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Published 05 January 2022 6 min read

How a bet while watching Match of the Day ended with refereeing at Wembley Stadium

Written by:

Emma Guest

Romford referee Emma Guest discusses how she got into officiating and the journey which has seen her take to the pitch at the likes of Wembley Stadium and Stamford Bridge

My name is Emma Guest, I’m 35 and I live in Romford, Essex, where I was born and bred. I’m a married mum of two and work full time as a housing officer for my local authority, where I deal with issues including domestic violence and child protection.

As a kid I used to read the newspaper from back to front to catch up on all the football news first, as I have always been a big fan but I can’t kick a ball for toffee. 

When I was younger, women’s football is nowhere near the status it is now, but I always wanted to be part of the game that I loved – and that’s where it starts.

I started refereeing after a bet! I was watching Match of the Day with a family member and having a bit of a disagreement on a game and they said: ‘I bet you couldn’t do any better’, so I went on the course to see if I actually could. 

I was the only female on my course but I was not fazed because I really wanted to succeed and be part of the beautiful game. After eight evenings and an exam, I was ready to officiate my first game.

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Respect the Ref

From the warm-up to the final whistle, see the game from your ref’s perspective

I will never forget my first game. It was an under-15’s girls’ game in Leigh-on-Sea and I was terrified. But as soon as I blew the first whistle, it all went away. However, the game had to be abandoned in the 71st minute because of thunder and lightning! But both teams were so respectful and appreciative.

I then did my first ever men’s game on the local park. I was the first female to ever officiate in that league and that was the game I realised refereeing was for me. This is now season number 11 and the rest is history.

I’ve had so many amazing opportunities over the years. I refereed at Wembley Stadium in August in the BT Sport Pub Cup, I did the launch of FIFA 20 in London, I have been to Selhurst Park, Stamford Bridge, The Valley, to name a few, and in the last couple of weeks I did a tournament for the Alan Shearer Foundation, which was hosted by True Geordie, called the Twitch Rivals Tournament. 

There are not many referees at grassroots level who have had the chance to referee at Wembley. It was just unbelievable. When we walked out, they played the Champions League music and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The opportunities you can get from refereeing are unbelievable and also the people you get to meet along the way. Not just famous people but the other referees and likeminded people.

Its hard for me to talk about refereeing without a smile on my face. I know referee abuse is a hot topic at the moment but you don’t often hear about all the good stories. Being a referee is not bad like people think.

Emma Guest is now in her 11th season as a referee
Emma Guest is now in her 11th season as a referee

It’s weird when you are a referee because you can be over at your local park having a day off and you hear the whistle from a game and it is a bit like a calling. You ask any ref and they will say the same. 

People think we are going out there to just make some money or to ruin people’s day, but we don’t. We love the game as much as anybody else. We go out there for the same reasons as the players: the love of the game, to let off a bit of steam and to exercise. It is 90 minutes where all you have to worry about is those players and that ball. You don’t have to think about anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when it is pouring down with rain and you might be on a 3G pitch and you think ‘why am I doing this?’ But then you blow that first whistle and it just all goes. 

I love being a referee. I referee five, six, seven, nine and 11-a-side games. I officiate from under-12’s to adult football, both male and female. I have been lucky enough to be out on the FA WSL Academy League this year and games at my local Premier League training ground. But grassroots is my biggest love. I get the odd heated comment but I nip it in the bud straight away, talk to the players during the game and we all have a great time.

To anyone considering taking up refereeing, I would say definitely do it. It will make you a more rounded and resilient person, your confidence levels will increase, and you will have some amazing opportunities that you never thought you would have in your life. So give it a go.

Inspired to become a referee?