The pathway that leads to refereeing seems to be a familiar story, ‘I just love the game.’ It is a thankless job most of the time, you’re always going to have one side hating you by the end of a match.
I remember one of the most important things I ever heard from a mentor during my first few years of refereeing, “If you ever have a perfect game, stop refereeing.” It sounds confusing but what they meant was, there’s always somewhere to improve, always different ways of handling game situations, always a better joke to crack with the players and most importantly there will always be mistakes. Referees are human, they will make mistakes, but they will learn from them. One particular referee I’ve always looked up to is Renae Coghill.
For me, I grew up playing football and I absolutely loved it. Around the same time that I started actively following the A-league, I got into refereeing. I always wanted to know what it would be like and I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the game and to just be involved with it as much as I could. Like most young referees, I would go to school during the day, referee Friday night, wake up early to referee on Saturday morning then play in the afternoon, and referee again on Sunday. My poor mother carted me around to fields on one side of Brisbane to the other. Then when I left high school, I started to get serious about refereeing. About this time was when I first met Renae, along with a few other A-League and W-League Refs (perks of living in Brisbane). At the time, the W-league girls were doing women’s NPL during the offseason to prepare for the upcoming season. I had the privilege of working with the likes of Renae Coghill, Lara Lee, Rebecca Durcau, all current W-League referees, along with Jacqui Hurford, who had the opening match at the 2011 Women’s world cup.
As a FIFA and W-League assistant referee, Renae Coghill has quite the resume. After playing football for over ten years she made the transition to refereeing on the Gold Coast in 2005. Since then, she’s ascended to the highest level, refereeing international women’s matches in China, Portugal, France, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia and Myanmar. She has been to numerous World Cups, including the U17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan in 2016, where she was appointed to the final match, between North Korea and Japan, alongside fellow Australian Kate Jacewicz. Renae is also a candidate for the 2019 Women’s World Cup next year in France.
Renae was the first referee I recognised as a fan, she seemed to be appointed to every Brisbane W-league game, and I was always wondering how she got to be where she is. I wanted to do the same thing. During an important beep test, all I remember is Renae standing there watching us and encouraging me when she saw me starting to struggle. The bonds you form with your fellow referees are ones that will last lifetimes.
I thought I would ask Renae a few questions about her experiences refereeing at such a high level.
Q: What has been your best experience or moment?
A: There are so many and hard to narrow down to one. I have a lifetime of experience I never dreamt about, but the best thing about refereeing is the friendships you build along the way.
Q: Have you had a favourite match, team or player to referee?
A: I have many memorable matches, but the Matildas v Brazil in Newcastle was certainly an experience I will never forget.
Q: Are there any particular coaches who stand out when you’ve been on the technical area side?
A: Haha!! Let’s just say there has been very many interesting characters along the way.
Q: Why did you decide to go down the Assistant referee route?
A: I just loved it, it felt right to me. Refereeing was never a thought. I think a really good Assistant referee can help a referee and the team succeed. Referee or Assistant referee, you still get the opportunities to be a part of some amazing matches.
Q: It’s female football round so are there any ladies you want to mention, anyone who’s inspired you?
A: There are certainly some amazing women in football and refereeing. The women before me certainly paved a wonderful path for me and the referees of the future to have fantastic and equal opportunities. Allyson Flynn and Sarah Ho have certainly been role models to me as an Assistant referee.
Q: You’ve been involved in all levels of football in Australia, how does it differ between a top-level men’s game and top-level women’s?
A: The games are certainly different and offer different things but in the end at the top level you are dealing with professional players and clubs that are passionate about football and winning. So, we need to give all matches 100%.
Q: How have you seen women’s football change over the years?
A: You would have to say the women’s game is growing so fast and becoming more professional year by year. It’s really exciting to be a part of women’s football and women’s sport at the moment.
Q: With the amount of experience you have behind you, there must have been a few mistakes over the years?
A: The main thing I have learnt over time is that we are human, and we all make mistakes, but the important thing is that we learn from it and work out why it happened, so we can keep the mistakes to a minimum. The main thing as an assistant referee is to remember that we are there to assist the referee not insist. So, if the ref decided to go a different way on the day that’s ok, it’s not personal.
Q: How do you fit refereeing in with your personal life?
A: Refereeing and training take up a lot of my time. Plus, I have a full-time job as well. So, the little bit of spare time is spent with family and friends doing the simple things like going to the movies, breakfast at a café or watching football with my friends.
Currently, being in the world cup candidates program training is 5/ 6 days a week. We are given a monthly training plan from FIFA to follow and when a tournament is coming up, the plan will reflect what is required to be ready.
Q: If you’ve got an interesting game is it hard for you to focus on your job without getting carried away watching?
A: As much as it is easy to get caught up in the match, it’s my job so I need to be focused on my responsibilities and I can say most errors come from when you get caught watching the game. I use the quieter games as a chance to work on things that I want to improve in my game, e.g. assisting the referee with fouls when offside is not in play.
Q: What’s in the future for you? Anything exciting coming up?
A: Hopefully I get an opportunity to be a part of the World Cup in France 2019.
We are currently in the W-league season and after missing most of last season due to injury, I’m excited to be a part of it again this year.
Q: Where do you see women’s football in Australia going? Where would you like to see it go?
A: I think the only way is up and I can’t wait to see how far it will go.
I would love to see women’s football and sport up on the levels of men’s sports.
They wouldn’t top most people’s list of heroes, but for me, there’s no one I would rate higher. They deal with some of the uglier sides of football but their love for the game never ceases, it always makes me think they must love it more than anyone else. So next time your team gets a wrong offside call, or you think they’ve missed a foul just remember: it’s nothing personal, they are HUMAN and they love this game just as much as you. You will never find a greater support network or a more fantastic bunch of people. Without Referees we wouldn’t have this beautiful game, if you think you’ve got what it takes, sign up and join the ranks. From me to all our fantastic referees out there, thank you!