Rashpal, a Level 7 referee, part-time teacher and mother of two children enjoys spending time with her family and refereeing at weekends.
“I randomly bumped into an Indian woman who was wearing a full football kit, who I then got chatting to and then from this chat I joined in with training sessions for Guru Nanak Ladies FC. I then played two seasons as a player for this club, fulfilling a childhood dream of wanting to play football.”
But like so many, Rashpal got into refereeing through working with children’s teams.
“There was often no referee for their games and coaches would ask parents to support, so that games could take place. No one ever volunteered to referee, so I found myself refereeing more and more and actually enjoying it and improving myself with each game. I actually left playing football myself to become a referee. But I love the fact that I can still be part of the game I love.”
From that moment on, she was hooked and has never looked back.
“There is something amazing about taking the whistle and seeing the sheer drive and excitement from young people to want to play the game they love. I love the buzz of refereeing and giving that opportunity to young people to play and enjoy the game, safely and fairly.”
However, it hasn’t always been easy. Although the judgement female officials often receive by coaches and managers have been hard at times, times are changing for the better and Rashpal tackles any negativity head-on when she first walks onto the pitch.
“I conquer a lot of this distrust by introducing myself to both team coaches and being clear from the start who I am and my role, chatting to the assistant referees, explaining how I like to ref and what I expect from them. I mainly officiate football up to U15s and the conversations at the start are always very important.”
Referees of all levels and experience often face challenging situations in their officiating roles, but what challenges has Rashpal experienced and how has she resolved them?
“The biggest challenges I have faced this season is the negativity from coaches to their own players during the game! I have reported swearing from a coach at his own team players and I have had to ask a few coaches to remain calm and positive on the side-line. Their overpowering negative shouting has a detrimental effect on their players- they were becoming angry and frustrated on the pitch. I often have to reaffirm the positive message to players, but it is a knock-on effect from their coaches.
“When I arrive at the match, I find smiling and saying good morning to parents as I go round checking the pitch makes me look human and confident and that I take my refereeing seriously and professionally. I blow my whistle strong so it can be heard, and I am clear and confident with my decisions and explain any fouls there and then.
“I remain calm and encourage others to remain calm in difficult situations. I also have conversations 1-1 with the assistant referees if needed. I explain fouls as I go along to have some conversation with players. I always encourage play to be positive, ask players and captains to play to the whistle and play with respect.”
And what advice would Rashpal give for up-and-coming referees? It’s simple - just go for it.
“I would say observe and volunteer to get experience officiating 7v7 and 9v9 football and see how you feel. If you enjoy it, take up the course and get qualified! It takes inner strength and self-belief to become a referee as well as having a passion for the game.
“The biggest learning, I have made is from observing other referees at games, on the telly or on you-tube. I always ask questions when I meet experienced referees to learn more and improve my refereeing skills. I believe I am always developing as a referee.”