Essex County FA Celebrate Grassroots Volunteers for International Womens Day

Female Essex Referees Talk About Their Refereeing Journeys

As today is #InternationalWomensDay, we are highlighting some of the amazing work that goes on in our grassroots community. This story showcases the journey of three of our female referees.

We spoke to three of our female Referees, Lily Inns (Level Y1 Referee), Lily Priest (Level 7 Junior Referee), and Millie Barrett (Level 7 Junior Referee) around their journeys in becoming referees, some challenges and barriers they have faced, as well as their ambitions in refereeing.

The Start of The Journey

 All three girls all mentioned that they had an interest in football by either playing, volunteering, or watching, which served as the catalyst for them getting involved in refereeing. Lily Priest shared that she “got into refereeing in 2021 when my football club was short on referees for a tournament and so I filled in and refereed some of the games, I really enjoyed it and so I completed the course to become qualified.” Millie said “I've always loved football and have always wanted to get involved with anything and everything in football. When I was 14, I volunteered at a festival that Essex FA were hosting, and I ended up refereeing a game and I really enjoyed it. Someone suggested doing the referee course to me which I never knew was an option up until that point. I said why not? Then I qualified the following November”. Lily Inns shared that she “became a referee from running the line for my brothers football team. I enjoyed it and wanted to become better. I did the FA Referee Course and loved it and I have loved to referee ever since.”

Barriers Faced

When talking about any barriers which the girls have faced, Lily Inns mentioned that she was “very shy but I feel like refereeing has helped me come out of myself.” Millie spoke about that she has faced a couple of barriers, but that she has used them as a learning curve, and that there are always people to help. Millie continued to say “That's one of the best things about becoming a ref; the community you are joining. There is so much support you get from fellow referees. They all understand the pressures you face while in the middle, and share what they would've done in that scenario which can help you learn for next time, but you can also share the positives.”

The conversation moved to what grassroots football could do to help support referees, where Lily Priest said that “grassroots football is supportive of players and creates opportunities for people to become referees.” Lily continues to say, “I think that refereeing should continue to be shown in a positive light where clubs are in positions to help to support their players, officials and give opportunities to people who are thinking of becoming a referee.” This was developed by Lily Inns who said the opportunities should always be available to everybody “no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or age.” Millie continued by saying “if you are someone that loves football and might think refereeing isn't for you or if you don't think you can become a referee, talk to someone. Talk to your county's RDO, talk to a ref at a game, most of us are happy to have a chat and offer some advice.”

The Journey So Far

Both Lily Priest and Millie spoke about their refereeing journey so far, with Lily mentioning that her journey has been positive as she has been supported by her club, Broomfield, which has enabled her to be “accepted into the ETP which is helping me to progress in refereeing and providing me with lots of opportunities to gain experience in higher level leagues, referee a County Cup Final, begin officiating in open-age football, and act as an Assistant Referee in the Women’s National League Premier.” Millie shared a similar story as she began “refereeing in the Blackwater and Dengie Youth League and have recently started refereeing open-age football for the Essex and Suffolk Border League, as I have joined the Referee Progression Pathway. I've also been given the honour of refereeing in two County Cup Finals.”

Lily Inns’s journey has been very a short but successful one so far, with Lily qualifying as a referee in June 2022, and since then, Lily has completed her first 5-Matches, meaning that she has automatically been promoted to a Y1 Referee as well as writing a letter as part of her involvement on the Jack Petchey Programme which has been shared publicly.

Lily Inns

The Meaning of Football & Heroes

All three girls were asked what football meant to them, and all three said that it was important to them, with Lily Priest saying “Football is very important to me and it is a major part of my life, I spend almost every day training, playing, refereeing and going to West Ham, I have grown up playing, and watching my brother play football and so it has been an important part of my life for a long time.” Millie mentioned that football was an outlet for her as “for 90 minutes, you can escape reality and all of its problems and focus on one thing: the match in front of you.” Lily Inns said “To me football shows passion. It is fun and is suitable for everyone.”

When asked about their sporting heroes, Millie said “Someone I look up to as a ref is Sian Massey-Ellis. Growing up she was the only female referee I would see on tv. She and Wendy Toms really paved the way for women in refereeing. Another person, I have always looked up to is Niamh Gamble as she is the first person that got me into football and I wouldn't be as involved as I am today without her.” Lily Inns said mentioned that she “never really had any sporting heroes until I started referees, and I like Mike Dean for his refereeing style and how he manages the game.” Lily Priest spoke about how Mark Noble is her hero as he was loyal to West Ham, is respected by his teammates and show passion. Lily continued through linking this to her refereeing as “I have learnt how to lead my own team in a fair and honest way. He is an example of a player/sportsperson who enjoys playing and is loyal to their club.”

Lily Priest

Advice for Others

Millie’s had this to say to anyone who is thinking about becoming a referee. “Personally, I would recommend just doing it. There will be hard games, but the most important thing is perseverance because there will be great games as well and the feeling of getting those hard decisions right, that confidence boost, that feeling is unparalleled.” Lily Priest’s biggest piece of advice was “If they love football, they should just get as involved as possible in the sport in as many ways, it keeps me busy and fit. I’d tell a young person that even though refereeing can seem scary or something they can’t do, they should just believe in themselves, act confident even if they are nervous and make other people believe that they are confident too. Its always important to have fun because there’s no point in doing something that they don’t enjoy.” Lily Inns said that “People who are thinking about getting into refereeing, just go for it. You will make mistakes and you are not going to get everything right, but you will learn new skills and maybe even a new route into the game.”

Milly Barrett

Future Ambitions

All three girls have the same ambition and end goal in wanting to have careers in football and referee at the highest level. Lily Inns spoke on her letter which she wrote for the Jack Petchey award and reiterated that she wants to go all the way. “I want this to be my career. As I have said before, I don’t want to be a doctor, teacher, or vet, I want to be a referee. To referee in the Women’s Super League would be amazing or ever just semi pro football but the ultimate dream would be to referee in the Premier League.” Millie said Hopefully one day I’ll be reffing in the WSL or Premier League however I have got a lot to work on before I get there. I am taking each game as it comes and performing to the best of my ability and learning from my mistakes.” Lily Priest said that she hopes “To continue to progress in refereeing and end up having a career in refereeing football. My biggest ambition is to officiate in the FIFA World Cup and be refereeing at the highest level that I can. I hope to continue to enjoy being surrounded by football and make a career out of it.”

Essex County FA have developed the Female Football Community, which is aimed towards connecting girls and women across Essex effectively with an interest or refereeing. More information can be found by click the button below. 

Female Football Community

Save The Date – On Thursday 13th April, before the BBC Essex Women’s Cup Final, we have a guest speaker who will be sharing their knowledge and experiences.