When Rebecca Welch sounded the opening whistle during today’s Harrogate Town and Port Vale tilt, she became the first woman to referee an English Football League game.
“I was just given the appointment and I was over the moon but when you kind of reflect on it you think you’re the first woman ever to do this, so I’m extremely proud and my family’s extremely proud as well,” she said before the match.
“I’ve always said throughout all my promotions, I want to be promoted on merit, rather than an appointment based on anything else,” Welch said. “In the last 10 years I’ve put a lot of hard work and commitment in and I’ve reaped the rewards from that.”
Welch is the lead ref for today’s game, a historic first for a League Two match. But the barriers won’t stop breaking there. She thinks a woman will officiate England’s top level, The Premier League, of men’s soccer soon enough — “in the next 10 to 15 years” she said.
Sian Massey-Ellis already serves as an assistant referee in the Premier League, someone Welch thinks young girl referees already look up to.
Back stateside, American women have broken barriers in refereeing, too. Just this year, Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. And in March, the NFL also hired its second female official and first Black woman in Maia Chaka.
“I do think it’s important to show that women who are in the top one percent of their category can proceed to the next level,” Welch added. “So it definitely makes others down the period look up and know that they can achieve the same.”