Rebecca Welch will create history on Saturday by becoming the first female to referee a Premier League match.
Welch will complete her remarkable journey from the playing fields of north east England to the top flight when she takes charge of Fulham against Burnley at Craven Cottage.
The 40-year-old from Washington in Tyne and Wear was still working in an administrative capacity for the NHS when she began her refereeing career in 2010.
“Your biggest power is that 𝐲𝐨𝐮 are 𝐲𝐨𝐮”
Rebecca Welch shared some inspirational words in May 2021 during PGMOL’s Breaking Barriers series.
— PGMOL (@FA_PGMOL) December 22, 2023
Welch gained her badges through the Durham County Football Association and climbed through the ranks after taking charge of university and Sunday league games.
Just over a decade later – and two-and-a-half years after becoming the first woman to referee an English Football League match – Welch’s decisions will be scrutinised by millions of fans around the world.
It is no place for the faint-hearted, but Welch, who became the first female to act as fourth official in a Premier League game in November, breaks new ground with the backing of Burnley boss Vincent Kompany and Fulham counterpart Marco Silva.
“It’s certainly a benchmark and milestone,” Kompany said ahead of his side’s trip to London.
“I think she’ll take great pride in having done it herself. There’s a lot of women – in general, but in the game as well specifically – who will see this as a way to achieve at the highest level.
“I am always pro any kind of extension anyway because what it does is widen the pool of talent.
“We need access to all the available talent, the best referees in the best league in the world.”
Both Kompany and Silva are adamant that their players will behave no differently with Welch in the middle rather than a male colleague.
Kompany said: “It shouldn’t be really about the official or the manager. It should be about the players and, in that sense, I can’t see why we wouldn’t have that normality.
“Of course the story is bigger and deserves to be bigger, but once the whistle blows every actor on the day will want the players to be highlighted.”
Silva said: “For us it will be a normal situation. Of course it will be the first time so everyone has to talk about it, but when the game starts it is going to be another Premier League game, with people with good ability to be a manager, a player or to be a referee.
“We will not even talk about it before the match because for us she is the ref, like she was the fourth official some weeks ago in our game against Manchester United, and for us it was a normal situation.
“We have to always respect all the officials and she’s going to be welcomed. She got this chance because she deserves it for sure and she has the ability to be at the level she is going to be.”