Rebecca Welch will become the first woman to referee a Premier League match when she officiates Fulham vs Burnley on Saturday afternoon.
Welch has long been a trailblazer in men’s football, having become the first woman to be appointed to referee an EFL match in April 2021 and the first to take charge of a men’s FA Cup fixture in January 2022.
Welch was also appointed as the fourth official for Manchester United’s 1-0 win at Fulham in November – the first woman to carry out the role in the Premier League.
The 40-year-old has also previously refereed in the National League, while she regularly officiates in the WSL and appeared at the Women’s World Cup earlier this year.
Under Howard Webb, the PGMOL – the body that oversees Premier League match officials – has sought to increase diversity.
Sam Allison will also become the first Black official to referee a Premier League game since Uriah Rennie in 2008 when he takes charge of Sheffield United vs Luton on Boxing Day.
In January, Bhupinder Singh Gill became the first Sikh-Punjabi to officiate in the Premier League when he was appointed as an assistant referee for Nottingham Forest’s trip to Southampton.
The FA has also pledged to increase diversity among officials and hopes to recruit 1,000 new referees from diverse backgrounds in the next three years.
Welch’s pathway to the top
Wendy Toms became the first woman to be an assistant referee in the top flight in 1997 before being joined by Amy Fearn, Sian Massey-Ellis and Natalie Aspinall.
The pathway for a referee is different and Welch, 39, made history in January by becoming the first female to take charge of a Championship fixture.
Welch was then selected to referee at the Women’s World Cup where she was appointed to three matches including the last-16 tie between co-hosts Australia and Denmark.
Welch took charge of the Women’s FA Cup final in 2017 and 2020 and was promoted to UEFA’s elite category of female referees that year when she left her job as an administrator in the National Health Service.
In 2021, she became the first female to referee a professional game in England between Port Vale and Harrogate Town in League Two.
Webb: This shows pathway is working
Webb expressed his excitement at Welch and Allison’s promotions, telling Sky Sports in an exclusive interview: “I’m excited to see the appointment of Rebecca Welch to her first Premier League referee’s appointment and, on Boxing Day, we’ll see Sam Allison taking charge of his first game.
“They’re both part of the PGMOL’s development group. It’s an initiative tied into the elite referee development plan, which has been in place for a couple of years now to fast-track talented officials to the pathway.
“We’ve already seen three officials from that group take charge of their first Premier League games.
“Now we have number four and five. It shows the value of the work happening in that space is really evident.
“We’ve not seen a female take charge of a Premier League game ever before so it is significant. Then Sam being the first Black official since Uriah Rennie – an ex-colleague of mine – [which is] down to the quality of his performances in recent weeks in the Football League and the Championship. Both appointments are well deserved.
“But of course, it also shows them as role models. It demonstrates that people can make it through the pathway.
“They’re both from groups that are not traditionally represented in the Premier League officiating cohort and hopefully it might inspire other people to give it a go.”
Allison is a former professional footballer, having played for Swindon, Bristol City, Bournemouth and Exeter before moving into non-League.
“Clearly that’s given him an insight into the game, which is a little bit different if you haven’t played,” said Webb. “It also speaks to some of the work we’re doing to entice more players into refereeing.
“I said when I first came into this role that I’d love to see more ex-players take up officiating. We’re working closely with the PFA to formulate a real plan that we think will be appealing for players coming to the end of their careers, or maybe players who have suffered an injury or been released at an early age.
“We are determined to make this happen. Sam is an example of how that can work.”