Abi Marriott keen to lead the way for other women into refereeing
Eight years ago Abi Marriott picked up a whistle determined to show her partner that she could officiate a football match to the same or even higher standard, but now the 26-year-old is on the cusp of refereeing an international match.
It may have started as a tongue-in-cheek contest with her husband, referee George Byrne, but her recent appointment by FIFA as an international-level referee has spurred her ambitions on, with her sights now set on the very top levels of officiating.
And she is keen to lead the way for other women in a male-dominated industry.
It was revealed in December that Marriott was one of only three FA officials to be added to the list of international referees for 2019, and the first female official from Suffolk to be accepted by FIFA.
She said: “Obviously when I first started, it was not with the goal of becoming an international referee. I didn’t think that was even slightly possible.
“But it’s great. It may not have been why I got into refereeing but I’m very competitive and ambitious and it’s absolutely been the goal recently. I’ve worked hard to achieve this.
“It’s amazing how things have changed in that time already,” she added. “When I went on the course to become a referee eight years ago, I was the only female and I found it daunting, but as more and more women get involved in the game and refereeing, that will change.
“And, by being one of the first to do it, I can help lead the way.
“I would like to think that female officials around here would look up to me – I really want to encourage others to get involved.
“Particularly in East Anglia, I don’t think there’s enough women involved locally.
“That’s part of why I wanted to focus on the women’s game initially, I saw how quickly it was growing and wanted to be a part of building women’s sport and the opportunities involved in it.
“I started refereeing Women’s Super League (the top level of the women’s game in the UK) and it’s been brilliant, the women’s game has helped open doors for women to referee at the highest level.
“I’ve really enjoyed that this year, including a few games live on the TV, so it feels like there’s a lot more to come.”
She explained that officials are ‘pretty much always in training’ as they are continually assessed on their skills, decision-making and fitness.
Marriott, who recently returned from Lisbon where she undertook a fitness test and full medical examination administered by FIFA to ensure her suitability, said that this was often a barrier for female entry into the role.
“Less than half pass the fitness test,” she said. “And that’s a big part of the problem.
“You have to be very fit to referee at the top levels, and that requires a lot of self-discipline and athletic ability too of course.
“You have to be that much more dedicated.”
She said she has not yet been handed an international fixture, although she hopes to be given a call over upcoming U17 and U19 European Championship qualifiers.
“I’ve been involved in 10 international appointments so far but, as a non-FIFA registered official, it’s only been as a fourth official.
“I’m really looking forward to that first chance, but I have to be patient – it will be very exciting when it does happen.”
She said she is at the point at which she must decide whether to pursue a career as a referee or as an assistant, with the FA forcing a focus at a certain point in a referee’s development.
Abi is leaning towards the refereeing pathway, saying she has most enjoyed officiating the games she has been in charge of.
Having refereed last month’s Suffolk Premier Cup quarter-final between Hadleigh United and Felixstowe & Walton United, she said she does not believe she will be involved in any further county cup matches this season.
Abi has already been a fourth official at the England versus Brazil Women’s International Friendly at Notts County FC in October 2018, an assistant referee at the UEFA Women’s Champions’ League Qualifying Round in Lithuania in August 2018 and has also refereed the 2018 Women’s FA Varsity Match and the following month was referee for one of the SSE Women’s FA Cup semi-finals.
By the end of this year, she said, she hopes to have had even more international opportunities offered to her.