Rebecca Welch makes history as English Premier League’s first female referee

ROTHERHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Fourth Official, Rebecca Welch looks on prior to the Sky Bet Championship match between Rotherham United and Ipswich Town at AESSEAL New York Stadium on November 07, 2023 in Rotherham, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Rebecca Welch looks on, ahead of the Championship match between Rotherham United and Ipswich Town in November 2023.George Wood/Getty Images/FileLondonCNN — 

When Rebecca Welch officiates Fulham’s clash against Burnley on December 23, she will become the first female referee ever to take charge of an English Premier League match.

Then, on December 26, Sam Allison will become the first Black referee for 15 years to oversee a Premier League match, PGMOL, English football’s refereeing body, also announced on Thursday.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 22: Referee Stephanie Frappart of France looks on prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Mexico and Poland at Stadium 974 on November 22, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Stéphanie Frappart to make history as the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match

“(Rebecca) has been exposed to some big games and I am really confident she will deliver a game in the Premier League and be a really good role model for women and girls who maybe think refereeing is for them when previously they didn’t,” Howard Webb, PGMOL’s chief refereeing body, told the BBC.

“Sam deserves his chance as well. Maybe that will serve as a role model for other young people who maybe previously thought refereeing might not be for them,” he said.

This is just the latest landmark for Welch, an experienced referee who made history in November as the first woman to be appointed a fourth official in the Premier League, when she helped officiate Manchester United’s victory against Fulham.

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The 40-year-old has been refereeing since 2010, originally balancing it with her job in the National Health Service, before taking it up on a full-time basis, and notching up a number of firsts during her career.

HARROGATE, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Match referee Rebecca Welch gestures during the Sky Bet League Two match between Harrogate Town and Port Vale at The EnviroVent Stadium on April 05, 2021 in Harrogate, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Referee Rebecca Welch makes history in English Football League debut

In 2021, she became the first appointed female referee to take charge of an English Football League (EFL) game, when she oversaw Port Vale’s 2-0 win against Harrogate Town in the country’s third tier of men’s soccer.

With her latest achievement, Welch consolidates her place in the ranks of female referees making history in recent years by officiating on soccer’s biggest stages.

Last December, France’s Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match. In 2019, she made history as the first female referee to take charge of a Ligue 1 match and in August the same year she was the first to take charge of a major men’s European match. In 2020, she was the first woman to officiate a men’s UEFA Champions League match.

Welch’s appointment has already drawn praise, with Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino telling reporters on Friday that he was “really happy.”

“Already in France, Stéphanie is a female referee and she is really good,” he said. “And why not, if the capacity is there? I am so happy to see that in football, which people sometimes say is so closed, but I think we open our minds.”

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