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Suffolk referee Mary Harmer hopes to inspire more girls to take up the sport

PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 December 2016 | UPDATED: 13:18 12 December 2016

Mary Harmer with her match official award at the Women in Football Awards

Mary Harmer with her match official award at the Women in Football Awards

Archant

A Suffolk referee who pipped two FA Cup finalists to a prestigious national award for women in football has expressed her desire to inspire more girls to take up refereeing.

Mary Harmer in action refereeingMary Harmer in action refereeing

Suffolk FA referee development officer Mary Harmer, 22, attended the Women in Football Awards at London’s BBC New Broadcasting House on Tuesday last week, where she was stunned to win the match official award.

The Eye-based match official was shortlisted alongside Lisa Rashid and Lucy Oliver, who have both been officials in FA Cup finals, but came away with the gong.

“I was really surprised simply because the two other girls who were also nominated are a much higher level.

“I have been overwhelmed by the number of kind messages I have received, although winning the award still hasn’t quite sunk in.”

Mary Harmer in action refereeingMary Harmer in action refereeing

The lifelong football fan first began refereeing at the age of 15 when she was encouraged by Aylsham High School Duke of Edinburgh Award organisers to give it a go.

And while initially sceptical as she felt a career as a PE teacher beckoned, Miss Harmer ended up falling in love with the career and has never looked back.

“I thought at the time I would learn a couple of skills and thought if I could control a few lads on the pitch I could control a classroom of kids.

“And people think ‘why would you want to be a ref?’ – it’s quite a difficult one to sell until you are involved in it.

Mary Harmer. Pic: Suffolk FA.Mary Harmer. Pic: Suffolk FA.

“But you get to meet different people and get opportunities at a level I knew I would never play at.

“I knew I would never play for England, but refereeing has given us that opportunity that maybe we can in a refereeing team.”

Miss Harmer is a level four official, meaning she can work in contributory and supply leagues, and is aiming to become a level three. Level one referees can work national games, while the pinnacle three levels above that is as a FIFA international official.

And already she has been bitten by the international bug following a trip to Portugal for some games. With a successful 2016 in her pocket, Miss Harmer is hoping to inspire more girls into the game, and giving people the opportunity to consider refereeing as an avenue they may not have realised before.

“It’s very important because being a woman in football was something that was rare, but I like to think they are not so rare now.

“The view was that it was predominantly for men, but actually it’s for everybody.”

While Miss Harmer has only experienced the occasional sexist comment, she recognises others have found it harder, but said that should not put women off the game.

“I did arrive at one game where a man said ‘I hope you have a good game because I don’t think women should be in football’. So I said ‘let’s have a cup of tea and chat about it’,” she said.

“My approach is to understand their mindset, but then educate them.”

And her advice to tomorrow’s young referee stars?

“Definitely give it a go. I never knew where this would lead me but I am excited to see what happens next year, and they never know where it could lead them next.”

For information on Suffolk FA refereeing courses visit www.suffolkfa.com

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