Welsh Referee and Football Association of Wales’ (FAW) first ever Women’s Referee Development Officer Ceri Williams has shared and reflected on her career so far.
Williams, aged 28, began refereeing in Swansea as a teenager and worked her way through Welsh grassroots football before choosing the Assistant Referee’s pathway.
Speaking to the FAW, Williams said, “I started refereeing when I was 14, across the junior leagues in Swansea. I worked my way up through junior and senior football and then onto the Genero Adran Leagues. I was lucky enough to get promoted onto the JD Cymru Premier in the 2021 season after getting my FIFA badge in 2019 just prior to that.
“When I first started, I was both refereeing and assistant refereeing and I very quickly learnt that I was significantly better on the line, and I think because of that I felt a lot more comfortable there. They’re such different skill sets, and different attributes are needed.”
Since becoming an International match official, Williams appeared in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarter Final between Wolfsburg vs PSG and became the first Welsh woman to have officiated on a UEFA men’s competition when Celtic took on Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League last season. Most recently Williams officiated in the UEFA Women’s U19 European Championship Final.
Speaking on her experiences she said, “It’s all been quite surreal. To be able to officiate a Champions League game at the Nou Camp and then the quarter finals at Wolfsburg with Cheryl Foster was incredible. It wasn’t something that I thought would happen.
“To be able to then officiate all the group games at the Women’s U19 Euros in Hungary, get the semi-final appointment and to then receive the final appointment was just so unexpected. I just feel really grateful for the opportunities I have received so far.”
The success of Welsh women match officials continues to grow with former Cymru international Cheryl Foster having officiated on the world stage at the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
Speaking about Foster’s success, Williams said, “I’ve been very lucky having Cheryl as my referee. I think a lot of my experiences over the years have been down to her success. As an assistant we are very much reliant on the success of the referee. We go wherever the referee goes. I’m lucky enough that Cheryl wants to take me on that journey with her, that she trusts me enough and wants me as a part of that team.
“For me it’s about looking at the barriers that the people before me have gone through. When I started refereeing, the pathways we have today weren’t there, the support wasn’t there. I’ve got Cheryl to look up to, but I also want to leave something behind so that the girls coming through have someone to look up to, too.
Williams added, “A real driver for me is wanting to be the best I can be and making everyone back home proud. You want to make your country proud and for me it’s always been about representing my country. Alongside Cheryl, it’s about putting Wales on the map.”
Williams recently took up a role as the FAW’s first ever Women’s Referee Development Officer and is a key part of the FAW’s new Adran Leagues Referee Academy, focused on bringing through the next generation of Welsh women match officials.
“The role was created last season to give girls more of an opportunity to have tailored support, one to one sessions and more personalised coaching,” said Williams about her role before adding, “the experience women have and the challenges they have with their fitness are completely different to those of men. Everything in refereeing is tailored to men but that doesn’t work for women.
“The menstrual cycle isn’t taken into account. It’s about fitting fitness tests around that and figuring out when are the girls and women going to be at their best and how do we get them to be training to fit their body. We want to create an environment where women and girls feel supported and get the coaching that they need.”
Through FIFA funding, the Adran Leagues Referee Academy is a targeted programme that will recruit and develop referees to effectively service the rapidly growing women’s game with match officials.
Speaking on the Adran Leagues Referee Academy, Williams said, “The important thing with something like this is that we’re trying to grow the leagues, we’re trying to grow the women’s game and we want the referee’s doing that, to want to referee women’s football too.
“Refereeing in general has a really poor retention rate, which isn’t something specific to Wales, it’s across all the countries. This is due to the general abuse that you can receive as a referee. But I think the dropout rate is significantly higher in women for that reason, that’s why introducing initiatives that offer support and aid retention are so important.
“I would often receive comments such as ‘go back to the kitchen’ or ‘go home to your husband.’ Psychologically I think personal comments were sometimes harder to deal with as they were targeted at me due to being a woman. We see a lot of girls walking away from the game because of that reason and this highlights the importance of having a support network that the Adran Leagues Referee Academy will provide, and an opportunity to learn from those who have experienced this.”
The FAW have created the ‘PAWB Values’ campaign to highlight the FAW’s core values of ‘Respect, Excellence and Family’ to ensure that everyone can feel respected and supported across the game in Wales.
Williams added, “The best advice I could give anyone is, if you’re thinking about doing it, just do it. If you want to referee one game a month just because you like being involved in football, do that. If you want to work your way up and progress through the system, then we’ve got those pathways in place.
“The skills, the social side, everything that I’ve learnt from refereeing has very much shaped who I am as a person. I’m so much more confident. I’ll make a decision and I’ll speak to anybody. I wouldn’t have that confidence in myself without refereeing.”
Speaking about her dad who is also a referee, Williams said, “My dad started refereeing when he was forty-five, he’s now in his sixties and still refereeing. He now referees an U13s match on a Saturday morning, but he just loves still being involved. You don’t have to become a referee to become the next Cheryl Foster. You can become a referee to be the next Mark Williams refereeing in the park on a Saturday morning.
“If you love football but for whatever reason you can’t play, then refereeing can keep you in the game. I was never going to play, and I was never going to coach, but refereeing keeps me in a sport that I love. If there’s any little part of you that wants to be a referee or wants to see what it’s like, then you might be the next Cheryl Foster.”