From officiating kids games to running the line in the Championship, local ref now dreams of Premier League role
After knocking on the door for seven seasons, a local referee has finally been promoted to the Football League.
And having worked his way up from junior football to the Championship, Chris Ward is now dreaming that one day he’ll get to decide if the likes of Diego Costa or Danny Welbeck are offside as they run through on goal.
The 42-year-old from Blyth couldn’t believe it when news of his promotion came through four weeks ago.
His journey from officiating kids games to the upper echelons of the football pyramid has taken 13 long years.
Ward explained how he got started: “My son was playing junior football and they needed referees, so myself and another guy volunteered.”
“I really enjoyed it, and went from there.”
“You start off officiating kids, then Sunday League and then lower level football, doing as much as you can, Saturday, Sunday and midweek and then you move up the levels.”
Ward’s ability as an official saw him progress quickly from Level 7 down to Level 4, and two seasons later he became a Level 3 referee and assistant referee.
Then followed seven years of refereeing Conference North and Evo-Stik Premier games, running the line in Conference Premier matches, and coming agonisingly close to the required number of assessment marks to make the jump to the Football League.
“I’ve always been really close and just missed out,” he said.
“It’s never expected, so initially when I got the news I couldn’t believe it. I had been there or thereabouts for so long.”
“And then I felt relief.”
“In pre-season I’ll be running the line in friendlies for Football League and Premier teams, and then when the season starts I’ll be doing League One, League Two and Championship football – I can’t wait.”
While the bricklayer is delighted to share his success with supportive wife Joanne and teenage children Matthew and Natalie, there’s a tinge of sadness that one of his greatest supporters isn’t here to celebrate.
“When you’re doing Sunday League football you’re out there on your own, and had it not been for another local referee, Keith Goulding, I would not have been as hungry to progress,” he said.
“He opened my eyes to what was possible, supported me, was on the other end of the phone any time, came to games with me.”
“Keith passed away in 2012 and it’s just a shame he’s not here to celebrate with me, a lot of it’s down to him.”
The backing of loved ones aside, how does a football official learn to cope with what must seem like the whole world being against them for 90 minutes every Saturday?
“You have to have a split personality,” said Ward.
“As soon as I’ve had my shower, taken off my kit, that’s when the attachment ends for me.”
“Everything is forgotten and I’m just Chris Ward again.”
“The abuse is aimed at the position, not at me as a person.”
“But I’ve made so many friends in the game, they accept I have a job to do and afterwards we have a drink and a laugh about it.”
The ability to shrug off the controversy and the confrontation will stand Ward in good stead come the start of next season, when he’s making decisiions that infuriate thousands of people.
And if he gets his way, those crowds will continue to grow in the future.
The Doncaster Rovers fan said: ““International football is slightly out of range because of my age, but there’s no reason why I couldn’t get promoted to run the line in the Premier League, if I perform and do the right things.”