In this month’s Referee Spotlight, we focus on Georgia Rooney discussing her officiating journey thus far and the challenges of being in a minority within refereeing.
2019 produced record-breaking viewing figures for female football as a result of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, inspiring women all over the world.
For Georgia, this was to be exactly the case when a trip to France for the tournament influenced her to get back involved in the game she loved.
“I went to the women’s World Cup in France and the atmosphere was so amazing. I met lots of lovely people and whilst I was watching England vs. Argentina I was taken back and thinking ‘how can I get involved in football again?’.
“In terms of playing, I was worried I’d end up getting injured! I then look at the officials on the pitch and without any idea of how it worked or whether I could even do it I decide to explore if there was any opportunity for me referee.
“As soon as I got home, I looked into it and immediately came across Paul Jeffery’s details, sent him an email and he gave me a call.
“I explained to him what I had experienced at the World Cup and what it made me want to do and he said ‘well I think you’re in the right place!’.”
Georgia then entered the refereeing course going completely into the unknown and it was only on arrival she was reminded that she was in a bit of a minority.
“Paul outlined to me the opportunity to do the course, which regrettably I couldn’t do straight away but ended up doing a few months later.
“I didn’t have a clue what to expect. But one thing very noticeable was that not only I was the only woman but also one of only three adults! It was absolutely fine but certainly a unique experience for me.
“The course was great. I remember sitting down, everyone was in twos, but I was there on my own until a poor young lad came in late - who clearly didn’t want to be there but got the short straw and was stuck with me!
“As the course progressed, we actually got on really well and had some good conversations which helped with the course. I learnt loads really quickly.”
The first thing you notice when speaking to Georgia is how unfazed she is in terms of being in that minority and that in itself can inspire anyone. The idea, however, of becoming a referee in general is the one thing that was slightly intimidating for Georgia.
“As soon as I talk to anyone about being a referee, the instant response is ‘I don’t know how anyone could do that’ and that was what I was worried about if anything.
“It was a bit intimidating when it came to the practical side of the course, being ‘the only girl’. During practice matches when we had to play football, I found myself questioning whether or not anyone would pass to me! Paul was great as was Darren (Eaton) and that made things a lot easier.
“It’s not so much the prejudice against women or LGBTQ+ that I was worried about it was probably just the prejudice against referees in general that made me a little bit reluctant. Being the only referee on the pitch can certainly make you feel like you’re in a minority!”
Since her journey began, Georgia has enjoyed many benefits being involved in the game and wants to see it eventually go beyond a hobby.
“There are multiple benefits to being a referee; it’s being part of a game that we all love, it encourages me to keep fit and it’s a great way to be tapped into the community and grassroots.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead but I’d love to push it as far as I can go. I like to have goals to work towards so I’m going for a promotion this season. I might as well try because it focuses the mind. If you have a bad match, instead of coming home and feeling bad about it at least I can remember there’s a bigger picture to it all.
“It’s a bit like a wild personal development exercise; there’s the mental aspect, the physical aspect, resilience, dealing with people, putting yourself in difficult situations and seeing how you manage.”
Georgia has continuously sought ways in which she can develop and go further and a trip to St. George’s Park for The FA’s National Women’s Referee Development day even meant she could meet other female officials for the first time.
“It was great to be part of the event and see so many other young women at the start of their refereeing journeys. I met a lot of officials who I’m now seeing on my TV in the WSL (Women’s Super League) and I’m still in touch with them.
“As the original course was male dominated it was great to be part of an event networking with so many great women and other aspiring officials. Before that day I hadn’t actually met another female referee!”