Woman in the Middle

Rebecca Welch. Remember the name.

Recently, Welch made history, becoming the first female referee appointed to officiate a game in the English Football League, when she oversaw Port Vale’s 2-0 win in their League Two clash away to Harrogate Town.

Astute readers may point out that Amy Fearn was the first woman ever to referee an EFL game, as she came on as an injury replacement during a Championship tie between Coventry and Nottingham Forest back in 2010. However, Welch is the first female referee to take charge of an EFL game from the first whistle to the last.

The fact that it has taken so long for this to happen illustrates the barriers to entry for women seeking to officiate at the top level of the men’s game. However, if recent times are anything to go by, these barriers are gradually being taken down.

Just last year, French referee Stéphanie Frappart became the first female to referee a men’s UEFA Champions League clash. Frappart was also the first female referee to officiate a major men’s European final, when she took charge of the UEFA Super Cup final a year earlier, in 2019.

Welch has previously cited Sian Massey-Ellis, who is currently the only female official operating in the Premier League, as her own inspiration. Aged just 37, will we one day see Welch become the first female referee to take charge of a men’s top flight game in England?

Don’t rule it out.

Even if it isn’t her at the helm, Welch believes that such a milestone is soon approaching:

“I do believe that in the next 10 to 15 years, we’ll see a female referee in the Premier League.”

Welch definitely made an impression on the managers of Port Vale and Harrogate Town with her performance.

Harrogate manager Simon Weaver said that he hopes Welch’s display will signal the start of an influx of women officiating in the EFL.

“Hopefully it’s just par for the course that we see female referees and officials in the EFL. It’s about time.”

About time indeed.

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Luke Saward

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May 2021
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