History making female referee Rebecca Welch awarded honorary fellowship by University of Sunderland

Washington referee Rebecca Welch, who became the first female official to take charge of a Football League game, is celebrating another accolade after being awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the city’s university.

The award comes six months after the 37-year-old was invited to take charge of the English Football League (EFL) Two clash between Harrogate Town and Port Vale - a historic decision that will hopefully pave the way for more women to officiate in the professional game.

Rebecca spent much of her childhood playing football with friends on the streets of her home town but was disappointed not to play competitively at school “as there was no girls football team”.

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However after leaving school, Rebecca began playing for local women’s teams and it was during one match that she was challenged to take up a referee training programme.

Rebecca Welch, the first woman to take charge of an English Football League match, alongside University of Sunderland Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell. Picture: DAVID WOOD
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It was a challenge she accepted and in 2010 Rebecca qualified as a referee and embarked on a trailblazing journey that would change the face of football forever.

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Despite entering what for decades had been viewed as a male dominated sport, Rebecca believes being a woman has actually helped rather than hindered her career.

She said: “No, being a female referee has never really been a problem. In reality, if anything, I was probably treated with a little more respect by the players because I was a female ref.

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“For me, being a female referee has never been problematical. No one has ever voiced dissension directly towards me. The feedback has all been positive and the social media trolls have kept away.”

Following the awards ceremony, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, Sir David Bell, said: “Rebecca has helped blaze a trail for women referees in a way that will be remembered for generations to come.

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“Here at the University of Sunderland, we take pride in celebrating academic success. But we also take pride in acknowledging and honouring life-changing, society-shaping success – the kind of success Rebecca epitomises.”

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Despite the international headlines which accompanied her appearance in the EFL she remains hopeful but philosophical about the possibility making further history and one day taking charge of a Premier League game.

She said: “Would I like to one day referee a Premier League game? If it happens, it happens.”

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