Cheryl Foster is quickly becoming one of the most inspirational and influential figures in the women’s game, and the former Cymru international will take to the main stage this month after being selected to referee at the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 finals that will take place in England.
When Foster takes charge of her first match, she will become the first Welsh official to referee at the finals of a major tournament since Clive Thomas achieved the same status at the 1978 FIFA World Cup, and her achievement will mark another impressive milestone for the 41-year old teacher from Bangor who only began refereeing at the end of her own successful playing career in 2013.
As a striker with with Bangor City and then Liverpool, Foster made 63 international appearances for her country between 1997 and 2011, scoring nine goals. But while she never made to the finals of a major tournament as a player, her decision to take up the whistle has been rewarded with an appointment that she hopes will generate a new wave of female officials in Wales.
“I’m proud to have represented Wales as a footballer”Cheryl Foster
“To earn 63 caps in that era was tough, but to be able to continue to represent my country now through refereeing is just as big and just as important to me. It’s going to be a very proud moment for the refereeing community in Wales, but also for my friends and my family who have been through this long journey with me from the age of 15 up until now. It’s been a long journey and it’s been tough at times, but I can’t wait.
“It’s going to be an incredible experience and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve not had many female referees through the system anyway, so more importantly I hope this inspires the next generation of officials in Wales, male and female, but predominantly female of course. We’ve not really had this opportunity before. I’m glad to have the opportunity to represent Wales at a major tournament and to fly the flag for my country. When I finished playing I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took up the whistle, so to now go to a major tournament is a massive achievement.”
Having impressed as a referee from the very start of her new career, Foster was promoted to the FIFA list in 2015, and in August 2018 became the first woman to referee a match in the JD Cymru Premier, but it was in 2020 that her current status in the European game was established as she was promoted to the UEFA Elite List of Referees. To compliment her domestic appointments this season, Foster has also refereed UEFA Women’s Champions League fixtures at Lyon, Real Madrid and Juventus as well as 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers in Denmark and Croatia.
“Cheryl is a fantastic role model,” said Cymru manager Gemma Grainger recently. “It’s such a huge tournament and it’s going to be one of the biggest European Championships ever. To have her on that stage is a real inspiration. I’ll certainly be looking to pick her brains about the tournament as it’s an opportunity for me, the staff and the players to learn from because we want to qualify and compete at these tournaments, so it’s great to have her there. When I speak to Cheryl it’s nice to speak to a referee who has been a player because you get a different perspective. Cheryl is a great role model for us and it will be nice to see her there this summer.”
The EURO finals were originally scheduled to take place last summer but were postponed due to the pandemic and will now take place between 6 and 31 July across 10 stadiums in England. Although Cymru failed to qualify for the finals, Foster’s deserved appointment will create plenty of interest across the country and will show just what opportunities can arise from a career as a match official. It will be another exciting chapter in what is an already incredible story.