It is fascinating to listen to Michelle, as she describes how football, something she didn’t even think would be one of her hobbies when she was younger, has now become her dream to pursue.
“When I started refereeing, I thought I’d just stay at Level 7 and do youth football, but, when I first got asked to do men’s football, I relished the challenge of it.
“I love going to different places, different games, different standards, and I just want to see how far I can take this. I really enjoy it and I know a lot of people don’t. I also know a lot do it for the money and I certainly don’t do it for the money, I do it for my fitness and because I really enjoy doing it!
“I love being challenged on the football field and doing the high-profile games because that for me is where it’s at. It’s a good feeling being tested in that environment.
“I know some people shy away from being challenged and I don’t think you get it as much in youth football. You can only get it from going higher and higher.”
Michelle says she’s been “lucky” not to receive any notable abuse in her time as an official and fortunately for her, the most criticism she receives comes from a little closer to home.
“My son has always been my biggest critic, I’ve had to do some of his adult games and he lets me know what he thinks about my performance afterwards. But I like Ciaran watching me ref, even though it’s quite stressful, especially when he knows the laws of the game as well!
It’s a thought-provoking discussion to have with Michelle about being a referee and whether female officials are more subject to prejudice. Michelle does fall into two minorities within football, but quite rightly, she believes this hasn’t and shouldn’t ever make a difference.
“I thought at first I might get a few comments about me being female, but I haven’t had any at all. I’ve actually found with men’s football that they seem to be more relaxed and behaved around me.
“I actually overheard a lad say, ‘oh we’ve got a female ref today, better be on our best behaviour!’ I’m stood there like ‘why? What difference does it make!?’”
“Me personally, as a female and gay referee, I’ve had no issues about being in that minority but maybe that’s just my game management and the rapport I have with the players.”
February is Football.v.Homophobia (FvH) month and Michelle is keen to support the campaign however she can, having officiated in the past on our annual friendlies with Brighton Lesbian and Gay Sports Society (BLAGSS).
“It’s a really great campaign, I love refereeing the Sussex County FA games against BLAGSS and it is a great way to help promote such an important campaign. I’m really pleased with the support that it gets and being a gay person myself I want to be a part of anything like that.”
The proud and positive moments for Michelle are luckily what she can reel off. Between the multiple promotions she’s achieved and officiating The FA Women’s National League, there are several other accolades she’s very proud of.
“I’ve had some very proud moments. When I was a Level 7 I was asked to do a South East County Women’s Cup Final at Maidstone United. I was very chuffed with that! It was a great final and I got some really good feedback from some senior referees.
“In the 2016/17 season I received Referee of the Year from South East Counties women’s football which of course I was so happy about. I was presented the award by Angela Bennett who was the referee secretary for that league. So, to get a cup final and receive referee of the year, it was a fantastic period of my life.
Michelle is also a user of our official partners, REFSIX, and believes the new technology makes her job a lot easier.
“REFSIX is absolutely fantastic it is so helpful because people can send their team sheets to you and you download it straight to your watch and off you go.
“It’s a brilliant app to have for any referee. It logs everything and keeps names there if you do that team again and it’s just so helpful.
“It’s such a weight off your shoulders. I thought at first, being part of the older generation, that I couldn’t go from a book to a watch but the first time I did it was great, and I’ve never looked back.”