As part of our female football focus month, we’re speaking to women and girls across the game in Manchester. 22-year-old Leoni Harland, from Chadderton, is former player, who took up refereeing after an ACL injury. We spoke to Leoni to learn more about her experience as a female referee.
How did you get into refereeing?
I got into refereeing after having a really bad injury through playing football which kept me out of playing for 2 years. This was due to me experiencing a complete rupture of my ACL in my knee. After being out for 2 years I decided I wanted to stay involved in the game in some way so I decided to go on a referee course so that I was still involved in football.
What do you enjoy most about refereeing?
I think it’s interesting to see the game from a different perspective, as I have played the game for so long it has been interesting to watch games from a referee’s view. It hasn’t been an easy journey over the last 2 years but the challenge of each game gives me a real excitement, no game is the same! I have enjoyed meeting lots of great people and being able to work with a wide variety of other referees of all different levels in the game! I have enjoyed the opportunities it has opened up to me, things that I never even imagined when I first started refereeing, and the possibilities for me in the future look extremely bright!
How often do you referee and what level of games do you referee?
I usually referee every weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I also keep my week nights open, so often receive appointments for evening games. My weekend games are usually at the academies around Greater Manchester, these consist of Manchester United, Manchester City, Bury and Rochdale. The level of football at the academies is extremely high and it’s vital to be on you’re a-game at all times.
My adult football appointments usually come from the greater Manchester women’s league and these take place on Sunday afternoons.
What are the biggest challenges that females face in referee?
The biggest challenge that females face in refereeing is old-fashioned stereotypes. However, over recent years the FA has put a huge focus on females in football and this had reduced the stereotype somewhat. The biggest challenge I faced when first starting out reffing was opportunities, the opportunities to progress seemed very limited at the start of my referee journey.
How have you seen female refereeing grow and changes since you started?
Refereeing has grown massively since I first started 2 years ago and the opportunities have grown. There has recently been a national female referee event held at St. George’s Park, which helped to inspire the next generation of female referees from all over the country.
I also think the standard of female refereeing has massively changed since I first started, the profile of top flight female referees such as Sian Massey-Ellis, Rebecca Welch and Helen Byrne has become more prominent in the game and this now provides role models for aspiring referees.
What kind of support do you get from Manchester FA?
I believe the support from Manchester FA has been a huge driving force in my refereeing journey thus far. Their support over the last 2 years has been second to none and they have given me huge amounts of opportunities and opened up lots of doors for me to progress. Without these opportunities I don’t know where I would be in terms of my journey up the refereeing ladder, so I can’t thank the Manchester FA enough!
What are you most proud of in your refereeing career so far?
I have recently been appointed to the Women’s County Cup final, which is my proudest moment so far in refereeing! This was a huge appointment for me and one which I had worked hard for over the season, so to be recognised and rewarded for my efforts was very pleasing!
However, I am just proud of how far I have come in such a short period of time and I hope things to continue this way with all the upcoming opportunities for me.
What are your hopes for your future in refereeing?
My ultimate dream would be to referee at the highest possible level, with a World Cup match being the pinnacle. For now though I am just looking forward to improving myself as a referee and continuing my journey up the ladder and becoming as successful as possible.
You have to dream big because the only person who’s stopping you is yourself!