Young female refs pointing the way in Manchester as numbers surge

Refereeing is a rather thankless task: hounded for mistakes and offered backhanded compliments when ‘just about’ getting a ‘close call’ correct.

It’s not a job for the weak-willed, nor is it a job for those who are self-righteous and too arrogant to see their own flaws and limitations.

Social media is plagued by comments and insults about the standard of officiating up and down the country with personal barbs and some, slightly more nuanced critiques.

But, throw in the fact you’re a female referee and fuel is added to an already out of hand fire. 

And yet, in the face of this adversity, the number of female referees continues to grow according to Manchester FA Referee Development Officer, Tom Elliott.

He said: “The position of women referees is at its peak right now.

“We have more female refs in the pathway than ever before this year. Typically we’ve had one who’s moved up through the levels but this year we have four who are making the step up and officiating in adult male football on a regular basis which is great.”

Today, there are 718 referees part of the Manchester FA in total, 64 of whom are female, a number which continues to grow.

And Elliott believes that the city is the perfect place to hone the skills of refereeing, partly due to its array of universities.

“We’re lucky here [in Manchester] as it’s blessed with four universities which give great number of games for our officials to referee and we’ve also been able to pick up more referees through that route.

“But even beyond that, there’s still people who simply take it upon themselves to get involved in officiating.”

Despite the progression, there is still only one woman amongst 27 elite assistant referees in the Premier League – Sian Massey-Ellis.

In a recent interview with Matt Dickinson, the 32-year-old was quoted “Sometimes you have to be better than a man to be as good as a man.”

Nevertheless, she too believes that it is only a matter of time before a woman is refereeing in the top division of English football and this from someone who was thrust into national spotlight following the Richard Keys-Andy Gray saga.

The Sky Sports pair were caught making off-air comments questioning her ability to understand the offside rule, the latter eventually sacked for “unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour.” Keys swiftly followed him away from Sky.

Meanwhile, Massey-Ellis was the assistant referee in the Women’s Champions League final in Kiev last month and is lauded as one of the best assistants in the League so her progress is sure to be an inspiration to other budding female officials.

One such referee is Yasmin Saeed who Mancunian Matters met in September.

The 19-year-old is making strides throughout the refereeing spheres, most recently as a Level 4 supply league referee.

Despite her youthfulness, Saeed isn’t just thinking about her own progression, already looking to help other female referees on their journey.

“I’m looking after a group of young female officials. When I started, I had no female role models but these girls hopefully see me as something to look up to and I’m happy to help them.”

Elliott echoed her sentiments adding: “A large amount of the upcoming referees are under the age of 18 and their determination to progress is a really good sign.

“A great deal of these people are hungry for success in the upper echelons of the game and it is the work that these inspirational referees do that enables our growth.”

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