Scottish official Vikki Allan taking women's game to new heights

Vikki Allan officiating at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro
Vikki Allan officiating in a crater on Mount Kilimanjaro 5685m above sea level

Four thousand and eight hundred metres in the sky, Vikki Allan feared she could go no further.

Enveloped in early morning darkness, the Scot, weak and frozen, emerged gingerly from her slumber, somehow summoning the energy to glance at a trail of fellow brave souls armed with only a headlamp, shimmering like glowing ants stretching into the black abyss.

Days of trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain, had brought her to this point. Breaking point. All in the name of setting records and, most importantly, pushing the boundaries of equality in women's football.

It was at this point the assistant referee, in Tanzania to officiate a game of football at the highest point ever, thought of those she was doing it for, and somewhere, somehow, found the strength to carry on.

"Listening to the girls from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and places like that and how they aren't even allowed to go to a football game or go outside, it was awful. I kept thinking about them and not wanting to let them down.

"As soon as the sun started to rise, I'll never forget it."

Here Allan, one of Scottish football's most prominent and promising officials, speaks to BBC Scotland about records, following in her refereeing dad's footsteps, and why she believes a woman may soon be in charge of the Scottish Cup final.

Malaria tablets, altitude sickness & oxygen tanks

"I did start to think that I might not be able to make it up to the top. They had asked three referees to go and two assistants, all of us Fifa officials. If they had lost one of the assistants on the way up, I don't know what they would have done."

Allan, 26, takes great pride in her achievements in the women's game. Recently back from officiating in the Women's Champions League in Madrid as well as a Women's Euro qualifier as Germany hammered Ukraine 8-0. Not only that, she is keen to make her mark off the field as well.

As part of an initiative to close the gender equality gap in the game, she was part of a group in 2017 to take a game of football to a crater just shy of the Kilimanjaro summit. However, the finance worker from Edinburgh speaks of the colossal challenges she faced.

"It took us seven days to get to the top, it was really, really hard," she said. "I got quite ill. We thought it was altitude sickness but I was having a really bad reaction to my malaria tablets so I was really ill for the first few days while doing eight hours of walking. We then had to do test games and run the line.

"The very last day we started at 0200 and we weren't to get there until about 0830. It's vertical right up and the altitude changed so quickly. It was horrendous.

"We played the game in the crater and the altitude was awful. A 90-minute match there is the equivalent to six hours of football. We had to make the pitch on the volcanic ash with flour as we couldn't leave a lasting mark on the environment. We had oxygen tanks at the side of the pitch for the girls. We then climbed to the summit because we were on such a high."

Vicki Allan on top of Mount Kilimanjaro
Vicki Allan on top of Mount Kilimanjaro after their final trek

Not content with being part of a game of football at the highest altitude, last year Allan officiated at the lowest, running the line in Jordan next to the Dead Sea at the invite of HRH Prince Ali. While altitude sickness wasn't a concern, the Scot admits it was an emotional experience.

"In total 170 girls came," she said. "They wanted to send 700 but we had to tell them no. It turned out it was because it was the first time they ever played outside. Because they are young girls, they are not expected to go out but just stay at home.

"I was really emotional after it. We played next to the Dead Sea and the pitch has been left for young girls to have a safe place to play. We wanted to create a legacy."

'I told my sister they knew dad was a banker'

"I got more annoyed about hearing my dad getting abuse the older I got."

Long before she ran the gauntlet of a white painted line along the edge of a football pitch, Allan was reared on a diet of football through the prism of a proud young daughter.

Her father Crawford was a top-level referee who retired in 2017 and the prospect of being involved in football - although she confesses playing is not her forte - was inevitable.

"I didn't know anything different," said Allan, who has been a Fifa assistant referee for two years. "I had plenty fake uncles kicking about.

"I turned 16 and I made the joke that I was going to start refereeing. My friends then said 'but girls don't referee'. I then went into the exam and here we are."

Now, Scottish football fans are not always renowned for their polite manner, level-headedness and understanding, particularly when a referee is concerned. Allan can recall various moments of witnessing dad being the subject of ire from the stands.

"There's about a 10-year age gap between me and my sister and I remember her asking 'What are they shouting at Daddy?'. I just told her they knew he was a banker...

"It is hard. Don't get me wrong, there are games I've come away from and thought 'Why am I putting myself through this?' but there are so many positives that outweigh that."

Vikki Allan with dad Crawford, centre
Vikki Allan with dad Crawford, centre, in one of two games they officiated together

Ambitions, parity and Scottish Cup finals

Allan is no stranger to officiating at the top level in Europe in the women's game, but she is keen to be part of a growing movement of her contemporaries making their mark in the men's game.

Kylie Cockburn has been regularly involved in Scottish Premiership matches on the line, with Lorraine Watson also pushing to become a category one referee.

But, can she see the day where a woman would ever take charge of a men's Scottish Cup final?

"I really can't see it being that far off," said Allan.

"I would say in the next five years, I'd really, really hope that we would see that. Lorraine's definitely there and you know, we've got lots of other girls coming through as well. The women's refereeing scene has definitely had a buzz, probably since just before the Euros.

"We're up there with the guys because we work really hard, we have to pass the same fitness test as the guys, we have to pass the same laws of the game test as the guys.

"There's no rhyme or reason why there shouldn't be a female on the Scottish Cup final."

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