by JACK NIXON
WHEN a former Melrose rugby captain announced she was going to become a referee in her native Borders, her father Derek, himself a former player at both Melrose and Peebles, was concerned that his daughter would get a hard time from local supporters, well known for their criitical observations of the game.
But it was a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained for Kelly Mitchell, who had been forced to quit the game due to shattering her ankle in three places. She got herself fit again, and in 2014 embarked on a quest to go as far in the refereeing game as she can, which to date has seen her officiate in National League 3 games.
”I have been pleasantly surprised by the support I have received from clubs, players and supporters, including my own club in Selkirk. It has been most encouraging. The only problem players seem to have is about how to address me. Some persist in sir, while others call me ma’am. I don’t care as long as it is not derogatory,” said Kelly.
Kelly, who is 27-years-old, was born in Hawick and at age five became the first girl at Trinity Primary to play rugby, never looking back, as would befit a girl from a family steeped in the game. Not only did her father play a bit in his youth, but her grandfather Frank Mitchell also played and captained the Greenyards side to their own world famous Sevens title in 1931.
Kelly carried on playing through the various age groups whilst at Hawick High School before going to University in Edinburgh where she gained a BA in Chemistry, and turned out for Murrayfield Wanderers. She then returned to the Borders to work and played in the back-row until in 2011 she suffered her crippling injury.
During her rehabilation Kelly turned her thoughts to refereeing, inspired by her friendship with Hollie Davidson, who last year became the first ever contracted woman appointed by the Scottish Rugby Union.
”Hollie is a trail-blazer for women in the game, and a very good referee, but there are others like Joy Neville of Ireland, who was the first woman to ref a professional club fixture, and Alhambra Nievas of Spain, who has taken charge of Conference 2 games in Europe. I would like to think a woman will one day, in the not too distant future, referee in the World Cup Final,” said Kelly.
In the meantime, the Selkirk whistler is setting her own targets, and in the current season aimed to take charge of a National League 3 game, an objective she achieved at the start of January when she travelled all the way to Aberdeen to demonstrate her efficiency in the Gordonians versus Haddington game, winning the praise of Gordonians president Jim Sugden, who said: ”Kelly was probably the best official we have had up here this season. She deserves to go far in the game.”
Not content with officiating, she also coaches Kelso Women, who play in BT Women’s National League Division Two.
”It keeps me in touch with the women’s game,” she said.