Being a female referee in a man’s world


Evening telegraphI was having a tidy out today, and I found my old referee folder, so I thought I would have a look through it, and take a trip down memory lane.

When I was a referee, I didn’t really get many photos, taken, you don’t photograph the ref, now do you! Still, there were still some things in the folder that helped me to remember my referee journey.

Early days

When I first started refereeing, I had only played one season. It would be fair to say I didn’t really have a full grip on the game. Although I had put myself of a mini diet whilst recovering from the ACL operation that ended my playing career, I was still overweight and unfit. The way I saw it, the refereeing was to keep me fit, in a more interesting way than the gym. Yes, this wasn’t quite the right way to look at it!

I fought against sexism, with many people looking over my shoulder and asking where the referee was. The worst for that was a local private school who’s sexism and narrow minded ness regarding referees was bordering on rude and obnoxious! I never went back after that first visit! I carried on because of all those people who said that women couldn’t do this job!

Memorable moments

  • A guy I had just refereed explaining how he just dumped his girlfriend because she had a 6 pack and he didn’t!
  • Two disciplinary reports I had to fill out, the players contested both times forcing me to go to their hearings and give evidence. Both punched an opponent in clear view of me!
  • The junior team coach who objected to me disciplining his players, so he took his entire team off the pitch and refused to finish the game!
  • The time I got the opportunity to take part in the referee exchange and travel to California to referee rugby with my society
  • The team I refereed who’s forwards had been on the lash, had a hangover and we had to pause periodically for the hooker to be ill on the sidelines!
  • My first national appointment, the RFUW National sevens tournament in 2001, enjoyable despite the AWFUL weather that day!
  • The letter in 2001 telling me that I had been selected to touch judge at the RFUW 6 Nations pre-match games, on the main pitch at Franklins Gardens, home of Northampton Saints.
  • Being selected to referee in Belgium, a 10’s tournament that my society always went to officiate at. I was one of the first female referees they had appointed at this tournament.
  • Refereeing at Kempston rugby club, an every day seconds game where I ended up taking part in and winning the drinking games, then being taken home, what a hang over I had the next day! The captain felt so guilty he came by the next day to check I was still alive!
  • Being one of the touch judges at the Oxford-Cambridge annual varsity rugby match. Truly a huge honour.
  • The highlight of my rugby career, the U19 international friendly between England and Canada

A potted history of my referee journey and development

When I started I was overweight. That was against me in my assessments, and limited progression. At first I was offended, then I reinvented myself and lost the weight. Not for the rugby, it it certainly helped, with fitness and image for starters. I had to prove myself more so than any male referee, and women referees were rare in the 1990’s.

Once I lost the weight, my refereeing began to really improve in huge leaps. BUT, my limited players knowledge meant that I couldn’t read the game as well as some male referees that had been players for much longer than my one season of playing. So, I studied the laws, watched games, tried to answer all the queries of hubby and others in a factual way, trying to understand other referees decisions and watch how they positioned themselves for games. Most of the time till now I had worked my ass off to actually keep up, now I had to plan where I was going to position myself, because I could easily keep up.

In 2006 the RFUW decided to try out some female referees for a new initiative to create a development squad for female referees specifically. This was major news in rugby, and further down the line they intended to make a female referee international panel (which happened for the first time just a few years ago actually). I went for it. I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t make it, I was fitter than ever. Many of the other girls there were way younger than me. I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad, but clearly it was bad (for me at least!) I scored highest in most of the fitness tests that they threw at us, which were very tough and lengthy. They involved strength, insurance, stamina, plyometrics, speed, you name it. I was very proud to learn that I came out top, but equally shocked to not be selected.

Decision time

Although I was really proud to get the chance to form the very first RFU team of 3 females for a international game, I was also going to have to face some truths in my refereeing career. It was clear to me that in 2007, at the age of 36, I might just be a few years too early for the RFU in my rugby refereeing goals. I wanted to be on that international panel, but the RFU were nowhere near ready, and I was getting a little bit too old in refereeing terms, to be able to wait it out ill they got around to it.

So I decided to go out in style. It was a tough decision to make at the time, but on reflection the right one. I bowed out at the top of my ‘game’ with the international appointment being one of my last games.

I am proud of what I achieved in my refereeing career, proud that I helped pave the way for future female referees who are now becoming more and more accepted in rugby at the highest levels.

2 Comments on “Being a female referee in a man’s world

    • Easier? Not sure that’s the right word! It’s very different, but mainly you are only worrying about yourself at any one time, not yourself, applying law, positioning, anticipation, worrying about 30 other players whilst also making sure you are fit enough to start the game!

      In triathlon it’s hard work, but you are racing yourself, and only you are accountable. That part IS easier, plus the way age group is structure makes it reasonably fair, no matter what your age or sex.

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