With nominations for this year’s Grassroots Workforce Awards closing on 19 April, we spoke to referee Rashpal Shergill to find out what winning an award last year meant to her.
The Grassroots Football Awards recognise and celebrate the people who make a positive difference in our football community, from officials and coaches to groundskeepers and administrators.
Journalist Faye Hackwell spoke to Rashpal Shergill from Gravesend, who was Grassroots Official of the Year in 2022.
A spur-of-the-moment decision to step forward to referee her son’s football match changed Rashpal’s life and opened up opportunities for her to become a proud role model for underrepresented communities in refereeing.
She says winning the grassroots award last year drew attention to her story and has led to her receiving invitations to events where she is now able to inspire others.
These have included speaking on panels about being a female Asian referee and advising national refereeing programmes on faith - all thanks to her children putting her forward for an award to recognise her voluntary efforts in officiating their teams’ youth games.
Five years ago, the part-time primary school teacher was standing on the sidelines at her youngest son’s game when the coach asked whether one of the parents would volunteer to referee the match because they were short of league-appointed officials.
Rashpal recalls: “None of the other parents wanted to do it and it was very alien to me because I haven’t got any referees in my family or friends.
“When it comes to being a mum, you’ll do everything to make sure your children are safe and well and happy, so I took the whistle in my hand and before I knew it, I was waving my arms around making quick, quick, quick decisions.”
Rashpal was playing for Guru Nanak’s ladies’ team at the time, so felt confident knowing the laws of the game and she was asked to referee again at future matches.
She eventually undertook training to become a qualified level 7 referee and now regularly referees grassroots youth games, including a recent Kent Girls County Cup Final and a World Cup-themed tournament for Kent school girls.
Rashpal shares details of her refereeing life on Twitter, but it was winning the grassroots award that led to her beginning to receive invitations to speak at events.
This has included being part of a panel of referees from different backgrounds at Millwall Community Trust and speaking about Sikhism at a faith training event for referee development officers at Warwick University with the Football Association.
She said: “It’s wonderful to share my story with people who might not know that females do referee and that there are females out there who are black and Asian refereeing, because on television it’s very much a white male role that’s seen.
“It’s really interesting that I’m getting acknowledged and invited to events to promote female referees, and black and Asian referees, to inspire others.”
Rashpal urges anyone involved in grassroots football to nominate deserving people they know for a grassroots award, so their efforts can be recognised and celebrated.
She said: “They may not see themselves as a role model, but actually they’re a massive role model.
“I felt really proud to win an award - proud for my own family but also proud for all the females in refereeing and for the black, Asian and mixed heritage community, so I felt the award wasn’t just for me, it was for a massive community that’s underrepresented.”
Do you know someone who deserves recognition for their dedication to grassroots football?
See the full list of award categories and find out how to nominate someone before the April 19 deadline by clicking the button below.