History made as referees Welch and Allison step up to Premier League

14 Dec 2023
Rebecca Welch and Sam Allison

Latest appointments include Premier League's first woman referee and first black referee for 15 years

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History will be made in the Premier League this Christmas, with Rebecca Welch becoming the competition's first woman referee and Sam Allison the first black official to take charge of a match for 15 years.

PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) has announced that both officials will oversee top-flight matches this month.

Welch will be the referee when Fulham host Burnley on Saturday 23 December.

Allison will be in charge for Sheffield United v Luton Town on Boxing Day, becoming the Premier League's first black referee since Uriah Rennie, who officiated in the competition for 11 years until 2008.

The pair will be the fourth and fifth referees from PGMOL's Select Group 2 to take charge of a Premier League fixture this season, following in the footsteps of Sam Barrott, Bobby Madley and Josh Smith.

Who is Rebecca Welch?

Welch became a referee in 2010, balancing the role alongside her job in the NHS, before turning her attention to officiating on a full-time basis.

In 2021 she became the first woman to be appointed to referee an EFL match when she took charge of the League Two fixture between Harrogate Town and Port Vale.

During her career, she has also officiated high-profile matches in the Women's Super League, while she was referee for both the 2017 and 2020 Women's FA Cup finals at Wembley Stadium.

Rebecca Welch

In December 2020 she was added to FIFA’s Elite List of International Match Officials, going on to take charge of matches at the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championship and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Welch, who hails from Washington in Tyne and Wear, was the first woman to referee matches in the Championship and FA Cup third round, and last month she became the first woman to act as fourth official in a Premier League match when she formed part of the officiating team for the fixture between Fulham and Manchester United.

“I played football and didn’t even think about refereeing until one of my really good friends, who is a referee, refereed us,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “I spent the whole game telling her how to do her job! Her response was, ‘If you think it’s that easy, give it a go.' That’s how it happened and 10 years later here I am.”

Who is Sam Allison?

The 42-year-old enjoyed a successful playing career before turning his attention to refereeing.

Having started his journey with Swindon Town, Allison moved on to Bristol City, AFC Bournemouth and Exeter City, even making a handful of appearances for England schoolboys and representing Great Britain.

Sam Allison

Allison had a dual career as a match official and a firefighter, before turning his attention to officiating on a full-time basis after the introduction of the Elite Referee Development Plan.

Following his promotion in 2020, he became the fifth black referee to officiate in the EFL, following in the footsteps of Rennie, Trevor Parkes, Phil Prosser and Joe Ross. He has taken charge of over 100 matches in the EFL.

Speaking in March, he said: “I love football so much; it’s in my blood and it’s innate. I’d do anything to be involved in the game. Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the pinnacles as a football player but hopefully one day I can do it as a referee.”

Sam’s first taste of Premier League action came in October 2022, when he was fourth official in the fixture between Brighton & Hove Albion and Chelsea.

He was promoted to officiate in the Championship for the 2023/24 season.

"I’m excited to see the appointment of Rebecca Welch to her first Premier League referees appointment," said Howard Webb, chief operating officer for PGMOL. "She has worked as a fourth official in the Premier League recently but she is going to take charge on the 23rd December at Fulham.

"And then on the 26 December, on Boxing Day at Sheffield United, we’ll see Sam Allison taking charge of his first game.

"They’re both part of the PGMOL Development Group, an initiative that is tied into the Elite Referee Development Plan, which has been in place for a couple of years now, fast-tracking talented officials through the pathway. We’ve already seen three officials from the Development Group & Select Group 2 take charge of Premier League games in recent weeks and months, and now we have numbers four and five.

"It is showing the value of that work that is happening in that space is really evident.

"We’ve not seen a female take charge of a Premier League ever before so it is significant. It shows that if you’ve got the quality then that will be recognised and you will get the opportunity.

"Sam being the first black official with a whistle since Uriah Rennie, an ex-colleague of mine. Again, down to the quality of his performances in recent weeks in the Championship and both appointments are really well deserved.

"It also shows them as role models as well, because it demonstrates that people can make it through the pathway. They are both from groups that are not traditionally well represented within the Premier League officiating cohort and hopefully it might inspire other people to give it a go and think that refereeing might be for them as well."

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