Katy Sandalls: Suffolk’s super ref Abi on what it was like to referee Women’s FA Cup Final
- Credit: Archant
After a stunning spectacle at Wembley for the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final Katy Sandalls speaks to Suffolk FA referee Abi Byrne who took charge of the game.
It's been a bumper month of football across the board with silverware starting to be awarded across the competitions.
Nowhere was this truer than at the SSE Women's FA Cup Final at Wembley.
27-year-old Abi Byrne was the referee for Manchester City's game against West Ham.
Byrne has been a referee since she left school, progressing up the levels to become a FIFA International Referee.
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"I have been a referee since November 2011, so seven and a half years.
"I got into refereeing for a new challenge after finishing athletics when I left school at 18. My boyfriend (now husband), George, was a referee and I wanted to prove I could do a better job than him."
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Byrne is no stranger to top level football having been a regular referee in the Women's Super League.
In total, she's refereed 12 top-level games this season including a table-topping clash between Manchester City and the eventual league champions Arsenal, back in December.
Despite her level of training the call-up was still a pleasant one for Byrne: "It's something that I've been working towards but it's never a call you expect to get.
"I was very proud to be representing Suffolk. It was an honour."
It's not just a case of turning up on the day when it comes to refereeing the showpiece of the women's domestic football calendar - there's a lot of preparation.
"I refereed Birmingham City Ladies v Liverpool at St Andrews as a warm-up game with my assistants for the FA Cup Final. Although Sian Massey-Ellis couldn't make it because she was doing a Champions League semi-final instead.
"With the kick off being last afternoon it was an awkward time from a preparation point of view because I couldn't stick to my normal 3pm kick off routine.
"I arrived at a hotel in Borehamwood on Friday afternoon and spent the rest of Friday and Saturday with my team building the team work and camaraderie before the game.
"On Saturday I went for a walk around the hotel grounds in the morning to keep me calm and take my mind off the game."
When it came to the game Byrne's experience came into its own.
"I was nervous and excited. It helped that I had been assistant referee two years before because I knew what to expect and it meant I wasn't as nervous this time around.
"When I walked out on the pitch I felt an overwhelming feeling of pride.
"It was an honour to be leading out the teams."
Having now managed one of the biggest games in domestic women's football, what are Abi's ambitions for the future?
"As of the 1st January 2019 I am a FIFA international referee, so I would love to progress and reach a major tournament like the World Cup one day," said Abi.
"I also thoroughly enjoy men's football and I'm aiming to reach the National League in the coming seasons."
What would Abi say to any youngsters wanting to get involved in refereeing?
"Definitely go for it! There are so many opportunities out there for football fans who aren't going to make it as players."
Anyone interested in becoming a referee in Suffolk should contact the Referees' Department on Referees@SuffolkFA.com
As well as having a referee in the game, many younger Suffolk players went down to Wembley to enjoy the FA Cup atmosphere.
Among them was Beccles Town Ladies FC who took a large contingent down to the capital.
"Eighty of us travelled down from Beccles Town Ladies and Youth teams, it was a fantastic day with the added bonus of having tickets in Club Wembley," said Alan Runncales, ladies' team manager at the club.
"It was a great advert for the ladies' game, and a great day out for our club, with many youngsters experiencing Wembley for the first time."
It was at Wembley that we also launched our new Twitter and Instagram channels for women's football which we have called Glancing Header.
If you want to keep up with all the news and match reports (as well as this very column) from the women's game in Suffolk then follow @glancing_header on Twitter and Glancing Header on Instagram.
We're really looking forward to sharing content on these platforms so please follow them.
If you have a women's football story to share then get in touch over these accounts or via email.