Monday, May 16, 2022

Jawahir Roble: The trailblazing referee told that football ‘is a man’s game’

Born in Somalia, the 25-year-old grew up playing football with friends. They would spend almost every waking minute kicking a ball around the beaches until their parents called them in for dinner.
Somalia was plunged into chaos after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Following his ouster, clan warlords and militants battled for control, sparking mayhem nationwide.

No longer safe in their own home, Roble’s family fled to England when she was just 10 years old.

She still remembers the journey and her parents telling her not to speak to anyone until they got to the airport.

“I never, ever, in a million years, dreamed of leaving Somalia,” she told CNN Sport.

“We struggled a lot as a family because imagine […] nobody speaks English in a whole new country. Who is going to fill out the papers? It was difficult.”

Jawahir Roble has featured in a recent UEFA iniative.

Refuge in the UK

The one positive for the family was their eventual location — a house in the shadows of England’s home of football, Wembley Stadium.

Substituting the beaches of Somalia for a garden in London wasn’t always the easiest transition but as long as a football was at her feet, Roble and her siblings were happy.

“I think football was a little escape route for us because we would bring a football into school and we’d just play and play and play with the school kids,” she said, smiling.

“That way we got to learn English quicker and we made a lot of friends.”

Despite her parents both being football fans, neither were particularly comfortable with their daughter pursuing any career in the sport over her academic studies.

It led Roble to practice in secret, quickly changing out of her football gear whenever she returned home from playing with her friends.

“I really wanted to make my parents proud but me playing sports was not the way,” said Roble, who is now the focus of a UEFA ‘We Play Strong’ mini documentary.

“But I was like ‘I come first.’ I need to make myself happy, I need to make my dreams come true and hopefully one day they will accept me for who I am. Sports is a big thing.

“I don’t blame them [her parents]. It’s their generation, it’s their mindset. I’m glad that now we’re all on the same page.”

‘You have to be super strong’

After dropping out of university while studying IT, Roble returned to study Football Coaching and Management. From there, she volunteered at a local club and, by chance, was asked to referee a small game out of necessity. She’s never looked back.

She now referees both men and women up to five times a day in the lower ranks of English football and has became the UK’s first Muslim female referee.

“I don’t see myself as a Muslim girl or a female, I just see myself someone who actually loves football and OK, the image is there, but it’s what’s inside,” she said.

“In that 90 minutes, whether I’m playing or refereeing, nothing else matters around me. It’s just the best feeling ever. I’m not thinking about school. I’m not thinking about anything. It’s just pure pleasure. Literally, I love it.”

The 25-year-old now has dreams of refereeing some of the world’s most prestigious leagues and tournaments and, after barely 30 minutes in her company, you wouldn’t bet against it.

Referee Sam Allison will become the first black referee to officiate in English football’s top four divisions since 2009 next season and will become the first non-white official in the English Football League since 2010.

Whilst creating her own path, Roble has learned to deal with the verbal backchat that’s an almost constant feature of a referee’s game and is more than comfortable when putting people “in their place.”

She’s been told on a number of occasions that “this is a man’s game, ref.”

“You have to be super, super strong. Literally, all your bossiness has to come out,” she said, remembering an incident when a player told her she wouldn’t be safe walking home after she had given a decision.

“All your resilience has to come out. You can’t just be a softy when you’re a referee because people will have a go at you, players will have a go at you, so you have to look after yourself.”

Message for the world

Having proved her parents and wider community wrong, Roble wants to be a role model for other young children with ambitions for a career in the game.

She also wants people to understand the plight of refugees across the world, especially during such uncertain times.

“It’s an horrendous time right now, people are being discriminated for who they are,” she said.

“A lot of refugees are going to different countries. These refugees, these people are asking for help. If their home countries were not a problem for them, they would not be going to other people’s homes.

“I would say respect them, support people as much as you can and just be there for them because, me being in England, I’ve been looked after very well. I’d actually call this place a second home. I’m very grateful.”

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