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  • #HerGameToo: Leigh Gell

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    Bury FC Player & National League Referee Leigh Gell, sat down with our matchday programme editor Chris Saville to discuss her experiences in football.
     

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    Hello Leigh, thanks for talking to us. Tell us about yourself and why did you get involved with football?


     

    Just like many girls of my generation, I first started playing football with boys in primary school. It was my favourite sport, so I’ve continued playing since then and also became a coach and a referee when I was old enough.
     

     

    You are the Women and Girls Development Officer for Manchester FA, what does that involve?

     

    My role is to develop the grassroots game for women and girls, this means increasing the number of women and girls involved in football across a wide range of opportunities. We’ve seen a huge increase in
    demand for women and girls’ football and I love working with our clubs to grow their offer. It’s also important to me that they have relatable role models, so I run various projects to get more female coaches, referees and volunteers as well.

     

    As well as that, you also referee women’s football too?

     

    Yes, I currently referee in the Women’s National League and have also this season begun assisting in the North West Counties Football league. It took me a while to take up men’s football as a female, but I wanted to be an example for other female referees that they can also officiate in men’s football.

     

    What made you want to become a referee?

    If I’m honest, I only did the course because I was too young to do the coaching qualification. My club chairman suggested it would be a good alternative and that I could help the younger children at the club. Fast forward to now and I actually enjoy refereeing even more than playing – it’s crazy how things can
    change!

     

    On top of that you also play for Bury FC Women too, how do you find the time?

    My whole life is football, I don’t think a day goes by that I’m not involved in something to do with football, and I wouldn’t change a thing. There is such a wide range of things to do within football, so things still feel different! Officiating can be lonely at times especially training on your own, so I love to be able to train and support the girls, it’s truly a special club to be part of.

     

    In all your roles, which one do you find the hardest?

    Refereeing is definitely the one I find most challenging, no game is ever the same and you are always learning and developing. The pressure can be tough at times but ultimately you just want to make decisions that are best for the game – I know fans don’t always see it like that. I still don’t
    when I watch my own team.

     

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    With so many women now participating or watching football, do you see a difference in how women are treated compared to men?

    Yes, I think we’ve come a long way and there are some brilliant improvements to shout about but I still think we have a long way to go as well. We’ve had a huge growth, but women and girls are still the
    minority in football by a long way. The more women’s and girls’ football grow, we are heading in the right direction and the more positive change we will see but we’re not there just yet.

     

    Do you think the historic perception of women in football is changing for the better?

    It’s brilliant to see the spotlight on the teams that paved the way for us to play. I’m looking forward to
    Copa 71 being released and also the documentary being created on Manchester Corinthians. It’s an important untold history and without those women, football wouldn’t look like it does today.

     

    What advice would you give to any girl or woman who wants to start playing, coaching, refereeing or
    watching football?

    Get involved right now – you won’t regret it! It’s the most enjoyable, rewarding thing you can ever be part of.

     

    What would you say to any female participant or fan playing, involved or going to football matches who hears things they don’t want to or who are subjected to any sexist abuse? What advice would
    you give them?

    If you feel protected, challenge it there and then but never put yourself at risk. Use the necessary reporting tools through Kick It Out and your local County FA to ensure it is reported. If things are not
    reported, nothing can change! Most importantly, don’t stop just because of someone else’s outdated opinion, you have every right to be there!

     
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    As always, keep across the latest from the club on the website, X / Twitter & Facebook.

     

    #ShakersTogether | #HerGameToo | #PartofIt

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