By Mark Walker, PA
Rebecca Welch can follow in the footsteps of other officials from football’s north-east hot-bed and make it right to the top, says former referees chief Keith Hackett.
Welch, from Washington, County Durham, made history on Monday when becoming the first female to be appointed to referee a game in the English Football League.
The 37-year-old has received universal praise for her debut EFL performance in Harrogate’s 2-0 home defeat to Sky Bet League Two rivals Port Vale.
“She’s from the north-east, an area that has always produced top-class referees,” Hackett told the PA news agency.
“It’s a football hot-bed, but it’s also tough and I think that actually helps to develop top referees – Mark Clattenburg, Pat Partridge, Peter Willis, George Courtney, they all come to mind.
“The north-east has always produced top-class referees and at the moment our country’s leading referee, in my opinion, is Michael Oliver.
“You see from them a calmness because they’ve dealt with conflict in that hot-bed area.”
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Hackett, former head of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, who spent 22 years as an EFL and Premier League official, believes Welch can reach the highest level.
“She must maintain her consistency of performance and continue to break down barriers because she has clearly been doing that,” Hackett said.
“She has also shown great resilience at all the levels to break the glass ceiling and I see no reason why she can’t advance to the top echelon of the game.
“It’s remarkable that she has done that in an 11-year career so far, so she’s clearly got determination and I’m sure she will have put up with a great deal of resistance.
“But now I think when she gets into a professional environment it should get easier. The window of opportunity is there and I do think that at the top level we desperately need some good referees.”
Hackett was the FA Cup final’s youngest referee when appointed to take charge in 1981 at the age of 36 before Oliver was handed the 2018 final aged 33.
“I think Welch had 10 years in grassroots football,” Hackett added. “A lot of people don’t realise the long apprenticeship. Oliver had eight years. I was 12 years.
“That long apprenticeship gives you a great deal of craft and creates a platform of being able to deal with refereeing at all levels and different styles of play.
“I think her progress is wonderful and really great for the game. She’s beaten that resistance and the cynicism she’s probably seen, but the one thing she’s had is a great deal of support from referees from the north-east.
“For two or three years now I’ve been receiving notes about her performances from that part of the world.”