Riots, fouls but fewer foul words; Val Andrews Referee

Control of the game - at boardroom and touchline level -is no longer the preserve of men. In part two of our series, Phil Shaw meets a determined chairman while Adam Szreter talks to one member of a card- carrying elite
Click to follow
At a time when referees are being scrutinised more microscopically and criticised more heavily than ever before, perhaps it is no surprise to find so few women involved in officiating at any level: as men are constantly reminded, women generally have more sense, and this must be proof.

But for some, the love of football can lead to temptation and for Val Andrews it proved too much to resist. Having followed her local club, Wimbledon, with her father and brother, she began playing at 16. By the age of 20 she was a qualified referee and in 1988 she became a Class 1 official and only the second woman to join the list of the Isthmian League, one step down from the Vauxhall Conference.

Now 35, she kept playing until two years ago, when she also stopped running the line in the Isthmian League. Being in charge of a decorating business, serving as secretary of her local referees' society and as an examiner eventually took priority, although she still officiates in lower leagues.

"I enjoyed the five years I was on at that level," she says. As you might expect, she still has vivid memories of her first game in charge. "It was the week I qualified. I was thrown in at the deep end on a Wimbledon District Premier game when the referee didn't turn up. It was my brother's team. Everything, I thought, was going fairly well up until about two or three minutes to go when there was a mass riot. Thankfully I managed to sort it out.

"When I first started it was a question of being accepted by the players as someone who knew what they were doing. There are some players who are quite happy to shut up and get on with it, and there are others who are not going to take it from a woman. I got comments like, `I'm not going to take that from my wife, so I'm not going to take it from you.' You deal with it either with common sense or you use the letter of the law.

"Once or twice I've had a bit of abuse from spectators whilst lining, but you tend to switch off. I went to one ground where it was totally over the top but it only happens now and then, thank goodness.

"It's a question of making people believe that you're capable of doing the job as well as men. There are still those of the old school who have been in football a number of years who just can't accept it. It's because of the way they've been brought up.

I don't think we're any better than men, but we can be on an equal par."

Advantages, there are a few, but then again... "Possibly you get a little less back chat from players, you get the language curbed, from what I can gather. You get players apologising for swearing sometimes. I don't think that's a bad thing for the game. And you get some people who might not give you certain hassle that they would give a man.

"But I think it's going to remain a minority thing for women. It's much easier for men to get into than women. They haven't got children at home to look after, possibly, or are in the process of having children. I can't see there suddenly being a mass influx of female officials."