Referee Spotlight: Lisa Benn

WSL Referee talks proud moments, FIFA appointment and more…

In our latest Referee Spotlight, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to our very own employee, Lisa Benn, who has recently been appointed as a FIFA referee.  

“I was so focused on the game that when someone sent me photos after the game I was like, 'Oh wow, I've just refereed at Old Trafford!'”  

Lisa, who works with us as an Operations Officer, is a Women’s Super League (WSL) referee, a recently appointed FIFA referee, but she’s as modest as they come when discussing her achievements.  

Growing up in Sussex, Lisa was actively involved in a variety of sports. Lisa was encouraged through friends at Polegate Grasshoppers to take the course. It was refereeing where she found her niche, completing a course with a friend as a youngster. 

“Me and a friend took the course at 14, and it was the old course which you did for eight weeks in a classroom at the University of Brighton in Eastbourne.”

“I started out refereeing down at the pitches by Eastbourne General Hospital doing Old Town Boys' games. Usually, three games on a Sunday and then found I was enjoying it and doing more and more. 

“I progressed through the ages getting really good feedback, and actually some of the players were starting to build a relationship with me as well.  

“I had Roy Cheshire deliver the course, as well as Dave Jackson, and obviously he led on development groups as we progressed through. I have been supported on that by the likes of Ashley Slaughter, Paul Saunders, Gary Willard, Tim Robinson, all the names you've probably heard before and are well known to Sussex” 

Lisa had no qualms about taking up the whistle and speaks of how she managed and continues to manage games.  

“I loved the buzz of refereeing and when the game finished at the end of 90 minutes. I loved the idea of every game being different and never quite knowing what the game is going to present.  

“I was very naïve! I just thought oh yeah I'll give that a go and there I was in the middle of a football pitch. My dad was my taxi ferrying me round games and meetings, and he was always on the side of the pitch supporting me.  

“That said, he was definitely my biggest critic, he'd often say, 'I thought you were a bit soft today!' He'd ask me why I made certain decisions and then I'd educate him. 

“I think refereeing a game of football is managing an event and managing players. You go out with the best intentions to see that game to a successful conclusion. “ 

“You're dealing with 22 individuals that all have different personalities, different emotions, and it's down to how you manage and interact with them.”  

It’s fair to say Lisa took to refereeing very well and quickly became fascinated with progressing through the ranks. She tells us of her experience in the change of levels.  

“I went through the promotion scheme whilst refereeing on the East Sussex League at Eastbourne Sports Park. I refereed my first men's game, the pitch was boggy, on a slope and if I'm honest it was my worst nightmare! 

“I had some great support from people around me and took a step back to under-18s before going back. We all have those games that don't go to plan and that was definitely one of them. 

“I progressed through the levels though from there, went from Level 7 all the way to Level 4, stayed at Level 4 operating on the Southern Combination Football League (SCFL) for many years, and enjoyed some of the grounds there! 

“Refereeing adult football is a completely different concept to refereeing youth football. Youth football, the challenges are generally the parents on the side of the pitch, you manage the event and the people, but they are your biggest challenge. “ 

“As you referee and progress up to adult football I think the adults become more of the challenge than the spectators. Typically, what I said before about the different personalities, you need to manage the different emotions.“ 

“In terms of how I do that, I refer to it as housekeeping. It's making sure the throw-ins are in the right place, inputting your authority and letting the players know you won't be spoken to disrespectfully.” 

Lisa Benn Arundel
“I think refereeing a game of football is managing an event and managing players. You go out with the best intentions to see that game to a successful conclusion." 

Once Lisa joined the promotion scheme, she went from strength to strength and tells us of her development running the line.  

“As soon as I was on the promotion scheme, all I wanted was to get to the next level and keep progressing. I wanted to go from running the line on the SCFL, to being in the middle and to go from Division One, to being in the Premier Division. I was always on the line watching the referee seeing what I could do better or even what they could do better.  

“I did a lot of refereeing also down at the Brighton & Hove Albion Academy and refereeing academy football really helps. The environment is supportive and the help from mentors and observers helped me learn my trade.” 

“I enjoyed it on the line but Peacehaven was always very cold on the top of the hill! I didn't mind it, but I think it's a totally different skill set to run the line. 

“I think people naively give you a flag and expect you to do it. You’re there to make very specific decisions whereas refereeing can be a bit more interpretation.”  

Lisa started to notice big differences once she reached Level 4 and found herself in a far more competitive environment.  

“I think once I was on Level 4 and venturing out of county and you see the bigger crowds and you see a more semi-professional setup, turning up to games two hours before kick-off.  

“The boxing day fixtures you have the local derby games, so it became a bit of a lifestyle change in terms of priorities as I progressed forward.  

“My priority had to become training and fitness, which I had to, and continue to, work hard at. You need to be fitter than the players because if there's a box-to-box sprint, there's no excuse for you not giving a penalty because you weren't fit enough.  

“So, for me, fitness is a priority but then you have everything else to manage around that, fixtures, travel, work life, home life balances, but you have to make sacrifices when you get to a certain level.”  

Whilst Lisa believes she has been lucky not to be involved in many tough situations on the pitch, she also notes a fantastic support network she has around her.  

“The one thing I can look back on is the good support I've had around me. Everyone has that one game that hasn't gone particularly well but it's having that network around you, people you can pick up the phone to. 

“ At an early stage I joined Eastbourne Referees' Association; we'd meet once a month at the Railway Club going through match scenarios. It was nice to have a collective group of individuals with different experiences.  

“I'd pick up the phone to Paul Saunders many a time, showing him clips and asking what he thinks. There's always that discussion about what you can do better.” 

“Behind one referee, is undoubtedly a great number of people that want you to do well and succeed. Everyone typically jumps on what you've done well, but you need that small handful to just say what you can improve on and give you that reality check.  

“Luckily I don't think I've had a game with one specific incident that was a challenge. I can look back on games and think, yeah that was a tough game, but I learnt this from it, or I learnt that from it.  

“I remember my first red card; I think everyone remembers their first red card. It was a very unnecessary challenge, but the manager did not react well to me sending him off, however, only did I later find out it was his son.” 

Lisa Benn first all female official team
Lisa made history when she was part of the first all-female officiating team in Sussex in 2013.

Lisa today operates as a referee on the WSL and says, “the growth of the women’s game is amazing,” and she has been lucky enough to grow with it.  

“I only recently made the decision to go solely down the refereeing route rather than as an assistant referee, which gave me more of a focus with training and development.” 

“As a Level 3 I was refereeing the Women's Championship then my first Super League game was Bristol City vs. Chelsea in I think 2018. It went really well, there was a comment over a potential penalty, but I was happy with my decision and on review that was supported. 

“I remember it well that game and was a tad nervous before! But actually, I think sometimes that's good. Whatever level of game it is, fundamentally it's always the same. 

“Whether you're out on a pitch on your own with one person watching or a stadium with lots of people, it's fundamentally the same, you're just managing a bigger event.  

“I also refereed the first women's game at Old Trafford. I got the phone call to say I'd be doing it and I was buzzing. I was so focused on the game that when someone sent me photos after the game I was like, 'Oh wow I've just refereed at Old Trafford!'”  

One thing we were keen to talk to Lisa about was the absence of fans, which was a big talking point amongst refereeing decisions. 

“I refereed at Tottenham with fans back and I gave a corner which was the most blatant corner ever and I was getting booed! It was so strange because I'd got so used to the crowd not being there.” 

“I think with no fans you hear a lot more what's said between the players and the conversations we have as well. We had to remind ourselves that they weren't training games.” 

“Welcoming crowds back was great, but before we were just so used to them being a blur in the background, but after not having them for so long, you really heard that noise when the returned, but that’s what makes football.” 

“I didn't have problems in terms of players trying to get an influence over decisions. You just have to manage those situations correctly. If those players know they can try it on and know they can get away with it, it's my job to shut that down.” 

Lisa Benn OT 1
Lisa lists her game at Old Trafford as a highlight and milestone for women's football.

The big news came for Lisa this year when she was promoted to the official FIFA list of match officials. She joins Harry Leonard as our two Sussex representatives, and she couldn’t be happier.  

“It was a hell of a surprise! I had absolutely no idea it was happening. I got a phone call from David Elleray, and I missed his call, which was quite ironic. Probably not the best call to miss!” 

“The Professional Game Match Officials Women’s Football Director Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb shared the news with me that I was nominated and accepted. Because our pool of FIFA referees was full, I didn't know we could have another one, so it was a huge surprise. 

“I've been confident my WSL performances have been good. I go into every game wanting to do my best and for that to be recognised is great.  

“I suppose it's the next challenge for me now to referee on the international stage. There are categories, and just like your promotions at a local level, you're observed on every game, your performances are analysed with feedback.  

“I'll be doing general international matches, tournaments, Champions League games, so it opens up that next step for me in terms of games, responsibilities and best of all, fitness tests! 

“I've had experience already working with colleagues of different countries previously and again, we all do things slightly different, like processes and terminologies.  

“The way we approach games can be different, so for us to come together as officials from different countries may present challenges that I need to overcome.” 

Lisa spoke before about her support network she’s had, but there’s also individuals that she’s been able to take inspiration from. 

“There are people out there that all have different qualities. I can watch a Level 6 referee and like how they speak to players and I can watch a Premier League referee and admire their body language. We can all learn from each other, whatever level they are at.” 

“I think Rebecca Welch has done incredibly well in terms of trailblazing and going through FA Cup games and getting on to the Football League, she's breaking so many barriers. 

“Sian Massey-Ellis is an inspiration on the Premier League and with her continued international achievements.”  

Lisa lists her proudest moment as officiating The Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley and something she says she “never envisaged.” One of her biggest experiences though was the Dallas Cup in America. 

“I went to the Dallas Cup as a Level 4, it's an international tournament which the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and The FA send 10 individuals every year. I refereed that in 2015 and that was my first insight into international refereeing.   

“Anything from Manchester United to Barcelona play in it. Rob Jones and Peter Bankes who I went out with are now Premier League referees.  

“We had training and fitness advice while I was out there, which I was then able to take away and implement into my games, even learning how to run backwards!” 

Lisa Wembley Walkout
Another proud moment for Lisa, walking out at Wembley for the Women's FA Cup Final.

Lisa is a remarkably grounded character and you almost have to remind her of her achievements rather than herself reeling them off. From the parks of Eastbourne, she is now an internationally recognised referee.  

Lastly, she offered advice to other females looking to get into refereeing: “I think we need to give other women and girls the confidence to give refereeing a go. One bit of advice would be to trust yourself, trust your judgement and believe in yourself. There's so much support out there. 

“Taking that first step on a course or training may lead you onto bigger and better things. I didn't realise what I would be able to achieve when I took that course at 14.” 

For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact: 

T: 01903 768573 

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