Welsh official Cheryl Foster talks about her footballing career pathway as an elite international player who became an elite referee and earned a place in the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 referee team.
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Foster, from Bangor in North Wales, has seen both sides of football on the pitch; firstly, as a fine top-flight footballer and, nowadays, as an equally accomplished top referee.
She made her Women’s EURO 2022 bow as the first-ever referee from Wales to take part in this tournament when she officiated at the Group C encounter between the Netherlands and Sweden. This was followed by duty at the Group D game between France and Belgium - and her latest assignment sees her take charge of tonight's semi-final between Germany and France in Milton Keynes.
Foster, 41, enjoyed an excellent playing career as a forward which included nine years with Liverpool, playing in the team at the start of England’s FA Women’s Super League. She made her senior international debut for Wales in 1997 and, by 2009, had become the all-time record appearance holder for Wales at that moment, eventually winning 63 caps over 14 years.
“I’m very proud of every single one of those caps,” she reflects, “especially in an era of women’s football when it was quite difficult to get so many.”
‘One door shuts – another door opens’
Foster decided not to continue her playing career in 2013 after a brief spell with Doncaster Belles. So how did the transition to refereeing come about? “The jump was basically because I was coming to the end of my playing career,” she says. “I had a few choices - do I carry on playing, or do I go into coaching? But the email was returned from the refereeing department in the Welsh FA…and that’s the beginning of the story.”
“I was asked to attend a course, and that was it. One door shuts and another door opens, and I’m really pleased I made that decision.”
Foster was first named on the international list in December 2015 and became the first female referee in the Welsh Premier League in August 2018.
Facing new challenges
What were the hurdles that Foster faced coming into refereeing fresh from a top pIaying career? “It was difficult; there were challenges along the way,” she says. “I’ve had to learn the other side of the game, the demands of a referee.”
“I didn’t know where this journey was going to take me. But I always say now that when I was a player, I wish I’d done a referee course, because then I’d have appreciated how difficult the role is.”
Understanding and loving football
How has her ‘previous life’ as a player helped Foster as a referee? “For me, I suppose, it’s just the understanding of the game, having played it and having that love for the game. I loved playing. Being on the pitch is an amazing feeling – and, actually, now being a referee, I always say that I’m in the best seat in the house. I’m in the middle of it!”
“What I would say is that if a career stops or the career comes to a point as a player, then why not continue as a referee! You get the same buzz, the same experiences being a referee.”
Cheryl Foster is savouring the feeling of being part of the refereeing team at the Women’s EURO in England.
“To be the first Welsh female official at a major tournament…you know, it’s on a par with 63 caps; it’s on a par with singing that national anthem; it’s on a par with playing at Anfield…if not better. It’s a major achievement.”