At just 13, Eva Kelly is following a family tradition as a soccer referee

'My dad, grandad, and uncle Graham are all referees. I never knew my great grandfather, but both my grandads have told me stories about him as a referee.'
At just 13, Eva Kelly is following a family tradition as a soccer referee

Eva Kelly in action as a referee.

SHE’S the fourth generation of referees in her family, and although only 13 years of age, living in the United States has given her a wonderful opportunity and she is thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Eva Kelly is the daughter of former FIFA referee and current MLS referee Alan, and although refereeing was never forced upon her, the independent youngster took an interest from growing up with it being a huge part of her family life.

“I grew up around refereeing, so I began taking more of an interest in it about three or four years ago,” said Eva.

“When I started playing soccer a few years ago, I remember seeing girls a few years older than me refereeing games, so I decided when I was old enough I would try it.

“My first game that I can remember, I was quite nervous. My dad was away at his own game so my mum came and watched.

“The players were all kids, most of them were playing their first game of soccer so around the field was full of parents (socially distanced), so it was a little intimidating. It took a few minutes to get more comfortable, but the more the game went on, the more I enjoyed it.

“I hope to continue it as long as I can while also balancing my other activities and education.

“I hope to register as a referee for the state in the autumn, allowing me to do games outside of the town. After that, who knows?”

Eva, like most kids, has tried many sports and currently she enjoys playing soccer and softball, and with supportive parents, she is able to enjoy refereeing as an extra hobby.

“I play soccer for my town and I also play softball as well as refereeing. I started softball about two and a half years ago, and I started playing soccer about seven years ago when we moved to the United States.

“Growing up, soccer and refereeing was a huge part of our lives.

“My dad, grandad, and uncle Graham are all referees. I never knew my great grandfather, but both my grandads have told me stories about him as a referee.

Eva Kelly, then just two, daughter of match referee Alan Kelly, before the start of an FAI Cup game between Sporting Fingal and Sligo Rovers. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Eva Kelly, then just two, daughter of match referee Alan Kelly, before the start of an FAI Cup game between Sporting Fingal and Sligo Rovers. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

“My uncle Eoin is also a coach for Avondale and I am very proud to be the fourth generation of referees in my family. I am also proud to be the first female referee in my family.

“My grandparents on my mum’s side are very proud. They are soccer and sports fans as well. My grandad Seanie is a long-suffering Tottenham Hotspur supporter.

“They hope to get over next year to visit if everything is ok to travel. Hopefully, I will be refereeing a game which they can watch.”

Having a relaxed dad who can teach her so much about the world of refereeing is no doubt a big help for Eva.

My dad is very casual about it. So far, he has only come to one of my games because of his own games, but also because he wants to let me find my own way.

“Now that I have been refereeing for a while, I ask him lots of questions and he gives me helpful little tips and pointers.

“He is very involved in referee education with young referees as well as experienced referees so it was a little strange recently to be ‘in his class’ when he was the instructor in an online Zoom.”

Moving to the States at the age of six, it wasn’t easy leaving behind family and friends, but for Eva, making friends and getting opportunities such as refereeing at a young age has helped her adapt.

“I love living in America. I’ve spent a little more than half my life here but I still miss home, family, and friends.

“There are lots of different opportunities, refereeing is just one of them. I recently joined the school newspaper because I love writing and hope to get the chance to write my own articles soon.

“Part of me always wants to go home, but I also want to go to college and study here in the US.”

INDEPENDENT

A determined young girl who is very focused on what she wants, she is described by her father as very independent and equally someone the family are very proud of.

“We’re very proud of Eva for taking up the whistle,” said Alan.

“She first mentioned it to us after she came home from training maybe at the back end of 2019. I told her that if she wanted to pursue it as a hobby and pastime, then we are happy enough to support her.

“To be fair to her, she did all the running on it and next we knew, she was scheduled to part referee some kids games in a ‘training’ capacity.

“She’s always been a very independent kid and she went about this herself.

“It’s good that she can get experience at a young age while still playing. Once she’s happy, we are happy. It’s a way to meet knew people, contribute to the game and earn a few dollars while doing it.

“She’s spent her life around football and refereeing so far. She accompanied me out before the 2009 FAI Cup final and attended lots of LoI and MLS games, including the two MLS Cup finals along with her brother Aaron and sister Quinn.

“I suppose it was bound to rub off on her. I’ve only managed to see one of her games so far which is fine because she can learn and develop without my input.

“She knows that I’m only too happy to help if she has questions on anything.

“I’m thrilled that she’s kept the ‘family business’ going, but at the same time, if she decided to stop refereeing tomorrow then that’s is completely her choice.

“For now, she seems to be enjoying herself and that’s what it’s about really.”

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