A huge Premier League officiating barrier will soon be broken as rapid riser Rebecca Welch becomes the first female referee in the English top flight, taking charge of the match between Fulham and Burnley on December 23.
The assignment comes just weeks after Welch became the first female official ever to work a Premier League match, serving as the fourth official for Fulham’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester United at Craven Cottage on November 4.
Depending on her performance, Welch could be set for future assignments down the road as well as the league’s officiating body looks to overhaul its referee selection. A veteran of the Women’s Super League and Women’s World Cup, Welch has shot up the men’s ranks over the past two years, marking a number of firsts in the process.
Having only just begun officiating games in the Championship earlier this year, she will now have a clear window to work top flight matches as the league hopes to improve its refereeing record which has faced significant criticism this season.
Who is female Premier League official Rebecca Welch?
39-year-old Rebecca Welch began officiating matches in 2010, working her way up the ranks in both the men’s and women’s games.
Welch has officiated games in the Women’s Super League for years, assigned to take charge of the 2017 and 2020 Women’s FA Cup final, and was chosen to work three matches in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, including a Round of 16 match between Australia and Denmark.
However, it’s her rise up the ranks in the men’s game which has put Welch in headlines around the globe, breaking multiple barriers each time she moves up a level. She became the first woman assigned to officiate* a Football League match in April of 2021, and has become highly rated and highly experienced in the months since.
*(Welch was the first woman assigned to officiate a football league match, but was not the first female to officiate a game in any capacity. That distinction falls to Amy Fearn, who came on to officiate the final 20 minutes of a match in 2010 after the main official suffered an injury)
For the 2021/22 season, Welch was assigned matches in League One and League Two, and in January of 2022 became the first woman to officiate an FA Cup match as she took charge of a third round tie between Birmingham City and Plymouth Argyle.
Welch made her Championship debut this past January, and yep, you guessed it, she was the first woman to do so. She became the first female official to work a Premier League match with her assignment as fourth official for Manchester United’s 1-0 win at Fulham on November 4, with John Brooks the match’s lead official.
Now, Welch becomes the first female head official ever in the Premier League, again breaking barriers at Craven Cottage as she takes charge of Fulham vs. Burnley on December 23. Given PGMOL’s determination to reward up-and-coming officials regardless of experience, there could be more top flight assignments in Welch’s future should she continue to put forth a promising record.
Aren’t there already female referees in the Premier League?
Rebecca Welch will become the first female official in the Premier League. Many people will understandably be confused by this, as there have been women amongst EPL refereeing crews for some time now.
However, there has never been a female official in the Premier League before, and that’s an important distinction.
There have been female assistant referees in the Premier League since 1997, when Wendy Toms became the first. However, officials and assistant referees are two completely separate jobs, and if one were to switch between the two, they would have to start at the bottom of the football pyramid and work their way back up.
Welch herself was faced with this decision in 2017, offered promotion to the Football League as an assistant referee, but instead choosing to remain on the path of a head official.
PGMOL reportedly refreshing Premier League referee pool
Rebecca Welch’s promotion to the Premier League is reportedly part of a wider effort by the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) to bring along new referees into the English top flight.
According to ESPN’s football officiating expert Dale Johnson, Welch is just one of “a number of highly rated up-and-coming referees” who will be “fast-tracked” to the Premier League. This is an effort by PGMOL “to refresh the pool,” which is implied to be a response to the significant increase in officiating errors this season.
Other officials being brought along recently include Tim Robinson and Darren Bond, who were promoted to the Select Group 1 to officiate Premier League games at the start of this current campaign. Robinson made his Premier League debut in 2019, but Bond officiated his first top flight match earlier this calendar year.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old Josh Smith also made his top-flight debut during last season, and has taken charge of matches this year as well.