something I was good at and it was the one thing that gave me the chance to be 'one of the boys'."
A love/hate relationship with football
The complicated love/hate relationship with football stuck with Lucy not just through teenage years but all the way up to the age of 46.
Above all, it held back her personal development as a transgender woman. She never wanted to give up football yet had to front as Nick in order to stay involved.
A weekend cover-up act plagued Lucy from under 8s to a 10-year semi-professional football career and even as manager of several teams in the 2000s, including Stansted FC in the Essex Senior Football League.
"I would live my life and do things as Lucy but when it came to football I would go back into this acting role that I had been portraying for years."
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Of course, a move into the world of standing in the middle of a pitch and attempting to instruct enraged amateur football players only heightened all of these previous fears.
Unfortunately, each referee steps onto the pitch as a target for abuse, and this is long before ignorance over your gender is applied.
Yet against all odds, at the start of the 2018/19 season, Lucy decided enough was enough and registered with the FA as the first transgender referee.
"I didn't come out to the football world because I didn't think they would accept it.
My original plan was to give up refereeing because I didn't expect clubs, players and supports to accept me. I just went for it and am very thankful for the football community for welcoming me.
A day in the life of referee Lucy Clark
Saturday morning starts with an extra hour in bed and two slices of toast with a cuppa' tea.
Having worked the previous night as a London black cabbie, it's a case of more black on black as Lucy gathers her colossal kit bag that she describes closer to a "suitcase on wheels".
Nike Tiempo's are nestled on top of a the bag which is full to the brim with stopwatches, sprays, whistles, flags and Lucozade.
However, the most important element of this standard Saturday routine is one small outfit change.
"I'll wear some trousers, the official referee jacket and a blouse. Thankfully I no-longer have to wear the damn tie. I never liked wearing the tie."
Lucy has finally managed to live the dream of simply being herself when Saturday comes calling.
She officiates weekend games with all of the usual abuse referees receive and enjoys every single second of it. A quick wine at the ground follows before retreating home to soak in the bath and flick through the footie results.
Who said fairytales don't exist.
Fanatical is available in cinemas from 6th September and in-store and on digital platforms from 29th November 2019.
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