Rebecca Welch came late to refereeing – but the English official has made up impressively for any time lost to take her place in the team of match officials at the UEFA Women’s EURO.
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Welch, 38, from Washington in the Tyne and Wear region of north-east England, is another member of the match officials’ community who turned from playing to refereeing – her main objective being to get better acquainted with the Laws of the Game.
“I became a referee quite late,” the former national health service administrator reflects.” I was 27 when I decided I wanted to be a referee. One of my really good friends was a referee, and she used to referee us at weekends. I wasn’t the best behaved as a player! I thought that if I trained to be a referee, I’d know a little bit more about the rules.”
“Then it just went from there. There was no big plan, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” Tonight, Welch enjoys another career highlight as the referee in the middle for the vital Group B encounter between Denmark and Spain at Brentford, having made her tournament debut at last week's France-Italy game in Rotherham.
Welch’s wise decision to change her football pathway has been a success. The 2017 and 2020 English Women’s FA Cup finals are included on her refereeing CV, and her qualities have also brought her appointments in the English men’s competitions.
In January this year, Welch was the first woman to take charge of an English FA Cup third-round game when Birmingham City took on Plymouth Argyle, and in 2021, she was the first female referee to be appointed to officiate at an English Football League match. Following regular duty in the English Women’s Super League, Welch was promoted to the UEFA elite list of referees at the end of 2020. She describes her selection for the Women’s EURO team as ‘huge”.
“Any Women’s EURO is massive,” she says. “Having it in my home country England is that little bit more special. This was something that I’ve been wanting to do ever since I found out it was in England. I got on the international list, and I think that’s always a step that you look for as a referee, to represent your country at a tournament.”
When Welch watches football, does she view it through the eyes of a former player or a current referee? “I always watch any game from a referee’s point of view,” she emphasises. “I definitely see it more through a referee’s lens because that’s my job, that’s my passion, that’s my involvement in the game.”
People behind the whistle
She expresses that passion through her refereeing. “I think I definitely like to let the game flow,” Welch says. “I don’t like to stop and start. I think it’s also important to have a personality at the right time. Players need to see us not as robots, but that we are people behind the uniform and the whistle.”.
“I think, now, players appreciate that more, and it really suits my style of refereeing. Gone are the days where we’re just disciplining everything and not trying to talk to players.”
Welch is relishing working together at the EURO with referees who she considers as friends. “Yes, 100%,” she agrees. “The group is brilliant. We’re all from different parts of Europe, but we’re one team. We’re used to being together. We want everybody to do well.”
There is one special dream among Rebecca Welch’s various targets for her refereeing future. “I would love to referee in the [English] Premier League,” she says. “I’m on track for my goals at the minute. In the next couple of years, with a lot of hard work, we’ll see what happens…”