Promotion to the Championship for top Fylde coast referees

Three Lancashire referees have got the Premier League in their sights after taking a big step up the promotion ladder, including Blackpool’s Natalie Aspinall and Leigh Doughty from Freckleton.

Friday, 21st August 2020, 4:39 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 4:40 pm
Referee Natalie Aspinall has been upgraded for the 2020/21 season

Three Lancashire referees have got the Premier League in their sights after taking a big step up the promotion ladder, including Blackpool’s Natalie Aspinall and Leigh Doughty from Freckleton.

Leigh, Natalie and Michael Salisbury will officiate in the SkyBet Championship next season as Select Group 2 officials after being rewarded for fine seasons in League One and League Two.

Michael, 35, refereed the behind-closed-doors League Two Play-off final between Northampton Town and Exeter City, while Leigh was fourth official and Natalie reserve assistant referee.

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All three finished high on their respective merit tables and underwent a rigorous selection process before being chosen.

Leigh’s rise up the ranks is particularly remarkable, this being his fourth promotion in as many seasons.

The 30-year-old father-of-two was in the gym when he got a call from former Premier League referee Alan Wiley, director of Select Group 2.

“I saw it was Alan ringing, so I ran outside and answered the call still out of breath,” said Leigh, who also teaches PE at Carr Hill High School in Kirkham.

“It was a really proud moment and I just can’t wait to get going now.”

Mother-of-two Natalie, 38, is no stranger to the big stage, having served as an assistant referee at the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.

“I was over the moon to get the news,” said the former Preston College tutor from Marton. “It was a long interview process but I am glad all my hard work and preparation has paid off.”

Natalie will continue to operate as an assistant referee in the Women’s Super League alongside her Championship duties and is eyeing selection for the next Women’s Euros, which have been put back a year to 2022 due to Covid-19.

Penwortham-based Michael, son of fellow Football League referee Graham Salisbury, is raring to go at the higher level, with the Premier League just one step away.

“I’ve been hoping for this for a number of years but it was a great feeling to get that phone call,” said the father-of-two, a PE teacher at Parklands High in Chorley.

“Refereeing in the Championship carries more profile but I’m just looking forward to the start of the season at the higher level.

“I’ve been an assistant referee in the Premier League before but the dream is still to referee at that level too.”

Other promotions will see Liam Marshall (Garstang) and Michael Crusham (Wigan) operate in National League North, which includes AFC Fylde, after successful Northern Premier League seasons.