Lucy Clark Interview: Part 1
In support of Transgender Awareness Week we have a chat with Lucy Clark, who is the first openly transgender referee after coming out earlier this year.
In part 1 of this interview, Lucy talks about her personal experiences as a referee.
First and foremost, what’s your involvement in football?
Currently I’m a referee, and I was an observer and mentor but don’t do that officially any more. I’m also referee secretary for three leagues.
How did you get involved in refereeing in the first place?
When I was very little, football was my life. Football was what kept me going - because I was reasonably good at it, it was something I loved doing and somewhere I fitted in. Then when I was about 10 I played for West Sutton little league, and I used to play my game, then for the two games after mine I used to run the line.
So I started playing, then managing and playing, then managing but all the time through I would do a little bit of refereeing here and there if anyone needed a referee. Then a job came up to help with the referee secretary about 12 years ago.
I thought it was time to decide what path to go for, and chose to stay on the officiating path because I was enjoying it. You can get out there for 90 minutes, you’re on the pitch and you’re just concentrating on what’s around you- it’s a great release.
Have you found that your experience as a referee has changed since coming out as a transgender woman?
Statistically, you’re going to have to say yes - I’ve always been a bit of a stat person! I’ve always had a fairly high card count, and now the card count has come quite considerably down. I’ve always been quite a vocal person on the pitch - as a ref, manager and player - I’ve always been one to try and talk to players, have that communication. Whether I’m doing things differently or not, I don’t know.
Since the news (about coming out), some people have been really great. In the girls’ football, they use the correct pronouns and name. Lots of people don’t and I get misgendered on the football pitch a lot, which is fine I can totally understand that. I’m going to referee a game of football, so how I’m looking and dressed is how I would 2 years ago, 5 years ago.
There was a comment that happened in a game a few weeks ago, that was kind of good in a way, even if he (the player) didn’t intend it to be. The captain had stepped in because the player was close to another caution for dissent, and I had to have a chat with him. The captain told the player to keep it down, and the player was like, “I was only talking to him”. And the captain went, “No, it’s ‘her’”. Which was brilliant from the captain, but then the player retorted, “Him, her, I don’t care, it’s the ref!”
I thought that’s a great comment really because that’s all I am, I’m the ref and if that’s what they see me as then great.
Would you say that football has helped the transition?
Football saved my life as a youngster: it gave me something to do, something I enjoyed, that allowed me to fit in. Back in the late 70s, early 80s things were totally different to how they are in today’s world.
Then it may have funnily enough stopped me from fully transitioning to the whole world.
My plan was always to give up refereeing - but I loved refereeing so I didn’t want to give it up, but I felt I had to. So that stopped me (from coming out) - I wanted to continue refereeing and I knew - or thought I knew - that once everyone around me knew, that I would have to stop.
My wife told me not to give it up and kept badgering me to speak to The FA and see what they say. On the whole they’ve been pretty good. I know of a ref who gave up because they were going to transition. That helped me in a way, it made me sad that they had to give up football. Hopefully they now go, ‘Do you know what? I can go back to refereeing’.
How much support have you had from The FA?
I don’t think they really knew what to do, but they said it would be a bit of a test for them, to see if their policies are what they say they are. Then I spoke to the head of refereeing (Richard Glynn-Jones) who said, ‘Okay, you tell me what you want to do.’ So I came away from there thinking, ‘Oh okay, they’ll support me but don’t know how’.
I wanted to avoid the men’s football just to start as I was a bit nervous about it. It was quite nerve wracking going back to faces I’ve known. I’d refereed women’s football for a few years but only at a park level. So I then spoke to Joanna Stimpson (Womens Refereeing Manager at The FA) and explained where I refereed in the men’s game.
The FA were great. They’ve helped where I’m refereeing at a nice level in the women’s game, which is consistent to where I’m refereeing in the men’s. I do The FA Women’s National League Div 1. Now I’m like anyone else there - I can progress if I’m good enough, and if I can hit the right heights and the right fitness levels.
All the leagues I referee have been really helpful and have slotted me back into a game once I said I’m ready to come back. Simeon Potter (Development League Assistant Referees Officer) at the Isthmian League was brilliant in the respect that he just appointed me to a game. Suddenly I had a game there I could do and I wanted to do, with that appointment coming through I thought, ‘Just go and do it’.
Find out more about Transgender Awareness Week here.