As a little girl, Deidre Mitchell, South Africa's first woman soccer referee, wanted to become a police officer.

Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would one day clinch the title of South Africa's first woman referee. Last weekend she officiated in the Santos versus Kaizer Chiefs match in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.

Mitchell came from a sports-mad family, although they were never keen on soccer.

"My mother played tennis, while my father and my uncles were interested in rugby. I never grew up in a soccer environment."

The 31-year-old from Schauderville was introduced to the sport by a friend who played for Portville FC, a women's club, in 1994 and has never looked back.

"I used to go (to soccer matches) with a friend and started developing an interest in the sport," explained Mitchell.

In 1996 she saw an advert for beginners' courses in refereeing in her area.

"I enrolled, and passed both the fitness and theoretical tests. The next thing I was on the Fifa international referees' list," she said.

But it hasn't been an easy ride.

"The training is very thorough and one has to be very fit to be able to do such a job. I started this in 1996 and only after 11 years was I able to officiate a big game such as the one last week."

She said she became a star overnight and her community was very proud of her.

"Everywhere I go people are congratulating me, my mother is also getting a lot of compliments from people around the neighbourhood. The response has been overwhelming and I have been doing interviews back to back. It's unbelievable," she said.

Mitchell has no children yet but she has a long-term boyfriend, Mervyn Zealand, with whom she has been involved for the past five years. "He has been very supportive, and watched me last weekend. He is very proud of me," she said.