'Just give refereeing a go'
Suffolk's Isabel Chaplin on her start to refereeing to now officiating in the FA Women's Championship in the space of six years
My name is Isabel Chaplin, I’m 20 years old, a grassroots referee from Suffolk and a football coach for the Football Fun Factory, where we coach children of all abilities from the ages of two to 12 years old, so a bit of a contrast from my Saturday afternoons!
I have been playing football since primary school and started refereeing in August 2015 as I wanted to see another side of the game and it was a way of having a Saturday job too. I was also able to use it as my skill for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
I was playing and coaching like some of my friends but none were refereeing so I thought I had nothing to lose, let’s give it a go and six years on, I’m still going!
I was refereeing in my local youth leagues and at the Suffolk FA Referees’ Academy until the end of the season before last and then I started refereeing adult football. I am still refereeing local men’s leagues on a Saturday afternoon but now I am also a referee in the FA Women’s National League as well as acting as an assistant referee and fourth official in the FA Women’s Championship. I am very lucky to see a wide range of levels of football during just one weekend but I enjoy each different level equally.
My highlights so far have been to referee a County Cup final, gaining promotion and being selected as an assistant for the FA Women’s Championship.
RESPECT the Ref
Every match. Every league. Every championship. It’s the referees who are integral to a smooth-running game.
I really enjoy my refereeing. I have always said that if I don’t enjoy it then that is the time to stop because if you do not enjoy something then it is not worth doing. Refereeing keeps you involved in the game without playing. Although I could still play and I might go back to playing, they are two different things and being a referee helps other people to play, especially when there is a huge a shortage of referees as there is at moment.
I am often asked about the abuse towards referees but I have been really lucky and haven’t had anything too serious directed towards me abuse wise. Every referee has the little bits said to them but I have never had anything more than that although I hear about it from other referees and their experiences but I have never been abused – I might have been but I think of it as differing tolerance levels and I don’t know where that would sit within that.
You always hear a spectator and you think ‘there is no need, let’s get on with it’ but I have been lucky that I have never had anything other than that.
I have personally found that levels of abuse were worse when I was officiating youth football because some parents are very protective where their children are concerned and rightly so but this however can spill over onto the pitch occasionally which makes it harder when you’re doing the best job you can, with player safety always being your main priority.
I am very lucky that as referees we have people we can speak to and talk through matches and events if we need to.
Respect the Ref campaign
When it comes to what I would ask of players, coaches and spectators, I would simply say: ‘We all make mistakes. I am more than happy to hold my hands up and say I’m sorry, I might have missed that.’ Players make mistakes too and I think the main thing about this campaign is highlighting that we are all humans, we can and do make mistakes.
Everyone is different but I am happy to have a conversation with someone and talk things through.
We all make mistakes and it is part of the game. You see that at every level of the game, and there are still mistakes being made at the top level but we are all trying to do our best.
If there is anyone who reads this and is considering taking up refereeing, I would say just give it a go! If you are looking to be involved with football and looking for a different point of view or if you get frustrated with referees, then have a go, don’t be afraid and see how different it is from a players’ and referees’ point of view.
The life skills that you develop as well as the opportunities that there are for progression, I think, are both good reasons to try refereeing. If you put your mind to it then anything could happen, the world is your oyster.