A referee has blown his whistle for the final time in his marathon 3,000-game career.

Darren Gardner, from Barrow, officiated his last game on Sunday; a memorial football match at Vickerstown.

After announcing his retirement on Facebook last Thursday, Darren said he was left feeling emotional by the hundreds of tributes.

The 54-year-old said: “When you get more than 700 replies, it really does put a lump in your throat – it was very moving.



“I have even had replies from people I sent off – saying that I was right! That really put a smile on my face.”

In total, 218 players have been sent for an early bath by Darren, who has also dished out 2,628 yellow cards during his 40-year career.

He started his career in 1981 and went on to referee more than 120 finals.



Darren said: “I started refereeing when I was 15 years old.

“I thought I would just like to give it a go.

“For my first game I rode my bike to Askam and received 85 pence at the time.



“Ever since then I was doing two or three games every weekend.

“There have been plenty of highs and lows just like every other career, but I have experienced a lot of memorable moments.”

One of Darren’s highlights was refereeing a special game which took place in July 2000, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Barrow AFC’s 1990 FA Trophy win.

He also refereed Bluebirds legend Colin Cowperthwaite’s testimonial against Manchester City in February 1992 and a friendly game where Manchester United star Paul Scholes featured.

Barrow and District Junior Football League chairman Ben Shirley has paid tribute to Darren.

He said: “Darren is a genuine legend of the sport, and has accomplished so much in his time as a dedicated referee.

“On behalf of the league, I want to thank him for his dedicated service to our game.”