Wearside will see an increase in young football referees following the news that Sunderland College has been chosen to trial a national training scheme.
It is one of only ten colleges in the country to successfully bid for a place in the English Colleges Football Association (ECFA) Referee Hub Programme which will provide funding to train more than 50 students referees across the country.
Sunderland College, which is the only organisation in the region to run the scheme, will share in a £5,000 investment from ECFA to help five of its students complete a referee course in partnership with Durham County Football Association (DCFA).
Over a six-month period, the students will receive mentoring support from the DCFA and following completion of the course, they will be fully qualified to referee in ECFA leagues and intramural Team Nineteen games, as well as officiate grassroots football matches in local community football leagues.
The students will also get the chance to take part in a national training day set up by the ECFA at St George’s Park national football centre in Burton-upon-Trent, where they will meet participants from all of the referee hubs.
Sunderland College’s training programme is being spearheaded by Lucy Oliver, sports development officer, who has also been announced as the ECFA Referee Hub Ambassador for the national programme.
As well as her college duties, referee Lucy officiates in the men’s Conference North league, the FA WSL – the women’s equivalent of the men’s Premier League – and has travelled the world as a women’s international match official.
She said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that the ECFA has chosen the college as one of its referee hubs and that we’re playing an integral role in this exciting new initiative. This gives our students a fantastic opportunity to become more involved in the refereeing side of football and to receive expert guidance and support from the DCFA.”
Sunderland College’s state-of-the-art Sports Academy, which features a multi-use sports hall, sports science performance lab, sports massage treatment areas, exercise studio and a fully-equipped £100,000 fitness suite, will be home to the referee hub.
Lucy added: “The college’s sporting facilities are second-to-none and our Sports Academy is the perfect place to base this programme. It is a draw for other organisations who we partner with and results in incredible opportunities for our students.”
ECFA is launching the programme to address a shortfall in the number of qualified referees available to officiate in the ECFA leagues and it also wants to increase the amount of female officials in the sport.
John Topping, DCFA’s chief executive, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be involved in this new venture and congratulate Sunderland College and Lucy on their success in being awarded the funding which will go a long way to provide the qualification and assistance the new referees will require.
“This marks the start of a closer working relationship between the Durham County FA and Sunderland College and will help provide referees for college and local grass roots fixtures.”