On Monday, Everton ambassador Graham Stuart was a special guest at the 20th instalment of a local football tournament that promotes the fair treatment of match officials at grassroots level and above.
Called ‘REFspect’, the annual event is organised by community interest company Don’t X The Line and, for this year’s tournament, referees were able to issue ‘awareness cards’ to spectators for misconduct on the touchline.
REFspect is a campaign supported by the FA, the Professional Footballers’ Association, Professional Game Match Officials Limited and other professional bodies to increase awareness of the problems referees throughout the football pyramid face.
Hundreds of children between the ages of seven and 12 took part across the Bank Holiday weekend, with a cumulative attendance of more than 5,000 across the three days.
On Monday, Stuart was on hand to mingle with players, parents and referees, before assisting with the presentation of medals and trophies to everybody who had taken part.
Speaking during his visit to the Jeffrey Humble Playing Fields in Aintree, Stuart said: “It’s been great to come down here this afternoon and see the many smiling faces of the young people.
“Playing football at that age should be all about enjoyment and having a positive environment to learn – that's why the REFspect campaign is so important, and we know that referees are a vital part of the game.
“To see the initiative being supported locally is pleasing and I wish everybody involved the best of luck with it going forward.”
Malcolm Lee, the founder of Don’t X The Line and organiser of this tournament, added: “Graham was a diamond today!
“I really appreciate him coming along and mixing with the community. He wanted to know all about the tournament and nothing was too much hassle, particularly when all the parents were asking him for a photograph with their kids.
“With the winter months rolling in, it’s important that we retain referees, and our officials were all over the moon with their round of applause and awards at the end. For us, that's what it’s all about.”