By Russell Kempson

Aspiring young referees need as much help as they can get. The path to the top, especially en route to perhaps an eventual place amongst the Premier League and European elite, can be littered with pitfalls.

For Steve Rushton, his guiding light could not have been closer to home.

Rushton's career, apart from the occasional blip, has progressed mostly smoothly and with the unerring assistance of his father Jim, a former Football League referee from 1987 to 1996 and a former referees' assessor, too. Like father, like son is the obvious family mantra.

"As a youngster, I used to watch dad refereeing as much as I could," Rushton Jr, now in his fourth season in The Football League middle, said.

"I used to travel all over the country - Hartlepool, Brighton, Torquay, Sunderland - wherever he went. That's how my interest grew. I went on a refereeing course, which was also beneficial to my GCSE in PE, and that was it. It also earned me a bit of pocket money.

"At 15, though, I was not too taken by the abuse I was getting from some players. I thought, 'this is not for me, thank you'. I just didn't like it. Maybe I was too young. So I gave it up. But at 18, second time around, it was much better. I started enjoying it and it all went on from there."

However, as his commitment to refereeing increased, the tough-tackling right-back had to sacrifice playing in the Staffordshire Senior League, in which he seemed to be afforded special privileges.

"I never got booked, not once," he recalled. "I always seemed to get away with it. I think the referees felt that they couldn't caution Jim Rushton's boy!"

Yet after progressing through the Potteries and District Sunday and Staffordshire Senior leagues, Rushton's career stalled in the Northern Premier League, in which he spent nine years on the line.

Again, Jim came to the rescue.

"It was a long time, quite frustrating," Steve, 37, said. "But dad had faith in me and told me that cream would always rise to the top. He also said, 'make sure you're ready'. And after nine years, I was ready."

Ready, in 2006, to take his place on the League line. And up into the middle three years later.

His first match on the line, Rochdale versus Notts County, arrived just two days after he had returned from a six-week trip to Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

"I just thought, 'please don't get the first offside wrong'," Rushton said. "I didn't feel as though I had any jet lag but it all went so quickly, maybe I did. But it went like a dream, I think!"

In 2009, after taking charge of a feisty FA Sunday Cup final between Scots Grey and Oyster Martyrs at Anfield, Steve received the nod, with Geoff Eltringham, the fourth official, that their promotion to the League middle was all but confirmed.

"We'd had the interviews and were due to get the letters on the Monday," Steve said.

"Mike Riley [General Manager of PGMOL] congratulated us after the game and also said that we shouldn't be afraid of a knock on the door on the Monday. That was really nice of him yet I did think, 'does that really mean what I think does?' And it did."

Chesterfield against Northampton Town was Steve's first match at the helm. "It was the first season of using microphones at Football League level, though we'd tried them out in pre-season matches, but it all seemed to go well," he said. "Again, it just seemed to go so quickly."

Away from the pitch, Rushton is a PE teacher at Cheslyn Hay Sport & Community High School, near Cannock - a 1,500-pupil seat of learning for 11 to 18-year-olds.

Gentle ribbing from some of the students - "that was never a penalty, Mr Rushton" - is par for the course after a weekend on The Football League frontline.

Steve laughs it off. It is all good-natured. "The kids are mostly positive," he said.

And he is keen to support the next generation of referees - as father Jim helped him - through their formative, often awkward, years.

He runs a referees' academy at Cheslyn Hay, for about a dozen teenage up-and-comers, and is in his third season as the West Midlands co-ordinator for the FA's National Development Strategy, which takes in Birmingham, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Shropshire.

"It gives me a lot of pleasure," Rushton said. "My dad gave me a hell of a lot of guidance, especially when I needed it the most, and I just want to give back what I have learnt over the years. Seeing the bug bite deep with the young referees is fantastic. It's extremely rewarding."