14 December 2023

Referee Rebecca Welch to break new Premier League ground a decade after chatback

14 December 2023

Rebecca Welch is not the first footballer to have told a referee just how they should do their job – but a decade later, it is her own decisions which are now set to be front and centre in the Premier League.

On December 23, Welch will break new ground once again when she takes charge of Fulham against Burnley at Craven Cottage, having in November become the first female to act as fourth official in a Premier League match.

Yet but for taking one of her friends to task, Welch, 40, might never have given refereeing a go herself.

“I played football and didn’t even think about refereeing until one of my really good friends, who is a referee, refereed us,” Welch recalled in an interview with the Football Association website in March 2021.

“I spent the whole game telling her how to do her job! Her response was, ‘If you think it’s that easy, give it a go’. That’s how it happened and 10 years later, here I am.”

Welch’s love of the game stemmed from playing, but it was with the whistle where she made her mark.

At the start of her refereeing career in 2010, Welch, who is from Washington in Tyne and Wear, was still working in an administrative capacity for the NHS.

After gaining her badges through the Durham County Football Association, Welch began taking charge of university games as well as in Sunday leagues.

It was, though, not long before she took it up on a full-time basis and soon climbed through the ranks.

Welch has regularly refereed high-profile games in the Women’s Super League and took charge of the 2017 and 2020 Women’s FA Cup finals at Wembley.

She has also officiated in the Women’s Champions League, the latest fixture being Benfica’s 1-0 win over Frankfurt on December 13.

Added to FIFA’s elite list of international officials during December 2020, Welch was part of the team at the 2022 Women’s Euros as well as this year’s Women’s World Cup, which included refereeing hosts Australia in their last-16 win over Denmark.

Welch is also no stranger to firsts in the men’s game.

In 2021, she was the first woman to be appointed to referee a match in the Football League for the Sky Bet League Two fixture between Harrogate and Port Vale.

Welch later took on matches in the Championship – the latest being Hull’s 4-1 win over Rotherham on November 28 – and also the third round of the FA Cup.

She continues to establish a pathway for women in the men’s game which Welch has long hoped will one day be par for the course.

“I think there’s always going to be a conversation at grounds to say, ‘ah, female’ because it’s not the norm at the minute. In five or 10 years’ time, it will be, so it won’t even be talked about,” Welch told the PA news agency in July 2021.

“But any conversation I’ve had has never been, ‘Ah, it’s a female, she won’t be any good’, it’s always, ‘It’s a female, what made you get into this?’ So the conversation around it has always been quite positive.

“I get criticised on decisions I make because my decisions are subjective, open to opinion and open to interpretation, which is football in general.

“People will disagree with me because I’m a referee, but they don’t disagree with me because I’m a female referee.”

Last month, two 17-year-olds were arrested during Birmingham’s home match with Sheffield Wednesday for alleged misogynistic chanting towards referee Welch.

Despite Welch now set to find herself in the spotlight again, with every decision under the microscope at Craven Cottage on December 23, she is not about to let anything distract her from just getting on with the job, according to referee’s chief Howard Webb.

“Rebecca is a really calm, focused individual on the field. She does command a lot of respect in a pretty understated way. When you meet her, she’s got a presence about her,” Webb said.

“She has a good reading of the game, she is an accurate decision maker, a good athlete on the field too and has really worked hard to get to this position over several years.

“She has good reading of the game, good subtle management of the players as well and I have got no doubt she will show all of those qualities at Fulham on the 23rd.”

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