Who is Rebecca Welch? The referee set to make history on Easter Monday

The 37-year-old will make history this afternoon when she becomes the first woman to referee a game from the first whistle in the English Football League.
Referee Rebecca Welch.Referee Rebecca Welch.
Referee Rebecca Welch.

Rebecca Welch is set to write her name into the history books on Easter Monday when she takes charge of the League Two clash between Harrogate and Port Vale on Easter Monday from kick-off.

It continues a rise through the officiating ranks that began just 10 years ago for the Washington native.

We’ve taken a closer look at her path to the EFL:

How old was Rebecca Welch when she started refereeing?

Welch, who was born on December 1st 1983, played football from childhood but only took up the whistle at the age of 27 having been challenged to do so by a friend.

"I played football and didn't even think about refereeing until one of my really good friends, who is a referee, refereed us," she said in a recent interview. "I spent the whole game telling her how to do her job!

"Her response was, 'If you think it's that easy, give it a go'. That's how it happened and 10 years later here I am."

She qualified as an official through the Durham County FA and began refereeing in university football and in Sunday leagues in Sunderland.

She is now in the elite category of referees and is on FIFA's international list. In the women's game she has been involved in internationals, Champions League fixtures and Women's Super League matches. She hopes to earn selection for the panels at Euro 2022 and the 2023 World Cup.

She holds the rare honour of having refereed the Women's FA Cup final twice, first doing so in 2017 and then again last year. Normal Football Association rules would prevent this but an exception was made due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Has their been a female referee in the men’s game before?

In February 2010 Amy Fearn became the first woman to referee an EFL match when she took charge of the last 20 minutes of Coventry versus Nottingham Forest after an injury to an official.

Sian Massey was the first female official to feature in a Premier League match as an assistant in Sunderland’s game against Blackpool in 2010. However, Welch is the first female referee to be appointed to an EFL fixture.

She has previously refereed a men’s fixture in the National League.

How has she got her big break?

Welch has been selected following ongoing review of her performances this season, with Mike Riley (general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd) and Mike Jones (PGMOL national group director) approving her appointment.

“I’ve always said, through all my promotions, I want to be appointed because I am in the top 10 match officials on that list. I never want to be appointed based on anything else,” said Welch. “I’ve got faith in the system, and I’ve been rewarded.”

Where does she go from here?

Welch believes a female referee in the Premier League could still be 10 years away – a view echoed by Referees’ Association chairman Paul Field in December who reckons the change will not be made unless the current pace of progress is significantly accelerated.