Sophie Dennington

Making it happen

Steph Clark
The Inspiring Journey of Referee Sophie Dennington

“I’m going to be FIFA. I’m going to make it happen.”

This is the promise Sophie Dennington made to herself and Bibiana Steinhaus, Director of Women’s Professional Game at the PGMOL little more than two years ago when she joined the Women’s Championship select group of officials.

It took just two years for her to make good on that promise. In January 2024, at the age of 23, Sophie she was announced as one of five English referees promoted to the FIFA International list for 2024 – one of only 36 in the whole country.

She made it happen alright. That, and a host of other high-level appointments, including Assistant Referee in this seasons’ Women’s FA Cup Final, in what has been seen by some as a ‘breakout’ season for Berks & Bucks FA’s highest ranking female official.

But then, those who know Sophie’s story will say ‘making things happen’ is simply what she does

It’s what she has done her whole life. Where others see problems, roadblocks, obstacles to overcome, Sophie simply sees opportunities to succeed.

For Sophie, this started in her early schooldays, before she began refereeing. You may or may not have seen the story, a viral message on social media from Sophie’s mum to a grassroots account sharing how proud she was of her daughter and how far she had come despite her struggles with dyslexia.

At the age of 13, Sophie had the reading age of a seven-year-old. It made school difficult, but not impossible and, through hard work and the help of her school, Sophie passed her GCSEs. 

It was around this time, whilst Sophie was playing football for Aylesbury United, that her Mum mentioned another local club, Bedgrove Dynamoes, needed someone to referee their U11 games. 

This is where it all began. Sophie completed her Referee Course in Stoke Mandeville at the age of 16 and continued to referee youth matches at her local club until she was 18-years-old. From here, she made the move to adult football, officiating in the Aylesbury District League and progressing from Level 7 to 6 before joining the FA CORE programme and developing further from Level 6 to 5 in back-to-back promotions.

FA CORE is a referee training and development pathway for those referees who are demonstrating that they have the clear ‘potential’ and ‘opportunity’ to progress in refereeing regardless of which part of the country they are from, their gender or their age.

All this whilst juggling an apprenticeship to be a PE teacher, two jobs, taking on a Football Coaching & Management degree from UFCB Wembley and a global pandemic. 

Something needed to give, but as she does, Sophie found a way to make it happen

Continuing her Referee progression through CORE, studying for her degree and retraining in her job as a manager at TESCOs to become a baker so she could work early mornings to fit around an already overwhelming schedule.

Then it came. The opportunity to officiate on a FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Bosnia. She was on her way up. 

Yet despite a rapid rise in refereeing, incredibly, Sophie still sees every success as a source of surprise though she’s the only one who does.

She admits, at the time she never thought she’d be a referee in the Women’s National League. Never thought she’d be an Assistant Referee. Never thought she’d referee a FIFA International, an FA Cup qualifier, a Quarter Final game…

But she did.

I’m sure most people who’ve met Sophie would agree that her humble demeanour, impressive work ethic, dedication and passion make her not only an incredibly likeable character but one who also seems destined for success.

Even back in 2020 when she won the Berks & Bucks FA Match Official of the Year Award early in her career, this was the main takeaway from her numerous nominations – belief. Belief in her ability. Belief in an exciting and rewarding future in the world of refereeing, should she want it.

Despite being her own harshest critic, for Sophie and the path she’s on its about maximizing every chance: "I never take any opportunity for granted. My goal is to inspire other up-and-coming referees by showing what can be achieved through hard work and passion," she says.

Inspiring others is something Sophie is passionate about. From taking time out to share her story with young referees across Berks & Bucks, to working in Referee Development and supporting other referees across the country to reach their potential, Sophie lives and breathes football.

Sophie Dennington speaking to participants on a female referee course in Milton Keynes

Through her journey so far, Sophie proves that with dedication, determination and hard work, amazing things are possible. She is already inspiring the next generation of up-and-coming referees and we can't wait to see where her journey takes her next.

Sophie Dennington.

Remember the name. It won’t be the last time you hear it and, for this talented young referee, there really is no limit to what she can achieve.

If you've been inspired by Sophie's story and would like to start your journey in Refereeing or learn more about how we can support you to develop as a Referee, please contact Referee Development Officer, Adam Parry via email

Alternatively, head to the dedicated Referee section of our website to find out more.

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