The newest star of Northern Irish refereeing says the sky’s the limit for her career with the whistle.
Louise Thompson is used to breaking down barriers. The latest came on Thursday night when she became the first female to referee the Irish FA’s Intermediate Cup final, aided by assistants Victoria Finlay and Rachel Greer.
Thompson delivered an accomplished performance, characterised by a calm demeanour in a highly-charged game with an historic first ever success in the competition on the line for both Dollingstown and Newington.
It betrayed the fact that the 31-year-old hasn’t even been in the job for three-years.
“I finished as a player in 2017,” she explained after the game, which Dollingstown deservedly 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.”
That’s perhaps something of an understatement. In her first year as a referee, Thompson was appointed to oversee the Women's Irish Cup final.
This year, Thompson, again helped by assistants Thompson 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’ll 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’s set to 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, while there will be some exciting opportunities opening up overseas.
That's because Thompson and 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 says. “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 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.”
There’s little doubt Thompson’s ability to deal with emotional players, as she showcased at Annagh United’s Tandragee Road ground, will continue to be central to her success.
“I think my height helps. I probably tower over most of the players,” she laughs. “I do think that helps and you just have to stay calm. You have to know that they’re not going to bother you so you can let them shout all they want.
“If you’re going out on a pitch with 22 men and another 20 or so in the dugouts, you have to look like you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long 90 minutes.”
There’s little doubt Thompson knows exactly how to become a success.
And now she’s hoping more females will follow in her footsteps.
“Definitely do it,” she said to anyone interested in giving it a go. “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, the Irish FA’s 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. If interested in taking a referee recruitment class please get in touch:firstname.lastname@example.org.”