HUNDREDS of people from the North Devon football community turned out for the funeral service of Michael Stevens.
Michael, known as 'Mickey' or 'Mike', of Devonshire Park, Bideford, passed away at North Devon District Hospital on February 15, aged 65.
Respected for years of service as a player, referee and administrator, North Devon has lost one of its most committed football men.
At St Mary's Church in Bideford, Mike's coffin was carried by his refereeing colleagues, Andy Walter, Fred Saunders, Ian Hart, Colin Ritchie, Peter Sercombe and Colin Wallis, all wearing their referee kit.
The Rev Alan Glover, who grew up with Mike in Bideford, recalled their days playing football in the park and later travelling away together with Devon under-18s.
Mike was a devoted family man, who always loved playing and watching sport.
A goalkeeper who was surprisingly agile for a big man, he played for Appledore, Northam Lions and Dolton.
One of the highlights was a man-of-the-match performance as Northam caused a shock by beating Bideford AAC to win the Torridge Cup.
Injury ended his days as a goalkeeper and cricketer and Mike took up football refereeing where his understanding of the game saw him rapidly progress to Class 1.
In 1984, he had the honour of refereeing the Devon Premier Cup final as Appledore beat Clyst Rovers 2-1 at Elmore.
Although he offered to stand down because his younger brothers Malcolm and Mark were part of the Appledore team, the Devon FA insisted Mike was the man for the job and he was praised for his handling of the game.
Mike served for 26 years as the referee appointments officer for North Devon, only giving up the role last year due to ill health.
During that time he ensured thousands of players in the North Devon League, Kingsley League and North Devon Youth League were able to enjoy a game of football.
Andy Walter, of the North Devon Referees' Association, said: "I don't think we are ever likely to see such dedicated service as this again by anyone. He was a man not over keen on regulations and rules, he just got the job done.
"He was not a great man for refereeing, he was a great man for referees."
Mike also served on the North Devon League management committee and was proud to have been made a life member of the Devon Football Association.
In 1987, he was elected onto the Devon FA as area representative and in 2009 they presented him with a rose bowl in recognition of his service to football in Devon.
He was made a life member of the Referees' Association North Devon branch in 1998.
Born on September 9, 1947, Mike was the eldest of four sons to Fred and Joan and was brought up with brothers Norman, Mark and Malcolm at Pynes Lane.
On leaving school, he worked at RGB. Later he moved to Peter Horns and Bayley Bartlett's which became Jewsons, where he remained until retirement in June last year.
Michael met Joyce, the love of his life, in 1966. They married in 1970 and had two children Tracey and Peter.
He leaves behind Joyce, Tracey and son-in-law Mark, Peter and daughter-in-law Sarah and young grandson Alex.
Mike enjoyed playing euchre and snooker at the Bideford Reds Rowing Club and was a keen Manchester United supporter.
He loved dogs and a collection was made for Border Terrier Welfare and the North Devon Referees' Association benevolent fund.