Referee, female & only 5ft 3, does it make a difference?
Can you imagine it, two semi-professional teams, paying crowd and a 5 ft 3 female referee is walking the teams onto the pitch, ball underarm with two assistants normally towering me, and the captains always bigger, sometimes a lot bigger.
The thing is as a referee you don’t pass your course and suddenly lead these teams out. You have to go back to the beginning the first game, the first barrier “it’s a girl” when refereeing a boys team, or nowadays a junior team. I didn’t realise that being 5ft 3 mattered until I officiated the older age groups and open age.
As a 5ft 3 female referee, there are many barriers when it comes to training or putting it into a game. One of the biggest questions I face is my height. The other one used to be the fact of being female; being both is a barrier and you’ll be surprised to hear this but the older age group hates this.
My height can be a little barrier when it comes to some leagues I officiate on; such as Northern Counties, Open age on a Sunday and even U18’s girls and boys. It can also become a little joke. I may be a Level 4 referee but I know my roots and still enjoy the Sheffield and Hallamshire Girls League on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I can go from officiating an U9’s to an U18’s – the U9’s tend to be taller than me and the parents and manager even the girls make joke out of it which can make the game go faster. This can be the first barrier buster: referee with a smile on your face, communicate with the players and parents and add the human being into refereeing.
I’m lucky now when I turn up to the U18’s most of the girls remember me from when they were younger and it’s lovely to see them and be part of their game again. They all still have a joke with me saying how they have grown and I’m still the same height. It’s a great league, I used to play in the league before I started officiating, and this is my go-to league. I hope to move on further, but if I’m not officiating for on a Saturday for whatever reason, you may just find me here on a Saturday morning.
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When it comes to Northern Counties games it’s very different – some of the players I know from other leagues and also watching them come through the years.
Officiating a game starts from the second you are given the appointment, confirming the game, replying to match details in a professional manner with the club secretary, making match arrangements with your assistants. Meeting them at the ground and then the handshakes. Often the male assistants I am with are taken for the referee, this is often the first ice breaker.
I have a sense of humour, I know I’m small and I know I’m female. My expectations regarding team sheets, leading the teams out are to the point and starts showing my knowledge. Pre-match with my assistants and match observer if I have one.
Warm-up, the same warm-up expected by all officials, I lead the way as the crowd builds as the teams warm up, some know me, some don’t, but I’m there to be the best I can be.
I’m aware at this level I’m not what’s expected and I hear the comments from the crowds about my height, getting ready to walk the teams out and we have a joke and a laugh. Communication is key, I’ve been taught this from day one, if they can’t see you let them hear you, make your presence known.
Can a 5ft 3 female referee officiate the same as a 6ft counterpart, you bet they can. On top of this all those comments by the end of the game I want to be just a 5ft 3 referee. Educate people I’m a referee a gender doesn’t matter, and size absolutely doesn’t matter, but I’ll still always be 5ft 3
When it comes to pre-match with the captains that’s when I take the time to show them my height doesn’t matter by telling them what I expect during the game like any offer referee and I do like to make it relax for them so they don’t think I’m coming across ‘too big for my boots’. They know I will officiate a game they choose to play, they know they can talk to me, they know I am here to officiate.
Now the tricky bit the game; the blast of the whistle, the physical movement and the main ingredient from the start its communication. Making sure the players know I am there. “Hands Down”,” No pushing no pulling”, “Keep it clean”, when you first start refereeing you used to get comments, as you improved these got less and then it was about the first 10 minutes when teams hadn’t seen you before. This is the same, first 10 minutes of trust me to manage your game and 80 minutes of football. I wish I could say games always go to plan, the best games are when I’m not noticed, start the game, finish the game, handshakes and leave.
The bit you can find difficult is handling a caution or sending off to the players. As a 6ft male you have the stature and often the same size. You talk eye to eye.
So when it comes to showing the players a card you need to make it big and clear especially to your assistants and also to the audience/fans. People like to know what you are doing, a card is often not for the player they know, you’ve told them, the card is for everyone else’s benefit.
A great example I had a game and the game was a tough game, I’d done my homework and knew what I was potentially in for. I had already cautioned a player who had become involved in ‘handbags’. The same player was also going to commit later on an obvious yellow card challenge. The bit I’m missing out is the player is 6ft 4, I’m looking up with my neck fully craned back, and he’s looking down, I’d learned over the years to give a bit more distance so it doesn’t look proportionally funny. I guess I didn’t on this one. It’s a photo my Dad always wishes he’d caught, so when I had to issue the card I was having the stretch my arm really high to show him but also to show the crowd.
The player laughed, have you ever shown a red card and the player smiling and laughing, he knew he was going, bless him even bent slightly for me. I may be small but I don’t shirk the big decisions.
Where my height can be a barrier is my size puts me out of view of my assistant referees I can be lost behind a player, so when assistants look for my credible areas they may not see me.
I prove to people that I can do everything other people can and in opinion sometimes better. I work harder because I want at the end of the game to lose the female referee status and be the referee.
So, all I have to say is ‘size doesn’t matter to anyone’, it’s how you adapt to the barrier and how you can prove to others and make it the best you can.
Referees Level 4 & W2