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L-R: Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb, Sarah Breslin, Deborah Dilworth and Magda Golba ©Fabio De Paola

FSA Women’s Game Network meets PGMOL

It seems hardly a weekend passes without a referee or VAR coming under intense media scrutiny and, as supporters, we’ve all experienced decisions involving our team with which we disagreed.

However, the FSA is very keen to develop dialogue between referees and supporters so that we all understand each other a little better. From our point of view it’s a good thing if those at the top of the game – be they club officials or refs – know where fans are coming from.

That’s taken some good steps forward in recent seasons and, in the men’s game, our supporter reps regularly meet with the Professional Game Match Officials Limited aka PGMOL. 

Only last month we announced the creation of a new working group to explore ways in which fans can learn more about refereeing and decision-making. But how do things stack up in the women’s game when it comes to links with referees? We’re keen to expand our work in this sphere and the aforementioned working group will cover the women’s game too.

So we were very pleased to be invited to attend the PGMOL women’s game referee camp as observers on Sunday 7th January with Deborah Dilworth (FSA head of women’s football) and Sarah Breslin (Villa Bellas) making the trip to Loughborough.

We caught up with both Deborah and Sarah to find out more…

FSA: Before we get started on refereeing matters, tell us a little bit more about Villa Bellas, Sarah.

Sarah: Villa Bellas was set up in 2022 as the official women’s network for Villa and the aim is to get involvement from women, girls and non-binary supporters – we’re for fans of the men’s game or women’s game. 

It’s a network that brings people together to love and enjoy football, combat misogyny and sexism and other prejudices – we’re a fully inclusive group and work closely with others like the FSA and Kick It Out’s Fans for Diversity campaign.

FSA: And what’s the thinking behind this meeting with PGMOL?

Deborah: It’s an introductory meeting as every FSA Network gets a chance to understand training and development for refs and PGMOL in order to pass that info onto members. There’ll be a number of these and it’s an opportunity to understand things from the referee’s perspective. To humanise them. It was really good to see people like Suzy Wrack (The Guardian) there and Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb – she’s a rockstar in the refereeing world! 

FSA: What did you expect?

Sarah: We didn’t know what to expect to be honest but the dedication, the training and the preparation… I wasn’t prepared for that level but once they started it was such an eye opener. There were different workshops throughout the day on a variety of subjects – the first one we sat in was comms and how they agree on the language used by officials which has to be precise, concise and clear. What to say and when.

In the afternoon they did a presentation on formations and how teams play as that affects a ref’s decision making. For instance if a team plays out from the back all the time from goal kicks they have to get in position higher up the pitch for that whereas a team who plays directly they’ll be in a different position.

There were a lot of things that, despite as a spectator going for 30-35 years I hadn’t even thought about in relation to how they’re reacting to the game. I think every fan should have the opportunity to understand that – it could be a documentary series. 

In the afternoon we then had an opportunity to do a presentation about the FSA – what we are and what we do with a focus on women’s game specific activity. We’ve invited PGMOL along to one of our Women’s Game Network meetings too.

And how is the attitude towards ref’s in the women’s game? 

Sarah: The bigger the game the easier it is to drown out but in smaller crowds there’s sometimes nowhere to hide and the ref’s do hear individuals in the crowd. The atmosphere at women’s football is different – and I think that’s something refs and most supporters in the women’s game would like to keep – but I’ve noticed that some refs are getting stick from the crowd especially from clubs who have men’s and women’s teams. Maybe it’s coming over from the men’s side, something creeping in, and I hope this partnership with PGMOL will help hold that back. 

Deborah: We’ve had someone come forward from PGMOL to be a liaison with our Women’s Network and that’s a positive first step. We want to engage with PGMOL, county FAs and encourage some of our members to get their refereeing qualifications.

  • Want to hear more about the FSA’s Women’s Game Network, join a supporters group or maybe even set up your own? Contact our head of women’s football Deborah Dilworth via email: [email protected]

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