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The Women's Sports Alliance


History-maker Cheryl Foster - ‘more players should become referees’

Referees are different. They have to be strict, unemotional and perhaps even detached from the sport, right? Cheryl Foster laughs when she hears such comments – or worse.

“Remember, we have the best seat in the house” she states with a smile.

She should know. Before moving into officiating, Cheryl was a player herself and a pretty decent one at that.

Domestically she played in the formative years of the WSA during a nine-year career with Liverpool Ladies – scoring the club’s first-ever goal in the new competition.

The striker also faced some of the biggest names in the game while representing Wales, for whom she won 63 caps, a national record.

Cheryl finishing her playing days with Doncaster Rovers Belles in 2013 and initially planned to move into coaching before taking a different path into officiating.

Today, nearly a decade into retirement from her ‘first career’ the 42-year-old’s appetite for the sport remains undiminished and while yes, it is ‘different’ to the relationship she had with football as a player, she is still first and foremost “a fan” of the beautiful game.

“Even now, as a referee, I still have the same passion,” she says. “I run around and in my head I'm kicking every ball and heading every ball just as the players are doing.

She pauses before adding; “I just love it.”

The Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA) were granted rare access to the official through Gatorade, who have supported female officials ahead of, during and since the Women’s European Championships in England this year.

Q – You grew up in an era where it was very challenging for girls and young women to progress in football. Tell us about your experiences.

“I was told no, quite a few times, really,” Cheryl admits to the WSA.

“My mum actually spoke to the head teacher at my primary school and asked why I wasn't allowed to play football for the school team and they just said ‘girls can't play, girls aren't allowed.’

“So I just played in the back garden with my dad and always kicked the ball against the wall or in the house, which probably drove my mum crazy, but I just had a passion from within.”

Q – After those knocks at school, how did you make that breakthrough?

“Well, I’d take every opportunity in school at break times lunchtimes, because there were no opportunities (with girl’s football clubs) at the time.

“I was playing football for the school (when at high school) and one of the lads said, ‘Oh, I play for Conwy Devils, why don't you sign for it?’

“So I went along and joined in, love it because it was the first time playing for a football team at the age of 13-14, maybe which is unheard of now.

“I was quite good at it, enjoyed it, they kept me on and they actually changed my date of birth for a couple of years so I was able to play for longer for them!”

Q – From there you were talent spotted and began your career at Bangor City. How different was your journey to that of most players who compete in the top-flight now?

“Yeah I was 15-16 years old and starting my football career, which is more unheard of now because of the academies and the under 21’s etc, and my passion for playing just continued to grow.

“It's brilliant, the way that the game has transformed and progressed over the not just the last year, especially with the Euros, how successful that was, but really the last of 10 years. It’s so much more professional, teams are taking it more seriously and people want it to be covered by and involved with the media.

“To sort of see the numbers of people watching the game during the Euros and the interest in sponsorship shows the women's game has really progressed and I'm fortunate that I'm still part of it.”

Q – At the Women’s Euros you became the first-ever Welsh referee to officiate at a major women’s international football tournament, what was that experience like?

“It was an incredible privilege representing Wales in a major tournament.

“But more importantly it was a privilege to work alongside dedicated and passionate women who proved to be a powerful force – not only in women’s football, but in inspiring future generations of women to not accept boundaries and to see no limits to their accomplishments.”

Q - How proud of that achievement are you and how much of a difference did that support from Gatorade make to your preparations?

“The fact someone like Gatorade wants to be part of the women's game and wants to help transform us as athletes has been as been really significant.

“Their support and their advice, leading up to the Euros and since has been really beneficial.

The training, the shared practices and sessions that we had leading up to the Euros, I think made me fitter, stronger and more prepared for a competition that I've ever been to.

“I took everything on board, soaked up advice like a sponge to make sure that I'm in the best shape I can be for every game and every competition. “I'm really proud to have been part of that transition from difficult times to where it is now.”

Q – Not many former elite players go into refereeing when they retire, so why would you recommend it as a career option?

“It's not without challenges, you have to work really hard, you have to learn from every game, but there are great opportunities and I’m fitter now than I was in my playing days.

“If I was to still play now, at the age of 42, I wouldn't be part of the whole (development) process but I can still be involved in some way and as a referee.

“I'm benefiting from the changes and progress that the whole sport has made over the last couple years and as I said, as a referee you are in the best seat in the house.

“You’re in the middle of the pitch and for me, I was in a semi-final of the Euros running around with players from two big nations (Germany and France).

“If I hadn’t chosen this career path I would never have experienced that for the atmosphere created by the fans, so for former players who want to challenge themselves, why wouldn’t you want to try it?

“I am flying around the world to different countries meeting new people and enjoying myself at the same time. It’s simply a great opportunity!”

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