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Louise blazing a trail for female refs

Fermanagh woman first to officiate at IFA final

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Louise Thompson (centre) with Rachel Greer (left) and Victoria Finlay

Louise Thompson (centre) with Rachel Greer (left) and Victoria Finlay

Louise Thompson (centre) with Rachel Greer (left) and Victoria Finlay

The newest star of local refereeing believes there are no limits for her career with the whistle.

Louise Thompson became the first female to officiate at the IFA Intermediate Cup final on Thursday night, aided by assistants Victoria Finlay and Rachel Greer.

Thompson delivered an accomplished performance, characterised by a calm demeanour in the clash between Dollingstown and Newington.

The 31-year-old has not even been in the job for three years, turning to refereeing after her playing career was cut short.

"I finished as a player in 2017," she explained after the game, which Dollingstown won 2-0.

"I had played for Fermanagh Mallards in the Premiership and Enniskillen Ladies, but I got a knee injury and wasn't able to play anymore.

"I really wanted to stay in football and there was a refereeing course near us, which was free for females. I just thought I'd give it a go and since then things have escalated pretty quickly."

In her first year as a referee she was appointed to oversee the Women's Irish Cup final.

This year Thompson, again helped by assistants Finlay and Greer, became the first female to referee in the fifth round of the Irish Cup, taking charge of Newry City's 3-1 win over Bangor.

She will be getting more used to senior men's action next season as well as she moves up to Championship level - another first for a female referee.

It is set to be a busy year, with Thompson due to be in action at least twice a week until November, including the Wednesday evening Women's Premiership ties.

And there will be some exciting opportunities opening up overseas.

That is because she and colleague Finlay have both been nominated as Fifa officials, qualified to work at international, Europa League and Champions League level.

"We got our Fifa badges at the end of January and then things went to a standstill," Thompson explained.

"That's been a bit frustrating as we haven't got to officiate at our first Fifa matches yet, but when we do that will be great to show that we can do it on a bigger stage.

"It shows everybody back here that if they want to take up the course, or if they want to do what I did and stay in football after they finish playing, that it's well worth it.

"The opportunities are endless; they really are starting to get bigger and bigger.

"We'll probably start off with some qualifying mini-tournaments, then into Women's Champions League games and on into men's football from there."

Such a direct pathway to the very top of the sport is now open, available and achievable for the Maguiresbridge woman, who is inspired by Stephanie Frappart after the French referee took charge of last year's Uefa Super Cup game between Liverpool and Chelsea.

"You just can't see an end to it," she said. "Every door is opening in front of you as you keep pushing forward. There are records to break everywhere and I just want to keep going, keep my head down and see what happens and what opens up."

Thompson said she is hoping more females will follow in her footsteps.

Her advice to anyone interested in giving it a go is "definitely do it".

She added: "It's a brilliant opportunity and you can make great steps in the game now. It's not limited to women's football anymore. You can go into the men's game and push on. You can go as far as you want to go now, it's just up to you."

Trevor Moutray, IFA head of refereeing, added: "The Irish FA welcomes and positively encourages more females and ex-players to start refereeing.

"There are no barriers or obstacles, as demonstrated by the progress and success (Thursday night)'s match officials have achieved."

Belfast Telegraph