One of England’s top female football referees is preparing for a trip across the Atlantic after being selected for a showpiece tournament.
Natalie Walker, 32, is one of just two English officials to be selected as an assistant referee for the Women’s Under-20 World Cup in Canada, which takes place in August.
The former Highfield High School pupil, from Marton, will fly out to Montreal at the end of July ahead of the three-week tournament.
Natalie has already officiated in three Under-20 Women’s World Cups in Japan, Chile and Germany and the Women’s World Cup in Germany.
But her selection for this tournament is even more remarkable as she missed the whole of last season for the birth of her daughter Emilia in January.
Her last competitive game was when she refereed the Women’s FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Arsenal at the Merseyside club’s Anfield ground in April last year.
Natalie, a PE tutor at Preston College, said: “It’s brilliant to be picked to go to Canada and I can’t wait to get back into it.
“I started training six weeks after Emilia was born, following a runners guide that the likes of Paula Ratcliffe used.
“I knew I always wanted to come back to refereeing because it is such a big part of my life and it gave me something to aim towards, especially with the Women’s World Cup next summer coming up.”
Natalie, a Level 3 referee, also officiates in the Evostik Premier and North divisions, the North West Counties Premier League and the Women’s Super League, as well as being a FIFA official.
She is also an assistant referee on the Football Conference – one step above AFC Fylde’s Conference North status. She began refereeing at the age of 15, after being encouraged to take up the whistle by her father, William.
She passed a rigorous fitness test last month and will now continue to train hard ahead of the pre-tournament fitness tests in Canada at the end of July.
She added: “I have missed the social side of refereeing and training with my friends, so it’s great to be back. I’ve got a World Cup qualifier between Portugal and Norway on June 18, first, which I am really looking forward to.
Natalie – plus other English official Sian Massey – will be based in Montreal and could be sent to officiate in games in Toronto, Moncton and Edmonton during the Under-20s finals.
Sixteen teams – including England – will take part in the tournament, which starts on August 5.