Natalie on top of the world

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A DEDICATED Blackpool woman’s rise up the refereeing ranks has been rewarded with a place on the world stage.

Natalie Walker is the first British football official to be selected for the showpiece of women’s football – the World Cup in Germany this summer.

Natalie, from South Shore but now a Preston resident, will fly out to prepare for the tournament on June 16.

She said: “I can’t believe it. It’s something I didn’t think was possible when I started refereeing.

“To be selected is excellent and hopefully it will encourage more girls to take up refereeing.”

England and defending champions Brazil are among the 16 nations contesting the sixth FIFA women’s World Cup, which gets under way at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and builds to a final in Frankfurt.

Walker’s selection is the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication. Selected for FIFA’s official training camp after the last World Cup four years ago, she has since attended the Algarve Cup every February to undergo rigorous mental and physical tests.

Walker has officiated in two Under-20 women’s World Cups in Chile and Germany.

Among her biggest games was the deciding leg of the women’s UEFA Champions League final between Frankfurt and Swedish outfit Umea, which was played in front of 28,000 spectators. Frankfurt won 4-3 on aggregate.

“That was awesome – a pretty amazing experience,” she added.

Walker referees in the newly-formed women’s Super League, which is attracting bumper crowds.

A PE teacher at Preston College, Walker began refereeing at the age of 15, after being encouraged to take up the whistle by her father William.

She also referees men in the West Lancashire and Vodkat Leagues and runs the line in the Conference and Evo-Stik Leagues.