FEMALE refereeing in the area is starting to flourish thanks to a joint initiative involving Gloucestershire FA and near-neighbours Somerset FA.

Twenty-three enthusiastic young officials aged between 14 and 18 gathered for a recent three-day introductory course under the supervision of level 3 FA Women’s Super League referee Stacey Pearson and her Somerset associate Megan Buller, a qualified FA affiliate tutor in the same county.

Merchants’ Academy in Withywood, Bristol, and the GFA’s Almondsbury centre, were used as training bases for the girls to learn the basics of officiating and to put their new-found skills to active use running the rule over matches between Gloucestershire and Somerset’s advanced coaching centre squads.

GFA referee development officer Roger Vaughan said the course, which was funded by the FA’s national female refereeing manager Joanna Stimpson, had been an “important move” towards addressing the shortage of female match officials across both counties.

“It’s the first time we’d worked with our colleagues in Somerset on something like this purely for officials,” he said.

“Our female football development officer Alexis Lunn-Gadd and I have been working with the Bristol Girls League who, like a lot of women’s and girls’ leagues, have never had a proper refereeing officer and only two or three qualified female refs in operation, which is a similar figure to the Somerset Girls League.

“In fact it says it all that we in Gloucestershire have 700 qualified refs, only 20 of whom are female while half of those are aged under 18, so there’s limited experience in that group.

“Among those are Kate Wiggan, who was promoted to level 5 this year and is one of few who can take charge of male and female games. There’s also Mandy Kerfoot and Jade Wardle, another upcoming referee, who can oversee male and female games.

“The good news is things are starting to move forward nicely for both counties and as far as the Bristol Girls League are concerned they now have a referee appointments officer in Kevin Little who is establishing an organised pool of female referees.

“Somerset Girls League are in a similar boat; in need of female officials and working towards an appointments officer of their own.

“Beforehand it was a case of clubs having to find and provide their own refs for games so it’s a big step forward.”

Roger explained: “The course was driven by us at the GFA with the backing of the FA through funding and marketing means.

“It was a standard referee course which affords the participants opportunity to referee anywhere; those under 16 on the youth scene and others over 16 as level 7 refs.

“We marketed the course through social media and websites and promoted it through leagues as well and most of those involved were from the Bristol Girls and Somerset Girls leagues.

“We were easily able to fill the course and all who took part did so with a lot of enthusiasm. In fact the majority went to watch Stacey referee a Super League game between Bristol City Women and Birmingham City Ladies at the SGS College in Stoke Gifford.

“The 23 who took part represented pretty much a 50/50 split between Gloucestershire and Somerset so it increased our own Glos female numbers by some 60 per cent. The good thing too is they all have the opportunity to continue playing when they’re not officiating.

“The idea now is to look to put on another course at some stage in the months to come, while Kate and Jade will get involved in the all-important mentoring of newly-qualified officials.

“The FA is looking to double the number of girls playing football so it’s going to be even more crucial that more opportunities like these are available for would-be female officials.”