Apology was due, says former woman referee

Laura Corbett, who was one of the first two women referees in the Donegal League about 10 years ago, said she never found gender to be an issue when she was on the pitch.

Laura Corbett, who was one of the first two women referees in the Donegal League about 10 years ago, said she never found gender to be an issue when she was on the pitch.

"I would have to say that I had great support from the Donegal Referees Association -- great support," she said.

Laura was speaking yesterday in the aftermath of comments by SkySports soccer pundits Richard Keys and Andy Grey, who questioned earlier this week whether women referees would know the offside rule, and made other derogatory remarks about women officials. Their remarks about assistant referee Sian Massey were broadcast later.

In a more recent development, Andy Gray was fired after recently revealed footage showed him making a suggestive remark to a woman colleague.

But Laura said she did not have those experiences in the Donegal League.

"While it may be a shock for many teams to see a female referee landing on the pitch I would have to say in general that once the whistle blows gender is irrelevant and you are the person implementing the rules as effectively as you could," Laura said.

That's not to say everyone agreed with every decision. "But you would have gotten the same reaction whether you were male or female.

"Everybody was treated equally," she said. "That's my experience with the Donegal League."

The former Donegal referee was pleased that the SkySports broadcasters apologised for their remarks, saying "an apology was certainly due".

"I believe it may have been an off-the-cuff remark, but even if it had I think it was wrong that they would automatically assume that just because she was a female assistant referee that she would automatically get it wrong," Laura said. Women referees and assistant referees "have proved we're every bit as capable as our male counterparts."

And for anyone who might share the broadcasters' views, she said, "I would say to them, you stand on the line with your flag and you try and flag every offside and you'll see how difficult it is for men and women to call it correct at times."

Laura's work as a referee largely ended when she returned to full-time study in college in 2000. She now lives in Trentagh, Letterkenny, and works as a secondary school teacher at Oakgrove College in Derry. The referee work could be frustrating, but it was an enjoyable experience, she said.

"Many's a team will remember me, I have to say," Laura said.