Mary’s red card for ‘unacceptable’ sexism

An up-and-coming female referee, from North Walsham, has ruled sexist remarks by Sky Sports duo Andy Gray and Richard Keys offside.

The high-profile pair found themselves at the centre of a media storm after disparaging off-air remarks were picked up about Sian Massey – the female assistant referee at Saturday’s Wolves v Liverpool Premier League clash.

The pair caused controversy after agreeing that female officials “don’t know the offside rule” and predicting that Massey would drop a clanger.

As it was, she correctly kept her flag down for a borderline offside decision which allowed Liverpool to score in a 3-0 win.

Norwich sixth-former Mary Harmer, who is working her way up the refereeing ranks and has made reaching the Premier League her ultimate goal described the comments as “very naughty.”


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Speaking hours before Gray was fired after “new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour” during an unrelated incident emerged, Mary said: “They need to be very careful what they say from now on.

“I think it was very good that immediate action was taken and they were suspended for the Bolton v Chelsea game on Monday night. Would I sack them if I was in charge? I don’t know. They’re good presenters, they have been doing it for years and it would be a shame if they lost their jobs but if it happens so be it. It needs to be made clear that sexism is unacceptable on or off the football pitch or anywhere else in day-to-day life.”

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Mary, 16, who has refereed around 50 mainly boys youth games and the occasional women’s game, is one of the most active of the dozen female officials on Norfolk County FA’s books. She said she had not encountered any sexist remarks so far. “I personally have not had any. No one has come up to me and said ‘you are a woman, you don’t know what you are doing’.

Mary, who lives at North Walsham, described the performance of Sian Massey, 25, who ran the line during Norwich City’s 2-1 win at Derby in December, as “brilliant.”.

Mary said she had stayed in to watch Saturday’s game especially because of Sian.

“I was so excited for her. She has definitely inspired me. In 10 years time I hope it will be me. The sooner people realise it’s OK for females to officiate in the Premier League the better.”

Mary, an A-level student at Notre Dame High School, who hopes to become a PE teacher, hopes the furore will not discourage girls and women from taking up the whistle. “Times have changed in football. More women watch it and go to games and have become involved in it. It’s not such a male orientated sport any more.”

Barry Knight, Norfolk FA referees development officer, said he was unable to comment because of national FA orders. An FA spokesperson said: “The FA has made real strides in encouraging both male and female match officials to enter the game at every level, and will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible.

“We are proud to have some of the world’s best match officials, both male and female.

“Overall the number of female referees in England (Levels 1-8) stands at 853 and climbing, and all of our female match officials act as fantastic ambassadors for the game. They have our wholehearted and continuing support.”

The Norfolk FA will be running a referee training course for females at County FA HQ on March 5 and 12. For details contact Norwich 704050 or visit www.norforlkfa.com

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