UK

Being a referee: 'I get a front row seat on the pitch'

Lauren Whiteman Image copyright BBC Sport

The momentous decision to select Stephanie Frappart as referee for the Uefa Super Cup on Wednesday night made history.

The 35-year-old French official became the first female to take charge of a major Uefa men's competition event, alongside Manuela Nicolosi and Michelle O'Neill.

And could the milestone inspire some of those watching the Liverpool v Chelsea clash in Istanbul to become a match official themselves?

For player Lauren Whiteman, 25, being a referee keeps her involved with the game she loves.

By her own admission, the primary school PE teacher from Derby has had a "whirlwind" first season overseeing amateur leagues after qualifying last July.

Ms Whiteman, who received coaching from Premier League assistant referee Sian Louise Massey-Ellis, won the Grassroots Match Official of the Year award.

There are around 1,500 female referees in England, a figure the English Football Association wants to double.

Yet being a woman in a male-dominated profession has taken some by surprise.

Ms Whiteman recalls: "One of my first games, I turned up, the guy came and shook my hand... he said 'aren't you the assistant for the other team?' I said 'no, I'm actually your official today'.

"I think because I was a female he didn't expect me to be in the middle of the pitch."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption France's Stephanie Frappart took charge of the Chelsea v Liverpool match on Wednesday

Despite her success, the chances of rising to become an official in the top football leagues are slim.

Ms Whiteman says this is not the motivation for many of those who train to become referees.

"I don't think that's what most people are after," she says. "I get a front-row seat by being in the middle of the pitch but also get out of it through learning something new - a different aspect of a sport that I've loved all my life."

Being a referee has also helped Ms Whiteman with her mental health.

"I have come into it in a different way to most other people," she says.

"I have struggled for many, many years with my mental health. So for 90 minutes I have people judging me, I've got people disagreeing with my decisions.

"I'm hoping the more I get exposed to things like that, the more I learn to adapt to it, the more I can transfer into my life to cope with things a bit better."

For Ms Whiteman, the thrill of refereeing comes largely from not knowing what will happen next.

"I'm finding it exciting and it's a journey."


How can you become a referee?

The process for becoming a referee differs slightly depending where you live in the UK.

In England, prospective refs need to take part in a basic course with a local county football association.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people who are interested can contact their national football association to find out the equivalent scheme.

Candidates need to be at least 14 years of age.

After the initial basic training, referees are eligible to officiate over matches at a grassroots level. These are often under 16s games, amateur men's and women's matches, as well as Sunday and Saturday leagues.


Jamaal Horne's inspiration to become a referee came after a testing match as a player.

"Both teams just wanted to play and the referee sort of made the game about him," the 33-year-old says.

"I was unhappy with that referee's performance, so I thought let me take the course and see if I can do better."

Image copyright Jamal Horne

He has since taken charge of over 1,000 games, and is now employed as a senior referee tutor by the London FA.

In the past few years Mr Horne has seen a changes in the type of people training to become refs.

Candidates are more diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and disabilities, he says.

They are younger too, Mr Horne adds.

"We get young people who want to improve and build their CVs or [university] applications and the Duke of Edinburgh [Award]."

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