Foundation of Light’s Helen Byrne is celebrating after joining a select group of officials on the FIFA Women’s Assistant Referee List for 2018.
Helen, the Foundation’s Premier League Primary Stars Events Coordinator, was nominated by The FA for her hard work and dedication in developing as a match official and high-level displays both at home and abroad.
The former Everton Ladies youngster, who started refereeing as a teenager to earn some extra pocket money, has officiated over 1,000 matches from the English Football League to tournaments in the United States.
“I was 14 and never really thought about refereeing,” she says. “I was playing football for Everton at the time and one of my team-mates was doing her referee course and asked if I would go with her.
“I thought it would be good to do something different in football other than playing.
“My first game was an under 10 girls’ county match in Liverpool. I was so nervous about doing the game and giving decisions. I made quite a few mistakes but it was all a learning curve and by continuing to learn from them has made be a better referee.”
After studying towards her coaching badges and gaining a (BA Hons) Degree in Sports Development, Helen became the youngest female referee to reach Level 3 and has officiated in some of the most important matches in English football.
She adds: “The biggest I’ve been involved in would have to be as assistant referee in the 2017 FA Women’s Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in front of 35,000 people.
“In the men’s it would be the League 2 play-off semi-final second leg between Luton Town and Blackpool which was broadcast live on Sky Sports because of what was riding on the game for both teams.”
Female referees and assistants officiating men’s football is becoming more frequent, with the number of international referees increasing from 26 in 1995 to 350, with 440 assistant referees up from 31 in the same period according to www.youaretheref.com.
Helen says: “We are a minority but there are so many more females becoming referees and progressing through the system which is great. I have had so much support and encouragement from everyone who I have come across within football.
“It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, you just want to be seen as a referee and go and do the best job you can.”
In October last year, Helen received her first nomination to the FIFA Women’s Assistant Referee List, joining Natalie Aspinall, Sian Massey and Lisa Rashid as England’s representatives on the international stage.
Being nominated to the FIFA List was unbelievable and what I’ve worked really hard for. I will be officiating around the world on international games from under 17 to senior level.
I have been lucky enough to be part of a number of games in countries such as America, Denmark, Sweden and Bosnia, which has given me a lot of experience already.
Looking forward my ambition is to officiate at a major FIFA Tournament such as the Women’s World Cup and would love to be promoted to the EFL Select 2 Group List for Championship games.
On and off the field, Helen is a role model and inspiration for the women’s game, both as a referee and at Foundation of Light where she encourages more girls to get involved in football through school programmes, tournaments, workshops and festivals.
Helen says: “Working for the Foundation of Light I can have a real influence on how women and girls get involved with the game which is very rewarding.
“We have an incredibly comprehensive programme which incorporates everything from football-based exercise classes and sessions for those trying football for the first time, through to coaching, officiating and our Girls’ Scholarship programme, which gives talented female players the opportunity to study for A levels whilst representing Sunderland AFC in a national league.
“There has never been a better time for women and girls to get involved in football, there are so many routes and careers available now, and I would encourage anyone thinking of giving the sport a try to do so.”
For more information on the Foundation’s Premier League Girls programme, contact email@example.com or call 0191 5515309.
8 January 2018