THE Football Association has launched a campaign to encourage more young people to become referees.
As the sport grows ever more popular, particularly among women and children, the demand for male and female match officials is increasing.
The job of referee is crucial. But as much as 20% of matches in some areas are played without one.
Now the FA has set a recruitment target of 10,000 referees a year. Getting involved is straightforward and rewarding as Steve Swallow, from Crewe, can testify.
He decided to become a referee at the age of 14 when injury prevented him from playing sports. Now, at 23, he is the FA's referees manager for the North West.
Steve said: 'When I realised I wouldn't make it as a player, I started to look at other ways to be involved in football, getting coaching qualifications while continuing my development as a ref.
'Eight or nine years ago, there wasn't the support structure in place that there is today. But I got a lot of help from Crewe Alex's youth academy, where I was able to take charge of the kids' games.
'I really enjoyed officiating in a safe, professional environment, and I think benefited from refereeing a high standard of football.
'Now I am lucky enough to have something that I have craved from a very early age - a career in football. I really recommend it.
'I look forward to the continual challenges that the job presents and hopefully, further my own development as a referee.'
Steve continued to referee throughout his studies in sports, coaching and exercise science and continued to gain further coaching experience. He now combines working for The FA with his refereeing career.
Today, everything needed to be a referee is easily accessible,. including support at every step of the way through the FA Match Officials Association.
The first step is to register with your local county FA and then attend a basic course. This will involve around 10 classroom-based sessions followed by a written and oral exam.
On passing the exams, participants start as a Level 8 referee if you are under 16 years of age or, Level 7 if you are more than 16. They may then officiate on local amateur football.
Budding refs must then do a year's service at that level before becoming eligible for promotion, which is decided through assessment, further training and a satisfactory average mark over 20 matches.
The FA runs a number of courses via its Cheshire FA and through its learning division for referees. For more information visit www.TheFA.com