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Published 22 December 2021 4 min read
Respect Referees

‘It’s fantastic to see women officials being given an opportunity’

Written by:

Amy Purser

Essex referee Amy Purser hopes the increasing opportunities for women referees inspires young girls to pick up a whistle

My name is Amy Purser and I am 21 years old. I was born and bred in Chelmsford, Essex, and have been here my whole life, apart from when I went to university in Birmingham for those three years. My undergrad was in Sport and Exercise Sciences and I am currently doing a masters in Physiotherapy, so I am in full time education for the rest of this year and next year.

In terms of refereeing, it all started because my dad had just retired from being a former professional and semi-professional footballer when I was being born, so he went into working as club secretary at Canvey Island and Cambridge United, which were two of the clubs he was at the longest, and because both of my parents worked, I actually ended up going to work with my dad on a weekend and in the school holidays at clubs around the country. 

I got addicted to football because football was my life for 12 or 13 years while he was working in it. I played growing up and there is a joke in our house that I could kick a football before I could walk. When I got to the age of 16 and my parents started to say I need to earn my own money and all that jazz, I was still in school and loving football so I didn’t want to get into a job which took up all of my weekends, so refereeing was actually the sensible decision for me and one my dad suggested. So I qualified as a referee when I was 16 and the rest is history.

17 Nov 2021 0:42

Respect the Ref

Every match. Every league. Every championship. It’s the referees who are integral to a smooth-running game.

Initially it was a way of getting some cash and it paid more than the minimum wage. But I got to a point where I was really enjoying it, doing really well with it and I decided I wanted to pursue it as far as I possibly could, and I am now at the point where I am a promotion away from being involved with the PGMOL and the FA Women’s Championship. So it has become a viable career option, which is really exciting.

At the moment in the women’s game I am currently refereeing in the FA Women’s National League, so the third step of women’s football, and in the men’s game I am a Level 5, so I am running the line at Eastern Counties kind of level, so step five and six of the men’s pyramid.

I am really fortunate because I am at King’s College London at the moment doing my masters and I am one of their sports scholars for the year, which means I get a lot of support from my university to enable me to keep refereeing. So if I have a midweek game and have to travel to the other side of London for a 7.45pm kick-off and I am not scheduled to finish until 5pm, then they support me and have that provision in place.

The scholarship was purely through refereeing. I saw it advertised and it got me thinking because I saw that the level that I am refereeing, if I was playing then I would have been one of their higher ranked sports scholars, especially with the women’s game. So I thought as a referee, you have the same physical expectations as the players because you have to be as fit as the fittest player on the pitch to keep up with them. So I asked the question and I became the first ever official they have had in their scholarship programme.

Amy Purser's refereeing has helped her earn a scholarship at King's College London
Amy Purser's refereeing has helped her earn a scholarship at King's College London

At King’s it is strange because you are surrounded by all these gold medal-winning Olympians, people like Dina Asher-Smith, and it is nice that you feel like the sporting world is giving you the respect you deserve as an athlete, rather than just being seen as someone who walks out there and doesn’t do much, which obviously isn’t the case.

I finish on campus at 5pm and go straight to the gym to do an hour and a half in the gym working on fitness plans so I am in the required shape to pass my fitness tests and to prevent injuries. It is that side of the commitment to refereeing that I don’t think people understand or respect either. I am not getting home from London until 8.30pm because I am putting in the hours in the gym to make sure I am fit for the weekend. If players were doing that, they would expect more respect than we get as referees.

When I go into the working world, working in the NHS is not easy at the best of times so trying to balance travelling for refereeing and work will be interesting so I am going to see what happens. I have always said that I am going to take refereeing as far as the sport allows me to take it and that won’t change when I graduate. It will just be a lot more difficult and I will have more things to balance and juggle.

At the moment, in the women’s game, the chance of reaching the top level is only two or three years away if I continue on the trajectory that I am on and I don’t get any injuries. So that is exciting.

Premier League official Sian Massey-Ellis is a role model to referees like Amy Purser
Premier League official Sian Massey-Ellis is a role model to referees like Amy Purser

The goal in the short-term future is to reach the FA Women’s Super League and hopefully take charge of a Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley. But in the long run, I would love to be involved in the men’s Premier League. I have watched football since I can remember and the Premier League has been a massive part of that; I watch it religiously week-in, week-out. So to reach there as a female referee would be really special and is something I really hope I can do.

It is fantastic to see women’s officials being given an opportunity in the men’s game now. For a long time it seemed like there was only Sian Massey-Ellis in the Premier League and whilst she is fantastic and is incredible, as I have qualified and gone through the ranks, there has only been her in the Premier League so it is important for the young girls to see more role models now to realise that there are opportunities there for them.

I can only imagine how amazing it is for those young girls watching now to see women refereeing men’s international matches and things like that. Hopefully it encourages them to take up the whistle and get themselves on a refereeing course.