Former Irish League referee Leslie Irvine 'humbled' by MBE recognition as he calls on more respect to be shown to match officials

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Former Irish League referee Leslie Irvine has spoken of his pride after being recognised in the New Year Honours List.

Irvine is to receive an MBE for his services to association football in Northern Ireland, where he currently works as an international referee assessor for the Irish Football Association (IFA).

Speaking to the News Letter about his accolade, the former teacher at Limavady High School explained that he found out about the honour when he was on duty for UEFA at a tournament in Portugal by his wife.

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He explained: "I'm proud but to be honest I'm more humbled by the recognition.

Leslie Irvine, pictured as referee in the late 1990s, has been recognised with an MBELeslie Irvine, pictured as referee in the late 1990s, has been recognised with an MBE
Leslie Irvine, pictured as referee in the late 1990s, has been recognised with an MBE

"I wasn't in the country when the letter landed at our house and my wife asked me if I should open it.

"She duly obliged and did the best she could to tell me what it was all about. It was certainly a surreal moment as we didn't know how to celebrate as I was in Portugal and she was in Limavady.

"The difficult part was not telling anyone as the letter arrived in mid-November. However, we had immediate family over on Boxing Day and I told them the news, so it's finally out there."

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Irvine passed his referee exam in 1976 and the rest is history as the Fermanagh native whistled matches from the Irish Junior Cup final right through to full internationals.

There would even be appearances in the middle for Champions League group stage games in Barcelona and Madrid - as well as refereeing four Irish Cup finals.

He recalled: "I came up through the ranks and moved up to the senior level of officiating in 1985, before being added to the FIFA list in 1989.

"I managed to referee four Irish Cup finals and be involved in several others, as well as being a linesman at the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship final between Portugal and Brazil which had a crowd of 127,000.

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"I was also involved in the 1990 EURO U16 finals in East Germany, the FIFA U17 World Championship in Ecuador and the 2000 EURO U21 Championship in Slovakia.

"I was fortunate to officiate at Champions League group stage games involving all the big clubs in mainland Europe such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as well as 64 full international fixtures."

Irvine retired from refereeing in 2003 and despite wanting to take a break from the game, he was quickly involved in an assessor role - which he still carries out to this day.

With abuse from the stands and on social media at an all time high, Leslie has called on those involved to show more respect towards officials.

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"I wanted to step away from the game completely when I retired in 2003," he added.

"UEFA then asked me in 2004 to join the referee observer panel, as did the IFA, so I've been doing that to this day.

"I think people forget that there are three teams on a matchday - the home team, the away team and the officials.

"Being an official isn't an easy task, they are all human and will make mistakes.

"However, I think the abuse they are getting is becoming a disease and I endorse the IFA's campaign of 'Catch Yourself On' in terms of tackling abusive behaviour towards match officials."

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