Football referee Mary, from north Norfolk, is the best in Britain

Mary Harmer with her Women in Football Referee of the Year award. Picture: NICK GARNHAM SUFFOLK FA

Mary Harmer with her Women in Football Referee of the Year award. Picture: NICK GARNHAM SUFFOLK FA - Credit: Archant

A former north Norfolk schoolgirl has been named Women in Football's Referee of the Year.

Mary Harmer, 22, beat two other higher-ranking female refs to the national organisation's prestigious title at a ceremony held in BBC Broadcasting House.

She hit the national headlines when Martin Potton, the chairman of Wellingborough Town Football Club, was banned for five matches and fined £75 by the Football Association for making sexist remarks about her abilities as a referee.

Mr Potton, who denied the claims, was overheard by a spectator saying that Miss Harmer was not fit to referee a men's game.

Miss Harmer believes it may have been the TV interview she later gave on the incident, in which she focused on the positive, which clinched the title for her.

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Originally from North Walsham, Miss Harmer, who lives in Eye, Suffolk, has been refereeing since she was a 15-year-old pupil at Aylsham High School.

She is currently referee development officer with the Suffolk Football Association, responsible for 450 male and female referees.

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And she referees Norfolk and Suffolk matches in the Thurlow Nunn and Anglian Combination leagues.

Miss Harmer did not herself hear the Wellingborough chairman's comments but said on another occasion a man told her he did not think women should be referees.

'I said, 'Come on. Let's have a brew and you tell me why you think that'. He said: 'I'm just a dinosaur and I don't like change,' so I said: 'Well I'm sorry, but the game is changing.''

She added: 'I want to be a good role model for young girls and encourage them to think 'I could do that too''.

Miss Harmer's aim is to become a FIFA referee at international matches. She got a taste of global travel in October when she went to Portugal as assistant referee at the under-17s' girls' European qualifiers.

And she has not ruled out becoming the first female referee in the Premier League one day.

'I think women referees are good enough and it will happen in the future. It will be a big day in football history,' she said.

A devoted Norwich City FC supporter, Miss Harmer joked that it was 'just awful' working in Suffolk alongside colleagues who were mostly Ipswich Town fans.

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