Ilkeston-based referee Andy Page in action during an international blind football match. (Credit: Andy Page)

A world-class referee from Ilkeston is full of enthusiasm as he looks ahead to the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

From the previous Tokyo Paralympics to Eastwood Town, Andy Page has seen it all.

The respected and highly acclaimed referee was one of two English referees to officiate at the 2020 Paralympics, which were rescheduled to take place in the summer of 2021.

Page was a Football League assistant referee for eight years, from 1999 until July 2007.

The 59-year-old’s career began in the 1980s when Page was only a teenager.

Legendary referee Terry Whittaker was the man who introduced Page to the refereeing world, and what was initially a hobby to earn a little extra cash quickly turned into a full-time occupation.

Additionally, Page has refereed on an extensive number of Premier League reserve matches.

Despite his plethora of accolades, humility is a quality which Page is full of.

Page said: “I am trying to give back to the youngsters and use my experience to help them.”

Page was selected as the second referee for the Spain vs Thailand match in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. (Credit: Andy Page)

“At 59, there’s a lot more younger referees that are perhaps fitter and look different and deserve more of a chance to help guide us.”

Blind football is a strand of the sport that struggles for attention outside of the Paralympic Games, but Page is determined to be part of the tide shift in changing that.

Page said: “The issue that lies within the sport is due to the perception that it isn’t going to be very good and people feel sorry for them.”

The treatment and welfare of the participating players is paramount to Page.

He added: “The last thing the players want is for me to treat them any differently.

“We don’t take into consideration the disability, we take into account the football that is being played.”

Page expressed his appreciation for being a part of the blind football community, saying: “It is incredibly rewarding, it’s amazing to be able to help the teams.

“It’s fabulous that people in Japan in Romania, France and Germany wish me a happy birthday. You do build lifelong friendships.”

Blind football is based on the rules of futsal, which is a five-a-side indoor version of football.

There are two 20-minute halves, and although managers can ask for a one-minute time-out, the clock stops when the ball is out of play.

Besides being played outdoors and having some minor modifications, blind football largely adopts the same rules.

The match ball has a shaker sound system inside it so that the players know where the ball is.

All outfield players have to be blindfolded no matter their degree of sight, although goalkeepers are exempt from this to make matches fairer.

Page’s switch to blind football was due to an incident that occurred in a Football League game between Leeds United and Watford.

He said: “It just made me think I’m little bit too old for this, the Football League wasn’t right for me anymore.”

From this decision, Page opted for a year-long hiatus from football.

The rules of blind football require outfield players to have an equal level of vision, which can necessitate the use of eye coverings. (Credit: Andy Page)

Having expected to hang up his boots after his break from the refereeing world, a colleague introduced him to blind football, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Page is now gearing up not only for the Paralympics, but also for the Blind Football World Championships, which take place in Birmingham later this year.

The Championships begin on August 18 in Birmingham, and are part of the World Games, which also comprises powerlifting, judo, goalball, chess, tenpin bowling, shooting and showdown, as well as cricket, archery and tennis.

Due to take place from 18-27 August 2023, the Games will be held at the University of Birmingham, across the Edgbaston area and wider region.

With three Paralympic and eight non-Paralympic sports, for some athletes it is the highest level they can compete at.

The last International Blind Sports Association World Games were held in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015.

Looking ahead to this, it ought to be an exciting 18 months for Page, who will be looking to bow out from refereeing on a high.

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