Last Saturday, Sian Massie-Ellis became the first woman referee to be a match official at an FA Cup Final.
However she was not seen by the 20,000 fans at Wembley when Chelsea played Leicester, because she was some way away at Stockley Park, as part of the VAR team.
She first came to the notice of football fans more than 10 years ago, when at her first Premier League game, two television pundits were sacked for making sexist remarks about her appointment.
She had worked her way through the various levels to become a Conference referee, but determined to reach the top, she felt it was important to be realistic.
Referees progress, by running the line on a league one above, where they referee. She was pushing 30 and realised it would take a few more years to reach the Premier League as a referee, so she decided to become a specialist assistant referee and she has been special.
“It was a difficult choice, but I love being on the line,” she said.
Don’t think however, that running the line is an easy option. The fitness speed test for instance, is faster for assistant referees than for referees. It also took her a supreme effort to get back to full fitness after giving birth.
I’m sure she would have lined up at a Cup Final if assistant referees were still chosen separately.
Years ago, referees got the job, although they often hadn’t run the line for years. Nowadays, top level referees and assistants work in teams, so assistants get appointments along with their referee.
The 2010 World Cup Final, was refereed by Howard Webb, supported by his regular brilliant assistant referees, Darren Cann and Michael Mullarky.
Different from the 2002 World Cup Finals when Phil Sharp , at that time England’s premier assistant referee, supported referee Pierluigi Collina of Italy along with Sweden’s Leif Lingberg. This year’s FA cup officials were Michael Oliver and his team.
When Sian raised her flag too soon recently, a colleague said, ‘I’m glad she made a mistake, it shows she’s human”. Not a criticism but the highest praise.
By Dick Sawdon Smith