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Welch to become first woman to ref EPL game

Welch to become first woman to ref EPL game


Rebecca Welch will become the first woman to referee a Premier League game when she takes charge of Fulham vs. Burnley on Dec. 23.

Sam Allison will also become the first Black referee in 15 years to be involved in a top-flight game, following in the footsteps of Uriah Rennie. He will take charge of Sheffield United vs. Luton Town on Dec. 26.

Wendy Toms was the first woman assistant to run the line in the Premier League in the 1990s and was followed more recently by Natalie Aspinall and Sian Massey-Ellis.

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Last month, Welch became the first woman to act as fourth official when she was at the technical area for Fulham’s game against Manchester United, and now she has been given a game of her own.

“Rebecca is a really calm, focused individual on the field,” referees’ chief Howard Webb said. “She does command a lot of respect in a pretty understated way. She has a good reading of the game; she is an accurate decision-maker, a good athlete on the field, too.

“When you meet her, she’s not got huge stature in terms of being really tall, but she has a presence about her. She’s a really determined official. She is similar in some ways to Stephanie Frappart, the French official who has worked on the Champions League this year.

“She’s worked hard physically, technically and really does deserve this opportunity. I went to see her myself recently in a game in the Championship and was highly impressed by what I saw in terms of her command of the game, good reading of the game, good subtle management of the players as well, and I’ve got no doubt she’ll show all of those qualities at Fulham.”

The 39-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise this year, in January becoming the first woman to take charge of a Championship game, between Birmingham City and Preston North End.

Welch was then selected to referee at the Women’s World Cup, appointed to three games including the round-of-16 match between Australia and Denmark. Her hopes of refereeing further games in the tournament were effectively ended by England reaching the final.

North Riding referee Welch was offered promotion to the EFL as an assistant referee in 2017 but opted to switch to being a referee and work her way up the men’s game that way. She was officiating in the National League, the fifth tier of English football, by the 2018-19 season while also continuing in the women’s game.

She took charge of the Women’s FA Cup final in 2017 and 2020 and was promoted to UEFA’s elite category of woman referees in 2020, when she left her job as an administrator in the National Health Service.

In 2021, she progressed to become the first woman to referee a professional game in England, as Port Vale beat Harrogate Town in League Two.

Allison, meanwhile, is a former youth player with Swindon Town, Bristol City, AFC Bournemouth and Exeter City and had a career in the nonleague pyramid.

He initially split a job as a firefighter with his career in refereeing, and, in the 2020-21 season, he became the third Black referee to be appointed to the EFL, after Rennie and Trevor Parkes — the latter also being a firefighter. Allison now becomes only the second Black referee in the top division.

Allison quit his job as a firefighter — although he still does shifts as a volunteer — in the summer when the Premier League’s Elite Refereeing Performance Plan was launched, a scheme in part developed to promote diversity in refereeing in England.

It marks a further step by PGMOL, the refereeing body in England, to increase diversity in the professional game. In January, Bhupinder Singh Gill became the first Sikh-Punjabi to act an assistant referee in the Premier League.

PGMOL has also fast-tracked promising referees who have shone in lower leagues through to the Premier League this season. Sam Barrott had refereed just 10 matches in the Championship before being elevated to the top flight last month at the age of 30. A former Halifax Town youth player, he was only promoted to the EFL in 2020.

“Both Rebecca and Sam were part of the development group that was created last year,” Webb added. “They went through a selection process to be part of that. Credit to them, they have delivered good performances in the Championship this season and deserve their opportunities due to their quality and the talent that they have.

“Of course, it’s significant in terms of Rebecca being the first female to take the whistle in the Premier League; she was the fourth official a few weeks ago for the first time, and we have lots of talented female officials working in the game. We have Kirsty Dowell taking charge of her first Football League game this weekend at Doncaster Rovers; she’s another FIFA-registered official.

“I just hope that other people will see the success of these female officials, young girls and young women, and think that refereeing might be for them.

“Sam being the first Black referee in the Premier League since Uriah Rennie back in 2008, again, we know he has performed well in the Championship this year at a consistent level, and we are confident he will deliver a strong performance.

“The profile of the game will serve as a role model for others in underrepresented communities, and that is undoubtedly a positive. We need greater diversity because undoubtedly there is quality in all communities and previously for whatever reason we have not been able to bring people through from those groups and now it’s happening at last thankfully.”


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