FEATURE: The challenges of Rotherham's first female footy referee

Annetta Harvey with husband Paul and baby son Adrian in her refereeing days.Annetta Harvey with husband Paul and baby son Adrian in her refereeing days.
Annetta Harvey with husband Paul and baby son Adrian in her refereeing days.
​ANNETTA Harvey was a trailblazer, a football referee in an era when even female footballers were thin on the ground.

She became Rotherham’s first female football referee when she qualified in 1976, the start of a long stint with the whistle that was to last 16 years and take in 650 games.

It took a strong, unflinching character to be able to pull on her boots and black kit and stride out on to a pitch with 22 blokes on any Saturday or Sunday and make the calls in what was a male-dominated game in those days.

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Annetta, a nurse at Doncaster Gate Hospital, came from good stock.

Annetta Harvey with old kitAnnetta Harvey with old kit
Annetta Harvey with old kit

She started out kicking a ball about in the street with boys when she was in her early teens.

She played five-a-side footy at Rawmarsh Baths and in 1969 she helped set up a women’s team, Kilnhurst Shooting Stars, with her sister, Val Hoyle, who is still involved in the game to this day with Rotherham United Women.

When, in 1973, Annetta broke her ankle, it didn’t put her off.

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Two years later she had Northern trials before hanging up her boots – the playing ones, that is – in 1977 soon after the birth of her first son.

Playing daysPlaying days
Playing days

Looking for a change of direction, she saw an appeal for football referees and thought “oh, I’ll have a go at that.”

Passing her Class 1, 2 and 3 football exams was one thing for Annetta.

Dealing with some of the prejudices and clumsy language of the time was another.

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Now aged 74, Annetta looks back at her refereeing career with the help of scrapbooks choc-a-block with old newspaper articles, photographs and documents.

They include an Examiner’s Report to Annetta which read: “Referees have got to be fit. Please allow me to say that you are slightly overweight for your height.”

"You’d never get away with saying that now,” said Annetta. “After all, I’d only just had my second son, Andrew, and I was back refereeing.”

Male or female, football referees have a tough job, but for a women it could be hard dealing with mischievous males.

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"Some tried to catch me out,” she said. “One day at kick-off 14 players walked to one side of the pitch, thinking I wouldn’t notice.

"Another time I had two teams wearing the same colours, who were supposed to be playing on another pitch, come onto my pitch.

"They tried it on but they didn’t succeed. I was always two steps ahead.”

One day, during the thick of the action, a lag shouted out “shouldn’t you be home making Sunday dinner?”

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Annetta shot back that it had been all readied and prepared “when you were at the pub last night”.

The plucky mother-of-two was dedicated.

Many a time she’d work a night shift, go home, get her breakfast and then get changed into her gear and go out and referee a match.

They also included junior matches, which brought their own challenges from mouthy mums and dads.

"The kids were great. You’d get more aggro from the parents on the touchline,” remembers Annetta.

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"If they were giving it too much and they were effecting the game, I’d go over and say ‘It’s not an England match. You had your say before the kids went on the pitch so let them get on with it.’”

Back in men’s football, there could be intimidating experiences.

She once sent a player off and as she walked off at the end of the game he was stood there, leaning on her car.

"When I got to the car he started apologising.

"I told him he was going to get fined £28 for actions against a fellow player who’d got to go to work the next day. He’d cut him off at the knees with a tackle and then stood on his hand as he walked away.

"He came round to my way of thinking.”

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A frequent absentee on the touchline was husband, Paul, who preferred to keep his distance.

"I went a couple of times but when players started mouthing you felt like clonking them one.

"It is not easy letting it go over your head when it’s your wife, so I tended not to go to matches.”

Annetta’s passion still had his blessing.

"Back then there weren’t many husbands bought their wives football boots for Christmas!" he laughs.

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Being small in stature might not have helped Annetta’s cause sometimes but it did have its advantages.

"It was easy for measuring the corner flags because they had to be 5ft in height and I was 5ft. All I had to do was walk around the pitch.”

And talking of pitches, Annetta once refereed on the infamous sloping pitch right at the top of Herringthorpe Playing Fields overlooked by The Homestead.

"It was sloped so much you’d come off with one leg shorter than the other,” she quipped.

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Annetta wasn’t alone because Catherine Hamstead, from Herringthorpe Valley Road, also passed her refereeing exams in the same era, although neither could depend on special treatment.

"There were no changing facilities for women so you’d come off the pitch all muddied up and I used to change from my boots into my trainers and get in the car and drive home,” said Annetta.

In 1992 she did that for the final time when she refereed her last ever game.

More than 30 years on, women’s and girls’ football is unrecognisable to what it was then, with increasing numbers wanting to play the game or pick up a flag or a whistle.

With her wealth of memories and her scrapbooks for company, Annetta can look back with pride from her home in Rawmarsh at her place in history as Rotherham’s first female football referee.

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