Wearside ref Geoff plays his cards right

Wearside has its first Football League referee in three decades.

Geoff Eltringham is one of seven new additions to the League list nationally, but the first from Sunderland Referees' Association since George Tyson joined the ranks in the late 1970s.

It is the latest step in a journey the 29-year-old would be delighted to see end in the Premier League.

And he admits the biggest decision of his career involved the club he will never be able to referee – his beloved Sunderland AFC.

Geoff said: "I played football at school and in the Russell Foster Youth League, but I wasn't good enough to make a living in the game so I went into refereeing after seeing a course advertised.

"I still had my season ticket at Sunderland so I was fitting my refereeing around that.

"The best bit of advice I ever had came from a referees assessor called Malcolm Langley. He could see I had a bit of potential but he said I had to choose between Sunderland Football Club and refereeing.

"It was a big decision because I loved going to the match with my mates, but I gave up my season ticket and that started my progress."

Quitting his Stadium of Light ritual meant Eltringham was able to officiate on Saturday's in the Wearside League, which he did for three years before spending two years in the Northern League and Unibond League and then moving up to the Conference last season.

A sales rep with Sunderland timber firm Thompson's, he was informed he would be promoted to the Football League this season and took charge of his first League Two match – a 2-2 draw between Morecambe and Hereford United – on August 8.

So far, to his relief, there have been no beach balls on the pitch to concern him, but he has sympathy with under-fire ref Mike Jones after his mistake in allowing Sunderland's goal to stand against Liverpool last month.

"I've escaped that sort of thing so far," he said.

"I'm sympathetic towards Mike Jones after all the fuss about what happened. The 'outside agent' question is on refereeing exam papers and Mike will have known the rule.

"I can only imagine he and his assistants had doubts about whether the two balls came into contact with each other – they didn't have the benefit of video replays. I know a few people who were at the match and said they didn't know what all the fuss was about until after the game."

Geoff has taken charge of seven League Two matches to date and was in action last week when Crewe went down 2-1 at home to Morecambe. His highest ranked match so far was Carlisle's League One win over Southend at Brunton Park last month.

He was fourth official at the Conference play-off final between Torquay and Cambridge at Wembley last season and is also now eligible to be a fourth official in the Premier League.

"I think it would be a little while before I got an opportunity at the top level, but eventually I'd love to referee in the Premier League and perhaps get on the Fifa list," added Eltringham.

"The higher the level you reach the more pressure and focus there is on the job you are doing. I'm aware of that and prepared for it.

"I would love to go all the way, but I'm still developing and I have perhaps 20 years ahead of me refereeing at a high standard so I intend to take it one step at a time.

"One thing I'll never do, unfortunately, is referee at the Stadium of Light because of the conflict of interest with me being a Sunderland fan."