International Women's Day

Massey-Ellis: We don't just tick boxes

8 Mar 2021

Premier League assistant referee discusses how to challenge stereotypes about women in football

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To mark International Women's Day, Sian Massey-Ellis has opened up about the stereotypes she has faced during her career as a match official and the challenges she overcame after having a child to regain her place at the top level.

"The challenge of the perception that we don't know what we're doing - it's always been there," says Massey-Ellis, whose first Premier League match was in December 2010.

"It's always been, 'Women don't know the offside rule. Women don't know what football's about so they shouldn't be involved.' "

'We are good enough to be there'

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) Select Group official was speaking as part of International Women's Day, whose theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge.

When asked what she'd like to challenge, Massey-Ellis says it is the view that women are out of their depth in the world of football.

"That's the stereotype I would want to challenge: That we are good enough to be there and if we're there, we're not there as a tick-box," she says.

"For me I've come through exactly the same pathway and exactly the same tests and challenges as male referees." 

Getting girls into the game earlier

Massey-Ellis is keen to encourage more females into the game from an early age because it will have an exponential impact. 

"The more girls get involved in football, the more other girls feel they can be involved," Massey-Ellis says. "And that sport is for all.

"I'm a real big believer from my PE teacher background that sport gives much more than just a physical aspect. It gives that mental stability."

Sian Massey Sunderland v Blackpool
Sian Massey-Ellis's first Premier League match was Sunderland v Blackpool in December 2010

She has now been an elite official for more than 10 years, a feat that requires continual hard work, both mentally and physically.  

"I would say fitness is always a challenge for me, just to keep up with the players on the pitch I have to be on top of my game.

"They already have a head-start on you and, as an assistant referee, you're going from a sideways position when they are already running.

"You've got to be stationary with the last defender. So if the last defender pushing out and you've got an attacker sprinting forward, they are already 10 metres ahead."

'Return after childbirth biggest challenge'

That she has been equal to the physical challenge is all the more remarkable as Massey-Ellis defied doctor's orders in returning to the Premier League after giving birth to her first child.  

"Coming back from having a baby was really difficult," she says. "The doctors told me I wouldn't be able to return to refereeing, that I wouldn't be able to do the fitness work again.

"It was probably the biggest moment in my life where I actually thought, 'Oh my goodness, I don't know if I've lost my career.' "

She was helped by support from The Football Association and PGMOL. "[They gave] me the opportunity to come back step by step. I did go back through the leagues again and that was what I needed, that support."

"It's really important we create an atmosphere where sportswomen feel safe"

Sian Massey-Ellis

Inspiring more females to follow her path is something that Massey-Ellis is keen to pursue after she hangs up her flag.

"I want to be able to support other referees coming through. I always say that once I've finished my career I want to be making sure we've got the next generation of referees and sportswomen coming through.

"It's really important we create an atmosphere where they feel safe, an environment where they feel safe.

"When I said, 'Can I be a referee?' That shouldn't be a question any other female has to ask any more."

Also in this series

Part 2: 'FPL is a great way to bring more women into football'
Part 3: Sheff Utd stars on the women who inspire them
Part 4: Senior Saints offer advice to next generation of women
Part 5: Premier Skills giving female coaches the chance to shine

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