Around this time last week Lisa Benn, our Referee Development Officer and FA Level 3 Referee, found herself in a rather different environment than any other ‘normal’ Tuesday.
Tying the laces on her referee boots, and going through all the pre-match briefings and preparation, Lisa focussed on another first in her budding career as a referee; walking out alongside international colleagues for her first ever appointment to an England game.
Standing in the tunnel at Craven Cottage with the likes of England Captain Steph Houghton and Ballon D’Or nominee Fran Kirby behind her, only then did the gravity of her appointment start to sink in.
Sitting down with her today to talk about the milestone in her career, it’s easy to see she is still ‘buzzing’ from the experience.
Lisa explains that when she first received ‘the call’ from The FA that it didn’t really sink it. She still doesn’t really think that it has, but the moment the live BT Sport cameras focussed in on the four officials in the tunnel is the moment she pinpoints as being ‘real’.
Qualifying as a referee at the age of 14, Lisa officiated in youth football before progressing to the adult game. She soon found herself refereeing every weekend and quickly rose up through the refereeing levels thanks to the support and guidance of friends, family and a great network of referees around her.
Now an active Level 3 referee in the male and female game; assistant referee in the National League and Referee at Step 3 football and below, Lisa never really entertained the idea that she might ever have the opportunity to be involved in an England international.
I ask her to tell me a little bit about what happened in the build-up to the game; the day before and then on match day and she can’t suppress the smile on her face as she explains it all to me, she says;
“The build-up was unlike any game I have prepared for. We met as a team on Monday- the French officials flew in and it was really an opportunity to build that teamwork and trust that is imperative any team performance. As a team we did everything together, learning about each other and discussing our common interest… refereeing.
“On match day we headed to the stadium early, completed pre-match checks, pitch inspections and met with England & Australia team officials, representatives from Fulham, safety officers, communications officers. We made arrangements from everything from kit colours to match procedures, to evacuation plans. This was a great insight to the scale of behind the scenes work on an international fixture.
“We had some down time prior to the game, to ensure all officials were match-ready for the evening. Once we arrived at the ground, everything occurred as it would for any other game, team sheets, and kit inspections.
“I like to keep my game simple, but aim to do the simple things well. I treat every game as a Cup Final and try not to over complicate things. Preparation for any game is key!”
Fourth Official, Lisa Benn waiting to lead the teams out at Craven Cottage (first left)
I ask her a few more questions and we talk generally about the game a little more before I wonder what impact the experience has had on her and whether it’s driven her to want to achieve even more in her career. Her answer is both humble and determined;
“Opportunities like these; they don’t come around every day. I never imagined that taking the referee course at 14 would lead me to this or provide me with as many opportunities as it has. I’m very fortunate and honoured to have been asked to be involved in.
“Its moments like these that make those hard training sessions worth it. The women’s game is growing considerably; I love every part of refereeing and I will continue to work hard, on and off the field to make sure I am ready for the chance again, when and if it comes up, to do what I love doing - refereeing!
“The game went so quickly, but I will cherish the memories from this opportunity for a long time.”
As Communications Officer for Berks & Bucks FA, I was fortunate enough to promote Lisa’s appointment through our organisation’s social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and see first-hand the messages of support and congratulations. Alongside this, the number of messages that said she was an inspiration.
Recalling this to Lisa, I ask her how that makes her feel both personally and from a work perspective where she gets to work with and support referees in Berks & Bucks every day and at every stage of their journeys.
“Referees are often criticised in the media, and its often overlooked we are human too. Anything that we can do to promote the opportunities and the great side to refereeing is only a positive thing. I’m very fortunate to have a great support team behind me, my coach, family, friends and work colleagues, which has provided me the opportunity to be able to do what I love and continue to do so.
“I hope my sharing my journey and opportunities that I have been honoured to be a part of makes others think that they can achieve anything if they set their mind to it - and with a bit of hard work too.”
Lisa Benn, Fourth Official during the England v Australia international at Craven Cottage
My final question to her is, what advice would she give to anyone thinking about becoming a referee?
“Do it! There has never been a better time to become a referee. The support from other referees, colleagues, is out there. Being a referee isn’t just about refereeing a football game, its managing an event, communicating with players, team officials. Refereeing teaches you wider skills that are transferable across other aspects of life.
“I am yet to regret picking up that whistle and taking the journey of learning to become a better referee.”
A week after her first international game Lisa tells me that her feet a firmly back on the ground and she is already busy concentrating on training and preparing for her next game.
As we finish talking, I congratulate her for a great achievement and then add for good measure; “Now, don’t forget to bring the milk in tomorrow.”
She gives me a friendly laugh and then says “I’ll try to remember the milk” and with that, normal service is resumed, until next time…
To find out more about how you can start your journey in football by becoming a referee please take a look at the dedicated 'Referees' section of our website or contact the team via Development@Berks-BucksFA.com.