Beginning as a referee in 2014 to get a bit of pocket money, 19-year-old BSc (Hons) Sports Therapy student Joe Cunningham is now one of the leading youth referees in Manchester.

Recalling the phonecall when he was told he’d receive a scholarship, Salford-based Joe said:

“I didn’t really know what to expect, I was told it was quite competitive to get a scholarship so I thought what have I done to get through, then? It was a mixture of shock and surprise but definitely a pleasant surprise.”

Having experienced so much as a referee in just five seasons, Joe’s scholarship is very well deserved; he officiates at senior county level and has been part of the national referee development programme CORE (Centre of Refereeing Excellence).

He regularly takes to the pitch at Manchester City and Manchester United Youth Academies, and has officiated at three Manchester FA county cup finals.

In 2018, he was selected as one of 12 North West referees to officiate at the Premier League International U16 Youth Tournament.

Joe works hard off the field as well, as the North West regional representative on the RA-FA Youth Council, a national body that supports match officials under the age of 25, and as vice-chair of the Manchester FA Young Leaders Academy.

“I started playing football when I was six but I didn’t really like it, my family are big Manchester United fans so they encouraged me to keep going and then when I got to school and all my friends were playing, that’s when I really got into it.

“And now, I really enjoy refereeing and am so passionate about it that I don’t see it as a chore.”

The scholarship will help Joe – who wants to pursue a career in sport and refereeing – to progress as a referee as he hopes to work towards promotion, buy new kit and equipment and travel to training and development events.

In the next 12 months, Joe will represent Edge Hill as he officiates football games and has been chosen to represent the North West in the National Youth Referee Development Team.

To find out more information about sports courses available at Edge Hill University, visit or to find out more about scholarships, visit