As part of our #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign, we spoke to Surrey’s mother and daughter referee team Jackie and Eliza Bisley.
We have seen brilliant progress in the county as a growing number of women and girls in Surrey are deciding to take up refereeing. In 2019, Jackie (far left) and Eliza (one in from the right) Bisley started their refereeing journey together and they haven’t looked back since.
We asked them about their reasons for deciding to take up refereeing and their highlights during their refereeing journeys so far.
They also offer advice to female referees who have just started the journey.
Jackie, when did you start your journey in refereeing and why did you want to get involved initially?
‘I started my journey in refereeing last summer. I’ve had an interest in football since I was a child, I used to watch my brother play every Saturday. I then had my son and he really got into football. So, I started coaching his team, the local village team, Elstead Sharks seven years ago after I’d done my coaching badges.
There are always a shortage of referees on a Saturday morning and then [one day] Eliza and I were at a football game and she said ‘Mum when can I start refereeing? I told her you’ve got to be fourteen. She then expressed an interest and knowing and having been on lots of coaching courses where I have been the only woman in the room I was conscious that I didn’t want Eliza to feel nervous about going forward for something and being the only woman in the room. I said if you do it, I’ll do it with you. [I also knew] that if there was then a shortage for a referee on a Saturday morning for any games for our local club or around the area then I could help out. So that’s why I got involved.’
Eliza, what made you want to take up refereeing?
‘I’ve always been interested in football for the past five years at least. But I’ve never really played football, I’m more of a supporter. I wanted to get involved and to do that without playing football I thought refereeing would be a great opportunity. Learning and being able to enforce all the laws is something that I use as a skill. I find it really interesting and being able to put it into practice, get some exercise on a Saturday morning. Being able to run around and be involved in football but without being a player.’
Eliza, what has been your stand out moments as a referee so far?
‘This season, I was lucky enough to be a linesman for a County Cup Final just before it was cut short because of coronavirus.
My mum and I did that one together, both linesman and I ended up having to rule out a goal for offside which would have been the equaliser. So actually, my decision, which luckily was right made the game pretty much!’
What do both of you think are the most enjoyable aspects of refereeing?
Jackie: ‘For me I referee a lot of youth football and I love seeing the kids outside running around, playing the game they love, getting exercise and they can do that because I’m available to referee the game for them and without the referee they couldn’t be playing. I just love seeing kids play!
I love seeing them learn. A recent example is some language on a Saturday morning from an under 10s player. I blew the whistle, called them over and had a chat and they came and apologised to me afterwards. Seeing kids learn and adapt, respect the game and respect the officials is really important and a nice way to spend your Saturday and Sunday mornings.’
Eliza: ‘Yeah, I would agree. I find it really satisfying when I’ve seen a kid play in a match before and I’ve seen them be disrespectful or rude to an official but if I then referee them and I don’t get anything and manage it well, I find that really satisfying. To know that they have the respect for me and not do anything to get themselves in trouble.’
Jackie: ‘I’ve refereed a number of girls football games and the girls really appreciate that there’s a female official. There’s somebody female there and they can relate to that and you can see it inspires others to think “I’d like to give that a go.” I’ve heard opposition teams chatting and saying, “Oh look there’s a female referee maybe we should do that.”
What advice would you both give to female referees who might be just getting started in the grassroots game?
Eliza: ‘Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be put off by all the men and boys that you see. I found that is really does not matter whether I’m female or male, I can still control the game, I still deserve respect and get it from the coaches. Even when you’ve got male coaches disagreeing with you, if you have the confidence it doesn’t matter you can control them.
I can be quite a shy person in day to day life but when I’m refereeing, I make sure that it’s not the case because I need the confidence to make people believe that I can do it.’
Jackie: ‘I’d say the same, if you’re thinking of getting involved and being a referee, just do it! Go on a course and just do it because you will love it. It’s a brilliant way to spend your Saturday and Sunday morning.
The other advice I would give is to join a good referees’ association. Eliza and I have been lucky enough to join Woking Referees’ Association and they have supported us all the way, inspired us. I think we’re probably the only two women in the group but they’ve really supported us in our journey and our learning so I would just do it and find a supportive network.
The other thing is when Eliza and I come off the pitch we’ve got each other to talk to and ask, ‘How was that game?’, ‘What did you think?’. So, find a mentor, find a buddy that can help you because some days you might want to come off the pitch and just talk about it. It doesn’t matter whether they are male or female it’s just important to have someone you can talk to about the game.
The other thing I would say is talk to Surrey FA. Surrey FA have been amazingly supportive of us and we’ve been up to St George’s Park for a women’s refereeing event which was brilliant. So, there’s a whole network of people out there who can support you.’
Why do you feel so few women get involved in refereeing, and what do you think needs to change for more to take part?
Eliza: ‘It can be very intimidating because at the moment there aren’t enough women refereeing but when you look at football in general you pretty much just get the male picture.
Having male coaches as a fifteen-year-old girl and having to deal with older male coaches who are giving you grief from the side-line is something that’s really hard and it is intimidating, but then again that is the same for fifteen-year-old boys. But when you’re a female it just seems worse.
For it to change, I mean the coaches [demographic] especially in youth football, needs to change. I just think girls need support in order to feel more encouraged that they can do it, they just need to believe in themselves and have someone who can help them do that and encourage them to know they are doing it right and have the support.’
Jackie: ‘I would say more positive role models. If you watch the Premier League at the moment, there are female assistant referees. The women’s game is coming to the forefront so the more coaches, referees, players there as role models, the more people start to think “Yeah I can do that.”
The support that The FA, Surrey FA and everybody is doing to get more women involved, I think will lead to an explosion of female referees, coaches and players. It’s brilliant.’
To find out how you can start your own journey in refereeing, click here. If you would like to find out more about our ongoing #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign and hear from other role models, click here.