SMO met with the East Riding’s up and coming female official, Georgia Begbie. We asked her everything from where it all started to her opinion on sexism in sport. Enjoy!
How did you get into refereeing? and why did you want to?
I was just turning 15 at the time, I used to play lots of football, mainly at school, but I suffered from quite a number of injuries, mainly from flying into tackles, so I stopped playing.
I soon realised I was missing it, so wanted to think of a way of getting back into it, in some other way.
At the time, my mum followed my little brothers football team, I went down to watch one week and one of the referee’s stated the East Riding were on the look out for new officials. And it started from there. I started thinking about how I’d be in charge of the game, and I quite liked that feeling. I applied for the 3 day course and really enjoyed it. I felt a little funny about making the jump, but I was still really interested.
You think you know about football until you sit down and do the course, you’re looking at the laws thinking, I didn’t know all of this!
Once we’d done the exams, we started our 6 full 11-a-side games, I turned up with my pink water bottle, absolutely freezing, thinking what am I doing here? What do I do at the beginning? With all this stuff running through my head and my family watching, It was quite daunting introducing myself.
At the start the guys were ok, but they soon started saying what they thought; But, I got through it!
What do you enjoy about being a referee? And why do you think you suit the role?
Being the Boss! ha
I just love the whole atmosphere! I love football in itself, I love encouraging the younger players, talking to them during the game, to do well and enjoy their football.
I loved going to Spain recently to referee a world tournament, they announce your names before the game, it’s really professional. We referee’d about 4 games per day, of about 20 minutes per game in the heat, it was tough, but I really enjoyed it. Each day we woke up and the plan of the day for officials were given to us and on the morning of the final I was handed a piece of paper and it said I was in the middle for the final – I couldn’t believe it, I was a nervous wreck! They announce your name before the game, then we do our usual routine, then off we went; I remember the first whistle, and then after that it was just a blank! But I really enjoyed it.
In terms of why I suit being an official, you’ve got to have a lot of patience, and I think I’m like that. I’ve had people that talk down to me and try to belittle me, but I try to handle it in the right way, I don’t think arguing is right, if they’re angry, I try to have a bit of banter to try and calm the situation.
What are your ambitions and dreams in refereeing?
I want to go to the top! There are no women in the premier league and that needs to change in the near future. I’ve just been promoted this season to level 5, I did get asked to go to my level 4, but with the increase in so many things, I thought that one level of the game itself would be enough. I’m 19, so I think I’ve got a little bit of time to get it right. I’ll be refereeing a good standard in Hull and I’m really looking forward to it.
It’ll be nice to have assistants with me. I can really concentrate on positions, to ensure I can always see everything and cover the pitch properly.
I don’t mind being on the line, but I always prefer to be the in the middle, I like to take control of the game myself and know that the players are fully under control.
What were people’s attitudes towards you refereeing to begin with?
At the beginning you’d hear people say “oh we’ve got a girl referee”, sometimes in the background, but sometimes quite loud so I could hear it, I gelt it was a bit belittling, but I have the confidence to approach them and say “look, yes I am a female official, but you’ve not seen me referee before, so please give me a chance”. I always ensured I did my pre match chat with each team and I always say, please treat me as a referee and treat me with respect, the same I treat you. I’m not afraid of showing cards, but I’d rather not.
I feel as though it’s best to control that from the beginning, if I say what I need to say at the beginning I get less comments during the game.
Have attitudes changed?
For the ones that know me, I think it’s improved and it’s fantastic, there are teams that send really kind messages, saying great game and if I need anymore games, and that’s really nice to see. They ask if I’m free during pre-season friendlies which is also really nice.
But then I guess the teams I’m new too can be pretty tough.
People try and put it on me like they probably do all referees, but I’m quite good at being strong with them.
How do you feel about the way women’s football and referees are portrayed in the media?
Hmmm, I don’t think women get enough praise, I feel as though it’s too much about men’s football and women don’t get enough exposure. Especially at the higher levels. I think it should be equal.
Do you feel the media have a large part to play in the representation of women in football and sport?
Yes, there should be an equal playing field for both men and women. They should be promoted in the same way too.
There’s sometimes sexism in both ways, recently it was £50 for a women to take their referees course and it was still £100 for men. I understand they’re trying to get more women into refereeing, but if we’re going to ensure sexism isn’t in sport, it should work both ways.
Do you feel sexism is still prevalent in football?
Definitely, I got told in a recent semi final match by the assistant on the opposite side next to the dugouts, that there was a lot of sexist remarks. Sometimes I report it, but I have to deal with it in my own way. Sometimes I laugh it off, sometimes I give banter back, I have to treat it differently dependent on how the game is.
I remember having to give a decision against a home team recently, and I had 2 people running the line from each team for me, one being the secretary of the home team, because of the decision, he decided to throw my flag on the floor, and shouted “women can’t referee, all women should be banned” and so on. At the time, I’ve got a tough game on my hands, I don’t need stuff like that towards me making it even harder, so I decided his actions and words were worthy of a dismissal. Even after I dismissed him, he refused to move, so I stopped my watch, and said to him “I’m not restarting this match until you move” as I would for anyone. I then had to get the captains over, and explain the situation. So I said he either walks away, as per the laws, or I walk away and the game would be abandoned. The players then took the lead and ensured he moved.
What’s worse is, he was the guy paying me, so I had to go looking for him, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t the one in the wrong, so I went over to him. He wasn’t in the best of moods, but I approached him and said “whatever’s gone on in the game has gone on”, he passed me my money without even looking at me and said “I’m sorry for what’s gone on, I just got a little bit too irate” but this is where the disrespect sometimes comes in, I said why can’t you look at me when you’re speaking to me and he wouldn’t. That’s sometimes the disappointing bit.
If anything, what would you change about Football?
I’d like respect to be shown better to ALL officials, men and women, like rugby union.
We need to do more about how parents speak to officials in youth games too, I think it’s important to set an example to their children.
I think better changing facilities should be considered too. I’ve been asked to changed in tiny cupboards and toilets etc and it can be quite bad. There are some nice officials, that offer me the chance to go in first, but it needs to be addressed and sorted if they want to encourage more female officials in the game.