Gemma Gale is the Girls and Women’s Football Development Officer at the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA. Here, the 27-year-old level six referee talks to University of Sheffield student Shimeng Ren about her experience as a woman working in a male-dominated world.
Part 2: Being a referee
Q: What is the general reaction from the male referees and male fans to you?
Referees are very positive about it because they just want more people to referee, regardless of their sex, age, background and anything like that. I also have support from the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA Referee Development Officer and my mentor.
Sometimes male players can be different. Sometimes their reaction when they see me, as a female referee, has been a bit negative – ‘oh dear, we have got a woman referee.’ It’s a challenge to get over that every time you go out there.
Those are the type of comments you’d prefer not to hear.
Q: How do they respond to the decisions you make during a game?
Regardless of whether you are male or female, I think that there are always going to be disagreements throughout the course of a match because not everybody agrees with the decisions that you make. Obviously it is good that they feel they can still challenge the female referee, just as they would a male referee, so in a way they don’t treat you any differently.
Q: Overall, do you think that footballers give you as much respect as they would a male referee?
I think that as long as you are doing your job properly and to the best of your ability then they will eventually give you respect. Respect is something that is earned, regardless of gender. Before the game kicks-off you don’t necessarily have that respect. If, at full-time, you’ve done a good job, controlled the match, and everything has been fine then you will have earned the respect of the players.
Q: How do you deal with abusive language on the field?
If someone swears and it is aimed directly towards to me then I would issue the appropriate sanction, though it depends on what has actually been said and the context within what it was said.
As a referee, you can’t stand for any of that. I’m not there for that and they should have more respect for me as an official.
Q: What would you say to those who claim that football should be left to men?
I think the game is a lot more equal than it has ever been before, although there is a lot of male culture that goes hand-in-hand with it. I’m not saying that it is 100% equal but the sport has grown so much, particularly over the last ten years, that it is now more normal for women to be involved with the men’s game.
There are people like Sian Massey, who has been an assistant referee in the Premier League, who are raising the standards and increasing the visibility of women in football and that’s fantastic for females.Some men might feel like it’s an invasion, but the majority of men are actually welcoming women into the game. At the end of the day they are only doing their job, it shouldn’t matter whether they are male or female.