Whether playing or watching, we all remember our first game of football - and that will certainly be the case for Euxton Girls under-7s, who played their first-ever match at the weekend.
A heartwarming moment from the game has taken social media by storm, with 16-year-old referee Bradley giving his gloves to Euxton player Lucy during a cold day in Bolton.
It was a touching moment that captured the spirit of grassroots football and helped to welcome the young Euxton players to the sport.
If it were not for Euxton coach Mike’s decision to hire a professional photographer to capture the girls’ first-ever game, then the moment may never have even been spotted by anyone.
Mike was keen to pay tribute to Bradley - but said it was not just the decision to share his gloves that marked the young referee out as being special.
“We were supposed to play on grass but we had to call it off because the weather’s not been great, so we ended up moving it to a 3G pitch in Bolton, and I got a different referee through a contact, and it turned out to be Bradley,” he told us.
“I spoke to him when he arrived, told him we’d pay him after the game and I had no idea what his background was, where he’d refereed before or anything like that, I just said it was their first-ever game, so just manage the situation as best he could.
“He was absolutely brilliant all game - he was amazing for a 16-year-old lad. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“We talk about referees at the top level and how you can tell a good referee by the fact you haven’t seen them and, to be honest with you, I completely forgot about Bradley because he was that good.
“He was brilliant with the kids and they had a wonderful experience, which is exactly what you want at foundation stage.
“I can’t pay him any greater compliment than to say we never really saw him until three or four hours after the game when the photos came.”
Mike works for Lancashire FA and, after seeing the photos, got in touch with Peter Sturgess, the FA’s national lead for foundation coaching, who heaped praise upon Bradley.
“His reply was really interesting because he said it’s the sort of thing that will make Lucy fall in love with being active,” Mike said.
“Peter's reply said it’s not necessarily about football but she’ll fall in love with being active, she’ll understand how to be kind, caring and positive.”
Mike added: "Apart from having fun and enjoying yourself, that’s exactly what grassroots football and sport is all about.
“Just that little thing that Bradley did will give her good experience of how to behave and also to enjoy that first experience of a game.
“Lucy’s dad told me that all she did after the game was speak about the referee all weekend, so it was her abiding memory of the game.
“Her dad’s a little bit embarrassed because she took the gloves with her but they don’t know where they went in the car!”
Bradley is set to receive a new refereeing kit from the Lancashire FA and a prize from our mates at Grassroots to recognise his act of kindness, and Mike asked us to pass on Euxton’s thanks as well.
He said: “Purely as a coach of the club, I want to say a massive personal thank you to him from the kids, from us and also the parents, because he gave them all a wonderful first experience of the game that Kick N Mix readers will love.
“Hopefully he goes on to do really well in future, it’s a great example for young people.
“Young people can get very bad press in any walk of life at the moment but people like him aren’t really held up and praised as much as they should be.
“Unfortunately, because we moved the game to Bolton, which is a little far away from where we’re based, he can’t normally referee our games, which is a massive shame - so the next time I’ll see him, he might be on the box replacing Mike Dean!”
Bradley’s dad Paul was also at the game and says the youngster is a little modest about all the attention, instead arguing he did what anyone would do in that situation.
Paul said: “I take him to games and I’ve seen him do it quite a few times, to be fair - it’s just that he was caught on camera this time!
“It’s nothing unusual for him to do something like that but he was caught on camera and it’s gone a bit mental now.
“He’s like ‘I only gave a girl my gloves - what else would you do?’ He’s overwhelmed with it all.”
It seems typically self-effacing from a football-mad teenager, who also follows Bolton Wanderers home and away and plays for Tiki Taka Football Academy, coached by his dad.
With those sorts of commitments, it’s a wonder that Bradley has any time for refereeing, but Paul says his son is passionate about taking charge of games.
He said: “He’s always been interested in refereeing, he’s actually at college at the moment where he does refereeing and FA coaching.
“He’s gone as far as he can do until he gets to 18, when he’ll be able to do some more badges and work up the ladder.
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