Referee Carol John poses against a goalpost

Breaking Barriers | Carol John

Steph Clark
Our new series promotes and celebrates the successes of individuals from diverse ethnic communities within our game.

Carol John grew up in Reading, just a stone’s throw away from Elm Park, the former home of Reading FC, where she could hear the roars from the stadium on matchdays from her house.

Perhaps subconsciously this is where her affinity and passion for the game began. Like so many of us growing up, as a young child she used to play football in the park with her friends, most of them boys, but she loved it all the same.

With a brother who was an apprentice at Reading and had a trial with a professional club, football had always been in the background for Carol, a part of life. It wasn’t until her own children started to play that Carol’s journey in the sport truly began.

One Sunday morning, Carol, in her late forties at the time, was watching her son play mini soccer. One of the dads from the team was the referee on the day but after a bit of a tough game, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore, so Carol stepped in. 

Whilst her son played growing up, she saw it as an opportunity to get involved too. So, she went on the Basic Referee Course and as she herself puts it, ‘the rest, as they say is history.' However, that isn’t where Carol’s story ends. Far from it. 

It’s fair to say that most people get into refereeing as teenagers or in their early twenties. There are of course, many exceptions to this. However, it would also be fair to say that the route most parents take when they become involved in their child’s football club is as a coach or as club committee member, rather than taking up the whistle. So why refereeing?

A clinical researcher by trade, the aspect of refereeing that really appealed to Carol was the mental challenge. Learning the laws of the game, knowing how to implement them so people understood them too was a big driving force for Carol and what compelled her to complete the course.

At the time, circa 2005, Carol was the only female on the course, the only black person on the course and she concedes with a smile, the oldest participant too. 

Whilst she admits she hasn’t faced barriers to her own participation, and as under-representation of people from diverse ethnic communities remains prevalent in many areas of the game, she is aware that she is seen by many as a role model and positive example of success – her own granddaughter wants to be referee when she grows up, having watched grandma on several occasions. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, Carol shares that the message resonates with her, the journey, contributions, and achievements that people like herself and her family have made over the years is significant and important.

For this reason, Carol is passionate about being actively involved in the community and believes there is a lot to be gained from giving. In addition, the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, always holds personal significance for Carol.

Just this July, Carol took part in a ‘Black on the Ball’ event in Slough, aimed at creating and highlighting positive male role models for the Caribbean community. In addition to the football, there was a celebration of Caribbean culture with food stalls, dancing and jump rope. Throughout the day, workshops were also run for the young people in attendance.

Now living in Maidenhead, Carol embraced the opportunity to take part in the local event, and with discussions and recognition awards taking place after the event, she stayed on and felt a sense of belonging, passion, and pride in being able to share in the achievements of the community. 

Much has been said about Carol’s 14-year career as a referee where she operates at Level 5 in the male game and 4W in the female game, but she has also previously coached, and is the current Chair of the Berkshire Girls' Football League, having held the position for nine years. 

Her focus now, on ensuring that through the league, they are ready to push-on from the success of the England Women’s National team at this summer’s Women’s UEFA European Championships, ensuring that as many girls as possible have opportunities to participate if they wish.

For anyone reading this article, perhaps questioning whether you want to, or feel you can get involved in football, either as a referee, coach or volunteer, Carol’s message is clear; just go for it. Regardless of your race, gender or age, opportunities in the game exist and there is support available to help you achieve and succeed if you want to.

For opportunities on how to get involved in local football, in any role, and the types of support available, please contact us.

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