Gemma Gale is the Girls and Women’s Football Development Officer at the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA. Here, the 28-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 3: Challenging perceptions
Q: How do people usually react when you tell them you referee football games?
Most people are shocked and don’t understand why. A lot of people ask me: “why would you
want to put yourself in that position and get the abuse?” But I am passionate about football and want to be involved in the game. I really enjoy refereeing; I get a buzz from it.
Q: To what extent can a woman make a living from becoming a football referee?
Referees are categorized into different levels, depending on how much experience and ability you have.
When you first start out as a referee, regardless of being male or female, you are at level nine, which is classed as a trainee referee. When you reach level seven you are classified as being a fully qualified referee and from this stage you can then progress down the levels: six, five, four…with zero being FIFA standard, which would be a referee such as Howard Webb. Until you progress towards these levels it would be hard to make a living from it.
Q: There are 1,300 female referees trained by the FA and more than a million women play some form of football across the country. From your point of view, how do people perceive football in England?
When I was a young girl there were no separate sex opportunities to play football. I played in the boys’ team for quite a while and trained with them as there was no female provision. Now we’ve got a women’s league, we’ve got a girls’ league, we’ve got female match officials, referees and player development centres. The game has grown massively -female football in England is the third fastest-growing sport in the world and that is fantastic.
Q: Could you ever see a woman refereeing one of the big competitions one day, for example the World Cup or the European Champions League?
Hopefully. I’d like to say that one day it will happen and it appears to be going in the right direction. I think Sian Massey has opened the door for women to be welcomed into the higher level of competitions.
Q: Have you any advice for girls who are interested in taking up refereeing?
If you enjoy football but don’t want to or can’t play anymore then don’t give it up! Instead get involved as a coach or as a referee. The good thing about refereeing is that you stay active, stay involved in the game, and you are physically a part of the game. There’s the sense of enjoyment and respect you do get once the 90 minutes is up and everybody shocked by how well you handled the game. For me, that’s a massive achievement and makes me feel good at the end of the day.
Q: You have been a player, and you are a referee now, is there any other position you’d like to try?
I’ve also completed my UEFA B (level 3) coaching license and Youth Award Module 1, 2 and 3, so there is that option as well. Football is something I live and breathe and I’ll always be involved with it no matter what, it’s my life!