Referee Rebecca Welch is the highest-ranked female referee in English football, taking charge of National League and Women’s Super League games, but admits she has only recently seen herself as a “trailblazer” for young girls.
Welch, who was recently promoted to UEFA’s elite category of officials, has refereed in the National League for the past three seasons and took charge of last year’s Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley.
Speaking to Sky Sports News on International Women’s Day, Welch said she has had only “really positive” experiences working in the men’s game and hopes she, alongside the likes of Premier League assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis, can become role models for the next generation.
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“People used to say: ‘Do you see yourself as a trailblazer?’ I’d think: ‘Absolutely not’ but we should embrace the title as trailblazers if we’re inspiring the next generation.
“In 20 years’ time, when I’m not refereeing anymore, I want to see hundreds of young girls coming through and challenging to be the next football league referee or ultimately the next Premier League referee.
“If we can pave the way so young girls look at us and think: ‘Well, they’re doing it, so can we’, that’s great for us.
“I didn’t really have one [a female role model]. I grew up in the 90s and there weren’t that many about then.
“That’s quite sad because now you’ve got young girls growing up who have got female role models within sport.
“Sian [Massey-Ellis] is a massive role model to a lot of the young girls coming through.”
When it comes to her performances, Welch wants gender to be an irrelevant factor and says she has never been criticised for being a female official.
“My experience in the male game has been really positive,” Welch said. “You build up a rapport with players when you do the same leagues over the years.
“They don’t see me as a female referee, they just see me as a referee. That’s all I want.
“I want to be praised because I’ve done a good job, or criticised because I may have got something wrong, but I’ve certainly never been praised or criticised because of my gender.”
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