A former Premiership match official has launched his own range of wooden toys - ten years after hanging up his boots and putting away his red and yellow cards.

Toymaker Andy Black from Nuneaton, owns Wooden Things, an award-winning company which specialises in crafting hand-made toys, gifts and furniture.

Andy, a linesman in the Premiership and a referee in the Football League, is hoping to expand his family-run company - which employs three people - and wants to begin by taking on more staff.

He contacted Business Link at the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce for help and advice on how to gain an edge over overseas competitors as well as market his range of wooden letters to wedding couples.

Andy, aged 54, became a referee after picking up an injury as a fireman, and embarked on a career which culminated in an England v Wales schoolboy international at Coventry City's old ground Highfield Road.

After retiring after picking up another leg injury, he decided to set up his company.

He said: "I loved the refereeing and missed it a lot. During the 1980s I was involved in a tournament in Dallas.

"It was a really hot day and I went to the mall to cool down and a man inside was carving children's names out of wood with a saw.

"I started watching him and two hours later I was still watching him.

"When I got home I bought all the equipment and began to make toys for the family and since then my hobby has grown into my trade.

"Business Link was really helpful, especially when it came to business contacts that could help us to market the company and redesign the website, which now looks very professional."

The company now makes a range of educational wooden equipment including World War II and Tudor items.

Andy said: "It is all handmade and used in schools. The idea is for the children to have a look at the toys from each era.

"So this included things like wooden Spitfires and bricks for the 1940s and hand rattles and ball and cup sets for the Tudors."

In 2001, Wooden Things won first prize for its range of toys at a trade fair organised by the Wales Craft Council, in Llandudno, and it sells its products through specialist shops, the internet and catalogues.

Business Link adviser Brian Cowley identified the need for the family-run firm to carry out market research into areas where the company was excelling and those that needed improving.

"When I met Andy I was impressed by his urge to succeed and his dedication to Wooden Things," he said.

"Together with wife Annette and son Russell the trio make all the stock and then begin the delicate process of painting it by hand.

"Their products are unique, which gives them a major advantage over countries like China which can sell toys cheaply but cannot personalise their items.

"Our market research identified that potential for growth would come from concentrating on the range of wooden hearts, tokens and name boards.

"We then contacted Techmark, a technical marketing company based in the University of Warwick Science Park which aims to assist companies in marketing their products at home and abroad.

"They offered lots of valuable advice such as updating Wooden Things difficult to navigate website."

Andy said: "I want to grow the company now, and I've got the same ambition which took me from grass roots football to the Premier League." ..SUPL: