Leigh Doughty, second from left, supervises a coin toss

Nine years ago, 20-year-old Leigh Doughty from Blackpool, England arrived as a fresh-faced, mid-level referee, anxious to call games at the world’s most prestigious international youth soccer tournament – Dallas Cup. Thursday afternoon he landed back in Dallas as an advanced ref, but he’ll bunk at the same place he stayed before – the Toler house.

Much has changed for Leigh since he waved goodbye to our family and headed home. He graduated from university, where he was studying to become a schoolteacher, and he says visiting Lake Highlands High was a highlight of his first trip. In addition to his work calling soccer matches, he now teaches school in Lancashire. Leigh married in 2015, and they had a curly-haired daughter in 2017.

Also staying in our home will be 19-year-old Yasmin Saeed, who officiates in the Manchester League and aims to be the first female referee in England’s Premier League (the EPL currently has only female assistant refs). She played for Manchester United, Man City and Everton before breaking her pelvis in a game at age 15 and switching her focus to officiating. Yasmin may be one of a small number of females calling the beautiful game, but when you attend Dallas Cup this year, she won’t be the only woman you’ll see wearing a whistle. The Brits sent 2 coaches and 8 referees, and two are female. (One more young man intended to participate, but was too ill to make the flight.) In 2012, we hosted Lucy Oliver, and other LH families have hosted lady refs over the years.

Soccer lovers familiar with Dallas Cup know that, in the 40 years of the tournament’s history, players have been drawn from all over the globe. This year’s competitors include teams from New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Argentina, Nigeria, Australia, Bosnia, Belgium and many others. Many, though, don’t realize the referees are just as international. In addition to our British Lads, you’ll find refs from 27 countries, including Aruba, Guatemala, Hong Kong, China, Scotland and the Netherlands.

Though most teams of international refs opt to stay in hotels, the British Lads have always accepted the hospitality of Dallas families – Lake Highlands families, to be specific. That’s because the tournament was played at Wildcat-Ram Stadium from 1981 to 2005, and Lake Highlands volunteers ran the show. Even after games moved to FC Dallas Toyota Stadium in Frisco, MoneyGram Soccer Park at Elm Fork, Richland College, the Cotton Bowl and other fields in the area, LH die-hards kept opening their homes each spring.

This year, 244 teams of boys aged 11 to 19 will compete, beginning with opening day festivities Sunday, April 14. Soccer icons Landon Donovan and Luis Hernandez will be there to get the tournament kick-started, and teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, Villareal of Spain, Monterrey Rayados and Ikapa of Cape Town, South Africa will draw big crowds. The championship game will be held Easter Sunday, and you may buy tickets online here or at the gate.

If you see Leigh, Yasmin and the Tolers (or any other Dallas Cup referees or players) at a neighborhood hotspot, please come over and say hello.

Yasmin Saeed controls the game from the center