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Rebecca Welch will become the first woman official to be involved in a refereeing capacity in a Premier League match when Manchester United visit Fulham on Saturday lunchtime.
Welch, 39, from Washington in Tyne and Wear, will be the fourth official at Craven Cottage.
Welch already holds the honour of being the first woman to be appointed to referee an English Football League match. She led the team of officials for the League Two match between Harrogate and Port Vale in April 2021.
Welch played football from childhood but only took up the whistle at the age of 27, after been challenged to do so by a friend.
“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. “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.”
She qualified as an official through the Durham County FA and began refereeing in university football and in Sunday leagues in Sunderland. She began her refereeing career in 2010, combining the role with an administrative job in the NHS, before going full-time in 2019.
Welch has regularly appeared in the Women’s Super League and officiated three games at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer, after being selected in Uefa’s elite referees list.
Amy Fearn became the first female referee in the EFL in 2010, when she stepped in as an injury replacement for the final 20 minutes of a second-tier match between Coventry and Nottingham Forest.
Earlier this year, Welch became the first woman to referee a men’s Championship match when she took charge of Birmingham v Preston in January. She is also the first woman to referee an FA Cup third-round tie, also at Birmingham, as the Blues lost 1-0 to Plymouth on 8 January.
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited group (PGMOL), which oversees top-level refereeing in English football and is led by chief refereeing officer Howard Webb, has sought to be improve diversity among its pool of officials. In January, Bhupinder Singh Gill became the the first Sikh-Punjabi to officiate in the Premier League, as assistant referee for Southampton v Nottingham Forest.