BOLTON referee Darren Handley has been promoted to the Football League list for the 2014-15 season.

Westhoughton-born Handley has spent six years refereeing in the Conference and assisting in the Football League, but he has finally been given what he believes is reward for years of hard work.

“I was ecstatic when I got the phone call to tell me I had been promoted,” he said.

“There were only four of the 32 level two referees who achieved promotion and I was over the moon when I found out I was one of those.

“I have worked very hard at the semi-professional level and it has paid off.”

Handley, who is a PE teacher at Tottington High School, had progressed from level eight to level four by the time he turned 18, moving into the West Lancashire Football League as a referee in 1995.

By 2000 he had been promoted to the North West Counties Football League referees list before joining the national list for assistant referees in 2006.

The highlight of his refereeing career so far came when he took charge of this year’s Conference Play-off semi-final second leg between Cambridge United and Halifax.

The 37-year-old first picked up the whistle while following in the footsteps of his father, Albert Handley, who is a well-known referee on the grassroots scene.

“My dad is a referee and he got me into refereeing at 16 when I ran a few lines,” he added. “When I turned 16 I refereed my first open-age game and it all stemmed from there.

“It has been a lifetime ambition of mine which has taken 20 years ever since I started refereeing in the Bolton Boys Federation.”

Handley is only the third Bolton referee to make the level one national list in the last 25 years, following Tom Fitzharris and Lee Mason. But he is confident he will be able to deal with the increased pressure of the Football League.

“I will have to adapt my game but the Conference has become stronger in recent years with many of the Football League’s professional clubs dropping into it,” he said.

“It is going to be harder as it is a professional game with lots of professional clubs.”