“I’m more surprised by the lack of abuse I’ve had than anything” - Taverham teenager encourages more women to take up refereeing

Charlotte Savage who just one of 16 female referees affiliated to Norfolk FA.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Charlotte Savage who just one of 16 female referees affiliated to Norfolk FA.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Charlotte Savage tells sports reporter GAVIN CANEY why she is enjoying life as a young referee.

From left, Matthew Barrett, Charlotte Savage and Harry Diggins. Picture: FA

From left, Matthew Barrett, Charlotte Savage and Harry Diggins. Picture: FA - Credit: Archant

The changing face of football is making a massive difference to one Norfolk teenager's life.

Charlotte Savage, a former Taverham High School pupil, is the latest female to follow trailblazers like Wendy Toms and Amy Fearn into attempting to smash the sport's long-standing masculine stereotypes into smithereens. But far from having to adopt broad shoulders while refereeing, the 17-year-old has been refreshingly surprised by the lack of derogatory comments aimed towards her.

Savage, an apprentice electrician for RFT (Flagship Housing), said: 'I'm more surprised by the lack of abuse I've had than anything. In the youth leagues Norfolk's 'respect' campaign is working really well. I think the parent workshops have helped. I've never had any sexist comments either. I think it helps because at the age I'm often refereeing, boys and girls, in terms of their size, aren't too different. So boys don't perhaps see themselves as superior.

'I've not experienced anything too bad from the sidelines. My mum doesn't like watching me. I think if she heard someone shout – 'Ref, you don't know what you're doing' – which can and has happened, she really wouldn't like it. But I've also realised that I've got the power in my hands to report people, or ask them to leave the premises. I can deal with it.'

The level seven referee, one of just 16 females in Norfolk FA's registered and qualified pool of 420, wants to lead a new wave of women into taking up the whistle.

The Norwich City fan hasn't looked back since taking on her first course as a Year 10 pupil at Taverham after turning her back on playing the game. Savage now overseen about 50 youth matches, has her eyes on earning another promotion to level six and, after waiting until she was 16 to be able to do so, eventually aims to take charge of more adult fixtures.

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The level seven referee, who regularly controls youth-team games involving Wymondham, Stalham and Taverham, added: 'I did my first adult 11-a-side game recently. It was Kirkley & Pakefield ladies against Stalham. I'm not going to lie, when I turned up I didn't want to do it. The pitch was double the size of what I was used to at youth level and I started to worry about how I was going to be able to keep up. I was really nervous but once I did the pitch inspection and spoke to the captains and managers I felt better. I think I did well. I now just want to get fitter and keep doing youth games to get my confidence up.'

A new referees course starts tomorrow. To try and book a space on the free taster session at the FDC, which starts at 7.30pm, call Norfolk FA on 01603 704050.

'Follow my lead'

Up-and-coming referee Savage is hoping to inspire a new generation of female officials.

The 17-year-old was selected to represent Norfolk at a Youth Sports Trust talent camp as one of the FA's young referees. Now Savage is hoping her December success can help convince other young women to take up the whistle. Less than 4pc of the county's affiliated officials are currently female – a stat the Taverham teenager is determined to change.

She said: 'I enjoy refereeing, I've made friends from it and it can bring in a little extra money too. It's hard to keep fit sometimes when you're working but doing this has helped.

'It has been great to be told that I can be a role model for other young girls as I'd love to help more women get into refereeing.'

'FFP volunteers are getting the rewards their efforts deserve'

The Football Futures programme is a national scheme to encourage young leaders to excel.

Charlotte Savage is one of Norfolk FA's major success stories as one of the coaches, referees, event organiseres, promoters or development officers who is making a difference in the county. Youngsters who sign up to the programme initially log their volunteering hours with the county's governing body so that they can reward them with certificates at each hourly milestone (10, 25, 50, 75, 100 hours etc).

Savage was one of 100 – along with Norfolk assistant Matthew Barrett and FA Youth Council member Harry Diggins – selected leaders to attend a prized Youth Sports Trust talent camp in December.

Referee Savage said: 'The FFP helps young people get more involved with sport, be it coaching, refereeing or running events. I absolutely love it as I enjoy volunteering and meeting new people. I've made loads of friends too.'

Norfolk FA development officer for women's and girls football Stacey Annison said it was 'incredible' what Charlotte had achieved so far.

'I met Charlotte for the very first time when she supported one of my under-10 girls pre-season festivals,' added Annison.

'I could tell from her enthusiasm and her passion to go above and beyond that she could really benefit from this programme.

'The hard work and effort she's put in is testament to her character and her talent. She is leading the way for young female leaders and referees in Norfolk and it's been an absolute pleasure supporting her thus far.'

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