WHAT started out as a way to earn extra pocket money has turned into an entire lifestyle for Sarah Drake.
The 23-year-old Rockhampton football referee took her career to the next level over the weekend when she made her debut as a sideline referee in round two of the Women's National Football League in Brisbane on Sunday afternoon.
Drake said the Brisbane Roar versus Sydney FC match, which was broadcast live on the ABC, was a huge step up from the Central Queensland Premier League reserve match she directed two weeks ago.
"It was nerve-wracking at the start. I wasn't used to the technology systems and the preparation was intense with all the TV crews there," Drake said.
"Being at the stadium was great and the match was a good, hard game. It has given me more experience with high-level matches, things are done a lot differently to local games and it's helped me figure out some new goals and ideas.
"I was quite happy with my performance, but there are a few things I'd like to tidy up a bit."
Drake first put down the soccer ball and picked up a whistle in Lismore a few years ago and said she hadn't looked back since.
"I started in Lismore then moved on the Gold Coast and Brisbane, and then finally moved to Rocky," she said.
"I'm not really sure why I started; I think it was for the extra money and I was always a better referee than a player.
"I went to the state titles last year and was scouted by officials and then went to a national level. They kept an eye on me from there on and I was put on a possible/probable list for the W-League and was selected for the national talent pool."
While Drake doesn't kick the ball around much these days, her boots still get plenty of work.
"There is quite a lot of preparation involved. We have to go through fitness testing and game knowledge testing," she said.
"I train about four times a week plus a game a week, so there is a lot of fitness involved. In a match, if I'm in the middle I run about 10-12km a match. There is also a lot of theory involved."
The rising local referee said the W-League match had broadened her horizons.
"I'm hoping to continue with more W-League and then I'd like to do some A-League, a finals match and progress to FIFA accreditation," Drake said.
Rockhampton referee official Barry Such backed Drake in her pursuit of a permanent fixture on the national football scene.
"Sarah's success is proof that there is the opportunity for Rocky refs to move forward if they put their heart and soul into it," Such said.
"If girls want to referee high-level football games, much like Belinda Sleeman in rugby league, there's no reason they can't."
Such urged anyone interested in becoming a referee to contact their local referee federation.