Have you ever considered being a referee? Maybe it’s the opportunity to travel the world that appeals? Or maybe it’s having the best seat in the house? Our latest zoom conversation featured 3 inspirational women who have officiated some of the best players in the world and are paving the way for future generations of women referees in Wales.
Chaired by Helen Ward, Wales National Football Team Striker, the inspirational panel, included:
- Cheryl Foster, former Welsh International and Liverpool Ladies footballer turned FAW & FIFIA referee
- Ceri Louise Williams, FAW & FIFA Assistant Referee
- Michelle Portelli, FAW Assistant Referee
Does retiring from playing mean the end of your footballing career?
The answer is a resounding no! The answer from Cheryl, former Welsh International and Liverpool Ladies footballer turned referee, was loud and clear. Her career as a footballer came to an end in 2011, after the demands of being a topflight footballer, as well as the demands of her day job, were beginning to take its toll (Yes- even women playing in an International League still have regular jobs!). However, Cheryl did not want that to be the end of her footballing career, so joined a refereeing course in the October, passed by the December - and has not looked back since.
It’s just the love of the game
However, being a referee does not mean you need years of playing under your belt before you can take up the whistle. It is just your love of the game, and that resonates with Ceri, Welsh FIFA Assistant Referee. When she was just 15 years old, she joined her dad and her brother on a referee course – primarily as she did not want to be left out!
“I am an awful footballer. Playing was never an option for me, but I’ve always loved football,” Ceri said. Having come from a football mad family, with her dad, mum, and brother all playing, and her dad also coaching, she saw becoming a referee as the perfect way to share in the joy of the game.
Michelle Portelli’s family are also very football orientated with both her sons playing football. After coaching mini football, she noticed the lack of local referees and decided to take the route to become one herself. Being initially nervous due to her being the only female on the course, Michelle pursued it nonetheless, and now enjoys a thriving refereeing career. Her most recent game being the Swansea v Cardiff Met game.
Different referees; one whistle
Fortunately, none of our panellists have experienced many negative reactions from crowds, players, or colleagues. However, it is important to remember, which was a consistent message from all our panellists, that if there is ever a mistake made, it is not because they are women. It is because they are human, and they are the same mistakes that their male counterparts make. “I think it’s easier for people to think it’s because it’s a woman” Ceri said, “but the ref that made that mistake this week, chances are the ref the following week will make the same mistake.”
“I’ve been a ref for 12 years”, states Cheryl “and there’s been a shift. There wasn’t a lot of female refs and I got double takes quite often and looks saying ‘are you sure you’re in the right place?.’ But over the years, it’s become more normal. It’s going in the right direction.”
Looking towards the future, the ladies all have the same hopes for women referees - “More females coming through the pathways and picking up the whistle.” Ceri added that for her, she’d seen the growth over the last 10 years – and that needed to continue. “I’d love to see over 100 female referees operating across the women’s games, and even one female official at every prem match!” We agree Ceri!
One thing is clear, there is no direct path to becoming a referee. If you have the passion and determination, you can become the next Cheryl, Ceri or Michelle. Whether you are a slick player or have two left feet, refereeing is for everyone and every gender.
For more information, please visit https://becomearef.wales/