We are now well into Black History Month and our series of dedicated interviews with influential black individuals within the game continues.
This week we spoke to Surrey referee Anne-Marie Powell. Anne-Marie trained as a referee in Jamaica in 2000 and has continued as an official since moving to the UK. We asked Anne-Marie about her journey into refereeing, the advice which she would offer to female or BAME individuals looking to get involved in officiating and what should be done to increase participation.
How long have you been involved with football?
“All my life. But refereeing I started in 2000, back in Jamaica.
I played female football when I went to teacher training college. I loved the sport but that’s where I got involved in football. It was just one evening I was basically kicking a ball around and the coach just came over to me and said, “You have good touches – would you mind coming to training?” That was where it started off. I played at the collegiate level back in Jamaica and I represented one of the parishes. We have parishes in the way that you have counties here. And I played for Middlesex [in Jamaica]."
Why did you decide to get involved in refereeing?
“It was just because a friend brought me into it. He said, “Why don’t you come to training, you’re a sports teacher, you’ve been playing football, you’ve been involved in sports. Why don’t you come?” I said that I couldn’t be bothered but he said [I was] the only person from the area who was going to the games and he need company. I just turned up one morning with him to a training session, then I was forced into writing the exam that morning. I got the highest score and beat all the men!
I found myself writing the exam on [a] Saturday morning and I had my first game the following Saturday in a Division One competition. I was thrown in just like that! I didn’t even have gear, [but] the boss said, “You have to. We don’t have people to go to games, you have to go to a game today!” I got shorts, top and socks and I was just thrown into a game like that. And then it just took off. I loved it and it has been fun ever since.”
What advice would you give to females or BAME individuals who are looking to become a referee?
“If somebody has even the slightest desire to get involved in refereeing, I would say follow your gut instinct, go for it. At first it might seem daunting because we have always heard that it’s a male dominated sport. But once you get in there you will realise that it is no longer a man, woman, female kind of thing. We are basically one [on the football pitch]. Nobody’s putting any tag onto you. I’ve never been stigmatised, so I don’t think you should be daunted or be fearful of anything.
Go for it, get involved. It is something which is beneficial to you. Whether you are aspiring to become a FIFA Referee in the future or if you just want to do it at a local level.”
Have you ever encountered discrimination whilst refereeing?
“None of any sort. Whether [being] discriminated against as a female or for colour – nothing. I’ve never had anything like that thrown at me. I don’t know if I’m fortunate. I’ve been around absolutely brilliant people who love the sport and want to play sport. Even at the games I’ve been at now, I find when I walk out onto the pitch and the guys are there [saying], “It’s going to be a female doing our game, it’s a female, that will be fun” – the guys are upbeat!
I never get any rude comments thrown at me during the games. The lads are always apologetic even if they’re swearing, they’ll say “referee I’m sorry!”. I’ve never been discriminated in any way, shape or form.”
Do you feel that you would be supported if you encountered discrimination?
“Yes, I would because I have stood and listened to coaches at games – little, nasty things have been to said by others [at games] and the coaches have stood up. And they’ve even said to me, “don’t be afraid, we are here for you if there’s anything happening with my players – come over to me and I’ll deal with it”. So yes, I would feel confident if anything like that happens that I would get the support from people around me."
What do you think governing bodies should be doing better to encourage females and BAME individuals into refereeing?
"I think what you are doing here now is absolutely fabulous. This is a start. For me, I don’t think they can ever do a whole lot. If somebody doesn’t see the desire to get involved in something, then I don’t see that any promotion by governing bodies will. What I find is that based on the fact that [in] refereeing, to progress up the ladder means training and there are a lot of us, especially women who don’t find training fun, it’s going to be difficult.
[Things like] going out into the [communities], doing programmes – having a chat would be good. But I don’t know how much of an impact it would have. It has to be individuals and the intrinsic motivation that they have [which] would propel them. I basically push myself to get out there. This is what you have to do."
Do you think that role models are important for encouraging participation?
"Role models are important. In any sector of life, you have to have role models. So, if we can send people to into clubs where we have [for example], young girls - going in speaking to and encouraging [them] then we can go forward from there."
If you would like to find out more about getting involved in refereeing, click here.