25 years of good deeds from Stephen Bradford, the football referee with a heart

​A FOOTBALL referee who refuses to take match fees, preferring instead to donate the money back to needy clubs or charity, is receiving some well-deserved recognition.
Kind-hearted football referee Stephen Bradford. Picture by KERRIE BEDDOWSKind-hearted football referee Stephen Bradford. Picture by KERRIE BEDDOWS
Kind-hearted football referee Stephen Bradford. Picture by KERRIE BEDDOWS

Stephen Bradford’s acts of kindness in his many years in grassroots football have channelled thousands of pounds to deserving causes and increased his standing as one of the most selfless grassroots football champions around.

It was 25 years ago that he reluctantly stepped in to take charge of his first match as a favour for a friend after the original referee ducked out at the last minute.

“If anyone had told me that Sunday morning I’d have ended up refereeing a game and still be loving it nearly 25 years later I’d have said go and give your head a wobble,” says Stephen.

Stephen Bradford has generated thousands of pounds for good causes.Stephen Bradford has generated thousands of pounds for good causes.
Stephen Bradford has generated thousands of pounds for good causes.

“I referee three games on Sundays, sometimes four, and I do school games midweek.

“I’d knocked Saturdays on the head in the last couple of years because you can have too much of a good thing but in recent times I’ve picked them back up again and been doing games for Rotherham United Community Trust.

“I love it.”

Stephen has always refused to take match fees and didn’t particularly want the wider world to know about it.

Eighteen months ago Greasbrough Youth JFC, with whom he has a close association, put him up for an award for his contribution to grassroots football, which he won.

Such plaudits are deserved.

More recently, when two young lads from the club wanted to take a referees training course but couldn’t afford the £120 cost, Stephen stepped in and helped set up an arrangement with the County FA that they pay only ten per cent to book onto the course and settle the rest once they started earning their own money as refs.

It was his determination to encourage the next generation of match officials that led him to take up an invitation from Becky Dawson, Greasbrough Youth’s welfare officer, that 50 per cent of his match fees go into a bank account to help other budding refs pay for their courses or help out with their costs and any other essentials.

“We need referees. There’s always a shortage, but the over-riding impression is that you get shouted out and abused,” said Stephen.

“The elite game has a hell of a lot to answer for on that score and that’s why I have no time for it.

“If first-time referees recognise that they will start off with junior games where the players are a lot younger and the worst they will come across is an over-excited parent then it is not as daunting.”

The publicity surrounding Stephen’s charitable nature has gone viral, with social media posts and national newspaper coverage highlighting his good deeds.

Nice though it is, he remains as modest man.

“I’ve seen the words ‘legend’ and ‘hero’ used to describe me. In my view I’m neither,” he says.

“A legend or a hero is somebody who saves lives, fought in a war. We use these terms too freely.

“I’m just a normal person doing something that I passionately love.”

Still, Stephen couldn’t help but be moved by one letter of praise from a one-time troublesome kid who he helped steer on a better path.

“I refereed him from the age of 12 or 13 to 21 and he was in and out of mainstream school,” explained Stephen.

“He wrote ‘you deserve all the recognition. It is long overdue. At a time in my life when I lacked direction or a father figure, you provided both.’

“I was absolutely blown away by that.

“Those kinds of comments from young and old alike, I have to pinch myself and think ‘blimey, I’m just a referee. It’s not right’.

“I sometimes get applauded off by parents and kids after games. People offer to buy me drinks.”

Because Stephen referees 200 to 250 games a year, it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that he has redirected a lot of money for worthy causes.

“Even if I have taken money I have put it into charity or asked the teams to put it back into a charity of their choice,” he says.

“I have close affinity Greasbrough Youth and Millmoor Juniors in particular. I’ve been with Millmoor since I started and Greasbrough deserve better facilities.

“Any money can also be put back into a club, whether it be for trophies, the Christmas party of whatever.”

Stephen is now in his 50s and in no mood to hang up the whistle.

In many ways, his job gives him a close-up view of the power of football.

He recites a story from a game he refereed between two junior teams who couldn’t have come from wider economic,, religious and cultural spectrums.

The players, parents and spectators all mixed, brought together as equals by the beautiful game.

“There are only two activities that can bring people together and break down barriers – whether they be cultural, religious, economic – and that’s boxing, because of the self-discipline it teaches, and football at its purest, grassroorts level.

“I love being part of that,” he added.

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