Wendy Toms, who already runs the line at Premiership level, has been designated to referee the Nationwide Conference match between Kidderminster Harriers and Nuneaton Borough on 13 September. Toms, an office manager for a parcel delivery firm in Poole, will be assisted on the flags by Jamie Frampton, also from Dorset, and Amy Rayner, of Stafford. The fourth official, who has not yet been named,will also be a woman.
The respective managers, Jan Molby and Brendan Phillips, welcomed their appointment. Molby, the former Liverpool and Denmark midfielder in his first season with Kidderminster, recalled last night that Toms had enjoyed "a decent game" as a "linesman" in a match as Swansea when he was managing the Welsh club.
"She is a very good referee and well respected in the game," Molby said. "I've got no problem with being allocated three women officials, provided it's not a publicity stunt and that they are there on merit - which Wendy Toms is.
"But it's still going to be a strange experience. Football is such a male pursuit, such a macho thing. But all of a sudden we'll have three women running a match. I'm not sure what the players and fans will make of it."
Phillips, who became the Conference's first black manager when he was with Stafford Rangers, looks forward to being involved in "another piece of history". He said: "My own appointment was hailed as ground-breaking - I remember I had all the press coming on to me - but I felt I'd got there because I deserved to. I'm sure it's the same for these ladies.
"There will be pressure on them on the night because of the media interest it's bound too generate. Male refs get plenty of stick, but I don't think these three will get much abuse. If they do, I hope it's their performance people comment on, rather than the fact that they are women."
John Moules, chief executive of the Conference and a former referee, has no qualms about breaking the mould. "They are the three highest-placed ladies in the refereeing system in this country. As well as working in the Premiership, Wendy has been refereeing in our league for three years. She's also on [the world football governing body] Fifa's list for women's internationals and is probably the top female referee in the world right now."
Phillips said he believed that the appointment had a wider significance. "This move is important because of the upsurge in women's interest in football," the Nuneaton manager said. "We should be trying to encourage that enthusiasm, not putting barriers in the way."
Molby said he felt the decision reflected a change in attitudes since he first arrived in England. He said: "Things have moved on. When I was in Denmark, women's football was a big thing - my sister used to play - so I was brought up to accept that women could be in football. Why not?"
Whether there has been any mellowing in the unashamedly sexist stance of that high- profile manager of 10 years ago remains to be seen. But as a resident of Worcestershire whose "missus" must be used to his being "at the match", Ron Atkinson might be tempted to nip over to Kidderminster to see for himself.Reuse content