2015 has been a fantastic year for football referee Natalie Walker.
Not only was the Edge Hill University graduate an Assistant Referee at the Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley last weekend, she’s also spent five weeks in Canada as part of the British officials’ team for the Women’s World Cup, where she was the only English match official.
“Walking out at Wembley, your national stadium, is a dream come true,” says Natalie. “I was so fortunate to be involved – and we actually made history in the process.
“I’d been Assistant Referee in 2004, Referee in 2012 and the fourth official in 2013 and there was a rule that you can only referee the FA Cup once. But this year the FA changed the rules so the country’s top female officials could all do it again this year so we had the opportunity to officiate at Wembley within the Women’s game.
“It was fantastic, something I never thought I would experience.”
Natalie’s no stranger to the pitch, though she only played football at primary and high school. Her dad was a referee at a local level and she joined him as an official aged just 14. She then went on to referee at matches throughout her teens, and during her time at Edge Hill – when she wasn’t playing netball. She’s been in charge at both mens’ and women’s football matches and has been an international Assistant Referee since 2007.
The 2015 Womens’ World Cup was her second senior international competition – but the success of the England team meant that she didn’t get the chance to progress to the latter stages of the tournament because officials cannot take part in matches involving their home teams.
Natalie adds: “The difference in the quality of the women’s game now is amazing. Because England did so well I couldn’t get on the pitch, but it was really good to see them do so well.”
Natalie graduated from Edge Hill University with a degree in Sports Studies in 2002. She then went travelling in Australia before returning to complete her PGCE course, which is when she started mentoring students at Preston College. She’s now programme team leader for the sporting excellence courses.
“I’m now writing references for my students who want to go to Edge Hill,” she says. “I loved my time on campus. It was great, and I hope they enjoy their three years there as much as me.”