It was a sweet moment between a football-mad little girl and a female assistant referee – and it sent Twitter crazy.
The youngster in question, four-year-old Clara, was watching Garforth Town’s 1-1 draw with Hall Road Rangers when she realised she had the same hairstyle as one of the match officials.
Clara pointed this out to her dad, Nathan, and told him she subsequently wanted to become a referee.
Nathan posted a photo of Clara and the assistant referee, Melissa Burgin, stating his daughter’s future career choice, and Twitter did the rest. The photo captured the public’s imagination and the pair went viral overnight.
— Hullablue (@hullablue) October 14, 2017
Proud dad Nathan, a Nuneaton Town fan, said: “I didn’t think anyone apart from my couple of hundred followers would see it, and I didn’t think anyone would take notice of it.
“So I was amazed when I woke up on the Sunday morning and seen that it had been ‘liked’ and re-tweeted that many times that Twitter had made it a ‘Moment’.
“I just took a photo during an injury break, Mel turned around, because she had heard us talking about her, and smiled.
“It was just a nice little moment that I thought I’d share. I had no idea it would turn out like this.”
The FA invited Clara and Nathan to St. George’s Park to watch Melissa take charge of Scotland U15s v Wales U15s on Tuesday afternoon.
Clara was given her own referee’s kit, including a flag and a whistle, and was the unofficial ‘fifth official’, helping Melissa check the nets before kick-off.
“[The tweet] just spiralled,” said Melissa, a Level 4 referee from Sheffield. “When I first saw it, it had about 100 re-tweets and then it just went viral and made it an interesting Sunday afternoon for me.
“It was obviously a big surprise. But it’s quite touching that we’re inspiring the younger generation.
“It’s nice that things like that go viral and trend online. It just shows that the women’s game is growing.
“We hope that in a few years’ time [Clara] will pick up a whistle and get involved in refereeing, or just be involved in the women’s game in any capacity really.
“It will be nice to know that we have inspired her.”
Nathan added: “It was the first time Clara had noticed a female official at a game. She had watched women play football before but never seen a woman involved in any capacity in a game that we had paid to watch.
“It was the realisation that she could be a part of that [in the future].”
FA women’s referee manager Joanna Stimpson said: “It shows the power of a role model.
“With over 1,300 female officials heading out to pitches across the country every weekend, hopefully there are many other girls of all ages who will be inspired to get involved in the sport.”
If you'd like to follow in Melissa's, and Clara's, footsteps, get in touch with your local referee development officer and book yourself on a basic referees course.