Rebecca Welch: First female referee will encourage more women to consider careers in football

·2-min read

Rebecca Welch has made history by becoming the first woman appointed to referee a game in the English Football League.

After more than a decade in the game and as the highest-ranked female referee in English football, this afternoon Welch will take charge of the League Two clash between Harrogate Town and Port Vale.

"When I decided to become a referee 11 years ago, I had no idea I would be the first female in the EFL, it didn't even register on my radar!" she said.

"I've always said throughout all my promotions, I want to be promoted on merit, rather than an appointment based on anything else. I do believe that in the next 10 to 15 years, we'll see a female referee in the Premier League."

Welch was recently promoted to UEFA's elite category of officials and has taken charge of the Women's FA Cup final at Wembley.

She was selected after a review of her performance this season by referee chiefs Mike Riley and Mike Jones.

Match officials are thinking about how to get the next wave of women into the sport, hoping they also consider alternative paths within football.

Paul Field, chairman of the Referees' Association, said: "Every step has to be a positive one.

"For her first match in the EFL, I hope the ball runs fair for her, and she has a great game.

"She's going to have maximum support from everybody. This move can only lift the recruitment of young ladies into the game."

Footballers from grassroots clubs such as Wandsworth Borough FC believe this will create more opportunities for women within football.

Kirsty Mulcahey, centre midfielder for the women's team, said: "Knowing Rebecca Welch started her career late, at 27, will reassure senior players as well as young girls, that there's still hope that women can have lots of opportunities in football."

Team captain Emma Connell talked about equality within the sport.

"A lot of girls are a bit intimidated to consider football because from a young age, they have to play with or against the boys," she said.

"Moving forward, it will give them more encouragement to get involved."