Michelle O’Neill: top AR from Ireland

Michelle O’Neill will be involved in the 2019 Women’s World Cup final. She’s the assistant referee of Stéphanie Frappart. They first worked together at O’Neil’s first main Uefa tournament, the u19 Euro’s. “Where I was very succesfull and got all the way the final.”

Seven years later they will add another pinnacle to their cooperation with the World Cup final in France.  A story about Michelle O’Neil, a top level assistant referee from Ireland.

Michelle O'Neill

In a video from FAI Ireland (embedded below) she tells a lot about her career as referee. A few lessons for you.

Be passionate

The woman from Ireland is very passionate about her job as referee. She smiles when talking about it, excitement everywhere when being asked about going to France for the World Cup. 

It’s just over ten years ago that she started as a referee in 2008. After her succesfull u19 Uefa Euro’s in 2012, she has been to Papua New Guinea for the under 20’s World Cup, 2015 Women’s World Cup in France, Uefa Euro 2017 in The Netherlands, the u20 France World Cup last year. In the latter she again worked with Stéphanie Frappart from France and  “got all the way to the final again”.

She calls her career “unbelievable”. 

Always try to get better

As a player Michelle O’Neill was succesfull, but she was not always with the referee decisions. “I always was frustrated about, you know, the decisions in the matches”, she says to FAI. She always thought: “Hey guys, you can do better here.” That’s why she went into refereeing herself after finishing her career. 

And getting better and better is something you’ll see throughout her career. She wants to be the best. “Four years ago there was 300 of us on the list for this tournament and that’s when the campaign started”, she says. “Now there is 47 of us going to the World Cup out of that huge amount.”

That means for her that she wants to give all to be “very fast, very strong, very fit”. 

She made the final cut and is proud to be representing Ireland. “And in terms of my results I would be in the top 5% of the World Cup this year. So I am very very happy with that stats.”

Work hard for good games at national level too

Michelle O’Neill wants to officiate as many good games as possible. Not just in Europe, but also at national level.  She is an assistant referee in the highest men’s league since 2013.  What helped her getting ready for the 2019 Women’s World Cup is “getting the opportunities to have so much high quality matches here in Ireland”, she says. “That is a huge boost for me.”

In 2017 Esther Staubli officiated a game at FIFA’s u17 tournament in India, but did you know Michelle O’Neill was involved in the u19 men’s Youth League in 2014-2015? She assisted referee Robert Rogers in the game between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund

Gain experience as much as you can

“I’ts so exciting to come back to a World Cup”, Michelle O’Neill says. Because she has been at a World Cup before, she felt much better before the tournament.  Call it “more mature if you want to say that”. And the experience she gained helps her a lot. Less stress. “I am a lot more relaxed, as I know the work I’ve done over the last four years.

For her it’s a huge honour to be present in France. To FAI she tells that it’s amazing to be “standing in the middle of it all officiating it in front of 64.000 live spectators and then millions across the world. I mean it’s a huge, huge stage of Women’s football.”

Michelle O’Neill video

The smoothest handshake for referees

The smoothest handshake for referees in the player tunnel is by Joe Fletcher. The Canadian assistant referee is – at least amongst referees – known for this.

PS: next week a full interview with this Canadian top AR.

Joe Fletcher and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

It all happens during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 18th of June in Estádio Maracanã. The referees are ready and all players line up in the tunnel for the group stage game between Spain and Chili. Someone shakes hands with Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Assistant referee Joe Fletcher is next … 

And then this happens.

Video of the handshake

People remember him about this situation a lot, Fletcher says. “Even when there was a new clip about goalkeepers from FIFA, they highlighted Casillas.” And of all the footage they got from this experienced Spanish goalkeeper, they pick the footage from the World Cup. “And again, that handshake shows up. Yeah it’s funny now”. 

Fletcher was happy the game went really smooth, so he could have a laugh about this afterwards. “And when we were leaving the stadium we talked about it. Sean Hurd says: It had to be you and I am happy it was you and not me”. 

Check out the story about Mark Geiger.

Female referees in The Netherlands: “Come on girls, take up that whistle!”

The need for more female referees in The Netherlands. An interview with Kevin Blom, who heads the female refereeing development programme.

Our Orange Lionesses are due to leave for France to compete in the Women’s World Cup. Obviously, everybody’s hoping the Dutch will wage another successful campaign on the back of winning UEFA WEURO 2017, which gave Dutch women’s football a huge boost. The momentum gained by Dutch women’s football is reflected in the number of female referees, underscores Kevin Blom, who heads the female refereeing development programme.

Interview by Jan from Dutch Referee Blog for the national Dutch RA’s magazine. The story is translated by Ben from RefereeingBooks.eu. Thank you very much, Ben! (and follow his blog as well please)

Kevin Blom about female refereeing in the The Netherlands

Positive effect of WEURO 2017

“The Dutch win and presence during WEURO 2017 had the added effect of stimulating more women to take up the whistle or assistant’s flag. Their number is still too small, however. It boggles the mind that we have so many women playing football but only about 40 female registered referees.”

“We did not expect to have a referee at this year’s World Cup yet, as none of our top refs are at Elite level yet. UEFA referees start in Category 3, so Shona and Lizzy will have to be promoted three times to make it to Elite level.” Blom sees a rosy future ahead, though. “Our female referees are showing great progress. We hope to have a representative team at the 2023 World Cup. We’re working hard to achieve that goal.”

Solid international performances

At the moment, Holland can boast three international referees and five international assistant referees (see boxout). Nicolet Bakker was selected to act as an assistant referee at the WEURO 2017 in Holland. “Our referees and assistants are performing well, both domestically and internationally”, Blom emphasises. “We hope that Shona Shukrula and Lizzy van der Helm will be promoted to a higher category before long. UEFA has included Shona in its special referee talents programme, which means she’s doing well.”

Dutch women's cup final 2019 toss

Shona Shukrala at toss of Dutch women’s cup final 2019

Women in the pro game

Although the Eredivision cannot boast the presence of a female referee, some women are knocking on the door. Shona Shukrula has been invited to do an intake for the Talent Course Pro Football (TTBV in Dutch) and has already been assigned matches in the fourth tier of Dutch football. Already in the TTBV programme, Franca Overtoom has assisted in as many as eight matches on the second tier of Dutch pro football.

Kevin Blom welcomes this development and hopes that some of his pupils will make that final step into the pro game in due time. Happy as he is to see the development programme is bearing fruit, Blom does realise there’s only a small base to work from. “There are approximately 40 female registered referees active in Holland. Increasing that number is one of our key challenges”, he stresses.

More female referees in The Netherlands

This weekend, Blom was at Buitenboys, an amateur club, to award a Fair Play certificate. He found five girls reffing matches there, so female refs are out there alright. “It’s now a matter of getting those girls to go one step further and register as official referees.” Blom made it clear that any girl showing fitness and a solid performance could quickly climb the Dutch reffing ladder, up to international grade. “There’s a wealth of opportunities”. It will have to be spelled out, of course, that not every one will rise to highest level, but Blom would be very content if girls become more conspicuously present in refereeing roles.

Blom has scheduled meetings with female referees who have taken refereeing courses. Among the things he wants to learn are their motives for taking up the whistle. “I’d like to learn why they’ve gone into reffing and what we can do to encourage others”, Blom says. “One thing I hear quite often is that women tend to be overlooked for volunteer work at clubs. That’s one thing we can work on. We will also ask other national associations for their solutions to getting women involved.”

Role models

“What’s also likely to help is for young girls to have good role models.” That’s why he is glad that the women who are within reach of the pro game have taken up giving courses and presentations at football clubs. Initiatives like #ZijFluitTop (the Dutch equivalent of #GirlsThatRef), with several sports associations drawing attention to female referees, can meet with Blom’s approval as well. “Unfortunately, these initiatives have not yet resulted in female hopefuls attending our courses in droves”, Blom hastens to add.

“This narrow basis really pinches the number of women rising to the top. If female refereeing wants to evolve, it is essential for the number of female referees to grow. “That number really has to increase. We have eight women at the top of Dutch football now. There should be fifty. So come on, girls, take up that whistle! And experience first-hand how challenging, enriching and satisfying it is to be in charge of a football match.”

Note: I’ve written this story for the COVS, the Dutch referee association. It’s translated by Ben from RefereeingBooks.eu. Much appreciated!

Boxout: Dutch international referees


  • Vivian Peeters (since 2005)
  • Shona Shukrula (since 2017)
  • Lizzy van der Helm (since 2018)

Assistant referees

  • Nicolet Bakker (since 2008)
  • Fijke Hoogendijk (since 2013)
  • France Overtoom (since 2017)
  • Bianca Scheffers (since 2014)
  • Diana Snoeren (since 2019)

Boxout: Female referees across our borders

In France, Stéphanie Frappart (below) recently débuted as a referee in Ligue 1 and has now officiated in two matches in France’s top flight. In Germany, Bibiana Steinhaus has just finished her second season in the Bundesliga. And across the North Sea, Sian Massey-Ellis made her debut as an assistant referee in the Premier League on 28 December 2010, running the line when Blackpool hosted Sunderland.

Stéphanie Frappart during her debut

Anastasia Pustovoitova to referee WUCL final 2018-2019

Anastasia Pustovoitova is the referee of the Women’s UCL final 2018-2019. “There’s a mixture of emotions – certainly happiness and excitement”, she tells Uefa.com. “I can’t wait to get to the match, and I’m sure that my heart rate will increase when I’m lining up with the teams.”

During the Women’s World Cup 2019 Anastasia Pustovoitova is also active. She was 4th official in the British clash between England and Scotland. Her first game as referee is Nigeria vs Korea. She is also appointed for the clash between Sweden and USA.

In this blog post she shares 3 tips that you can apply as referee.

Anastasia Pustovoitova (second to right) at Algarve Cup

1. Gain experience both as player and referee

Because Anastasia Pustovoitova is a former football player, she has a lot of experience in (top) football. In the early years of this century she plays football in the Women’s Cup, which is the predecessor of the Women’s Champions League. “We were the first Russian club to play in the competition when it started in 2001/02, and we reached the quarter-finals, when we were knocked out by the strong Swedish team Umeå IK, who reached the final that year and won the competition the year after.”

This experience gave here the great feeling of acting at top level, but also ignites here spark to continue in top football. “I thought about what I could do next, because I can’t live without football – and I decided to try refereeing”.

But how has it really helped her? “You are able to read the game and you can anticipate a lot of the time what comes next.”

2. Work as a real team

“When I refereed, I felt confident, so I continued”, Anastasia Pustovoitova says. That brought her to the 2017 Women’s Euro and the 2019 World Cup in France. The Russian referee says that it is very important to have a great team. “Without the team, I’m nothing”, she says.

That’s a similar experience Björn Kuipers experiences when making big calls. “It’s also about the fact that someone in your team gives you an advice and that you follow your team member when you make a decisions.” Check how Björn Kuipers builds trust with his team.

Anastasia Pustovoitova during the Women’s Euro 2017

3. Be yourself as referee

Every referee has some match official that he likes, but you should not copy him or her. “You must be yourself as a referee”, is the advice of Anastasia Pustovoitova. “I don’t really have role models, but I respect [German referee] Bibiana Steinhaus, she’s a women’s refereeing icon”, she tells Uefa. She also mentions former Czech referee and UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar Damková who I spoke with for my blog. “She is so experienced and took charge of so many important games in her career.”

Anastasia Pustovoitova’ is looking forward to the future. “I just want to keep doing my best and looking ahead”. And what would she advice a young girl who might be keen to take up refereeing?

“Just do it, if you love football – and believe in yourself…”

Training by Anastasia Pustovoitova

On YouTube you can see what a training session by Anastasia Pustovoitova looks like.

Club referee in The Netherlands: Clarence Leow from Singapore

Being a club referee in The Netherlands, that’s a unique chance to referee games as foreign referee. Clarence Leow can’t referee games for KNVB, because his stay in The Netherlands is too short. He thinks he’ll only train at the referee association … But luckily for him there’s a club referee system and he officiates over twenty games. A great foreign experience as referee. “I’ll take this with me to Singapore and will continue my career there.”

Club referee in the netherlands: clarence Leow

Clarence Leow is a 23-year-old student in Biomedical Sciences, who studied one semester in Leiden for an exchange programme. His FA wrote a letter for me to send to the KNVB, but in the opinion of the Dutch association a stay of just four months is too short to become KNVB official. “And I agree with them now”, says Leow. “They don’t know how good I am. If they first need to assess me, my time in The Netherlands is up.”

Local referee association

KNVB advises Leow to get in touch with a local branch of the COVS, the referee association. Leow’s idea is then that he will only train, but things change. In The Netherlands there are options to become a club referee. “Manon, a fellow ref asks me if I want to referee. She plays (and referees) at Voorschoten’97 and they need referees every week.”

Clarence Leow showing a yellow card.

Clarence Leow showing a yellow card. Photo provided by referee.

And that’s not where it stops, as one of the Saturday teams from Voorschoten ‘97 were in need of players as well. “I referee two to three games a day and even play in the weekend’s.” He describes his craziest day where he officiates at another club (RKAVV in Leidschendam) at 9 am, travels in 45 minutes with public transport to Voorschoten’97 to officiate a game there at 12.30pm and plays for his team at 4.15 pm. “I woke up at 6 in the morning and was home late in the evening.”

What he loves as club referee in The Netherlands

“What I love the most about refereeing in The Netherlands is that players understand that referees are human”, he says. He loves a simple “thank you, ref”, which he usually gets here. In Singapore referees line-up teams before and after the game for a handshake, but that is organised. In The Netherlands it comes more natural. “They even do it when they lose with 10-0.”

Clarence Leow and flowers

“Extra special was the week of the referee where I received a bouquet for flowers after my game on a Sunday. It’s a good example my country could start with as well”, he says. “And you don’t go to a game to receive praises, but every once in a while it feels good to be appreciated.”

A big difference for him was the use of club assistant referees and the sin bin. “ The sin bin is a good way for players to cool down. But it took some time for me to get used to the use of club assistant referees during my games.

Clarence Leow

Clarence Leow. Photo provided by referee.

COVS training

Leow enjoys his time at COVS with training sessions from Piet, Ernst-Jan, Remco and Koos. And a video test on Thursdays. “Everyone was very welcoming to me.”

But his start in Leiden was not good, he admits. “In Singapore buses arrive every ten minutes, but in The Netherlands the schedule changes after 7PM. Then it goes every thirty or even sixty minutes. I missed my bus to COVS, so I decide to run for three kilometres with my bag. I was 10 minutes late at the first training session. I was a bit worried, as punctuality is very important for referees. But thankfully, Ronald from COVS was very understanding.”

Clarence Leow


Funny moments: whistle

In his first month in The Netherlands, Leow barely speaks Dutch. This leads to a funny situation. There’s a direct free kick near the penalty are. Leow tells the players in English to wait for the whistle. Everyone is looking to the halfway line, but don’t know why they have to wait. That’s because the players think the referee wants a wissel, the Dutch word for substitute, which sounds similar. In the end they understand each other and play continues.

When Leow got back in Singapore he re-registers and does the FIFA fitness test. “I am really lucky to be given the chance by Voorschoten’97 and COVS for this experience in The Netherlands. My biggest learning in The Netherlands is positional awareness. I gained more experience in getting used to the pace of the game. You never know if games are fast or slow. But no referee wants a boring game. Luckily I have done some great ones here and I’ll never forget this experience.”

Referees from Singapore

Referees from Singapore. Photo provided by referee.

3 tips from World Cup and Olympic referee Anna-Marie Keighley

Anna-Marie Keighley is having a great career. She has been to the 2015 World Cup and the Olympics in Rio. In 2019 she will be at the Women’s World Cup in France. She is appointed for Jamaica vs Italy and Thailand vs China.

In this story you’ll find three useful tips from the top referee from New Zealand. She is ambitious. Her goal as referee is always to go one better. After her selection for the World Cup she sets a new goal. “Then being involved in the final would be a dream come true.”

Anna-Marie Keighley

Start of her career

Keighley started her career when she was coaching and had to referee a half. “I didn’t really know the rules”, she admits. After following a course she climbed the refereeing ladder and has reached the international level in 2010. “I enjoy the ability to be still involved in the game particularly on a high level”, she tells NZ Football.

Her career brought her to the u17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica, the Youth Olympic Games and the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015. She officiated also a round of 16 game between the organizing country and The Netherlands. “An amazing experiences to be in the middle of. And then I was charged with a semi-final. Another huge pinnacle of my career and very lucky to receive such an appointment.”

Refereeing men’s games

Keighley was also one of the female referees appointend for the men’s u17 World Cup. A tournament with the historical moment of Esther Staubli officiating a men’s game. “It is such a great honour to be included in this tournament and share with the other amazing female referees in this historic moment”, she tells NZ Football. “It is great to see the speed at which women’s refereeing is developing and a privilege to be part of that journey and history.”

But what can YOU learn from her? Anna-Marie Keighley gives 3 tips for fellow refs.

Be consistent and decisive

“Go out and be the leader. But you don’t go out control the game, but facilitate the game and provide an opportunity where you’re protecting the players and allowing the game to flow.

Find inspiration

Anna-Marie Keighley has looked closely at fellow top referees in New Zealand. Peter O’Leary and Mike Hester went to the World Cup in South Africa. “Both Mike and Peter have been inspirational to me to continue on the referee pathway and to see their accomplishments I often asked myself ‘why not me?’’’, she says to Boxscore.

I interviewed Mike Hester after his World Cup. Check the interview with this New Zealand top referee.

Practice and develop your crafts

For young lads and girls who still have doubts about becoming a referee, Keighley has one tip. “Give it a shot”. She adds: “You might not be the greatest the first time you do it, you might not be the best. You have to practice and develop your crafts. And likewise with refereeing: the more you do it, the better you gonna get in terms of being assertive, consistent and decisive.

Video of interview with Anna-Marie Keighley

Watch full interview with NZ Football below.

Ingrid Jonsson: the first female Women’s World Cup Final referee

Ingrid Jonsson is the first female Women’s World Cup Final referee. In this interview with Dutch Referee Blog the Swedish referee and FIFA referee instructor talks about this experience and the development of female refereeing. “In the future I guess that many more female referees will be involved in men’s football and not because they are women but based on quality between referees.”

Ingrid Jonsson (right) with match commissioner Pricilla Janssens.

Ingrid Jonsson (right) with match commissioner Pricilla Janssens at a play-off between Argentina and Panama. (Picture provided by Ingrid Jonsson)

First ever female in a women’s final

In 1995, you were the first female referee to officiate a Women’s World Cup final. How was that for you?

Ingrid Jonsson: “In the Women’s World Cup in China 1991 I was one of the six so-colled “lines women” (assistant referees) that participated. I was AR1 in the final game between Norway and USA and 63.000 spectators. In Sweden 1995 the final game between Norway and Germany it was around 17.000 spectators – so two total different games and atmosphere. But of course being appointed for a final game in your own country is special.”

A mix of men and women

During that period referees at a big tournament were a mix between men and women. During that WC final you have a female trio, but in the 1996 Olympics 3rd place game your AR2 was a man. How important has this appointment with a complete female team been for the development of female refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “During my three big tournaments it was always a mix between women and men and for me that was natural, what I was used to in my own country. I still think that quality is the most important thing, but not if you are a woman or a man. Still, there are not so many countries that will havea trio in the Womens World Cup 2019. They are usually a trio from a confederation and once again based on quality.”

Ingrid Jonsson during her 1995 world Cup final

Ingrid Jonsson during her 1995 world Cup final

Ingrid Jonsson’s career path

I’ve seen you were in many international referee committees. Can please tell a bit more about your life after active refereeing and your current role?

Ingrid Jonsson: “I started my refereeing in 1983, while still playing as a goalkeeper. By that time I was also a teacher in physical education. Since 1987 I was also a referee instructor for the Swedish FA and of course in my own area. When I became FIFA referee in 1995 I took a break from my instructor role, as I also was working as a principal in high school and my own kinds was 2 and 5 years old. My husband was by that time a international referee in bandy (Jan: ice hockey with a small ball on a big field).”

“When I stopped my refereeing after 2003 I returned as a instructor in the Swedish FA and is still active, I also started as a UEFA referee observer and am still active. From 2004 to 2011 I was active as a FIFA instructor, made a break between 2012 and 2016 when I was in the FIFA referees committe. And since 2017 until now I am still FIFA instructor.”

Looking for development

What makes it worth for you being involved in refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “When You have been involved in sport always – it´s a great pleasure to have the possibility to continue to work with next generation, share experinece and knowledge and hopefully see the development.”

Uefa launches a report about women’s football across the national associations. The 2016/17 edition (can’t find a 17-18 version yet) shows a growth in number of female referees. But not every country has its own programme targeting development and recruitment of female referees yet. How important is it to have such a thing and how does it help grow women’s football?

Ingrid Jonsson: “I think it’s important that all parts of football develop, players, coaches and referees. To become a referee when you have ended your playing career, it is a good start for your next mission – if you do not become a coach. Because it will bring understanding into the different roles.”

Ingrid Jonsson refereeing Norway and Germany in the WWC Final

Ingrid Jonsson refereeing Norway and Germany in the WWC Final

Quality of the referee is key

In Germany Bibiana Steinhaus officiates in the Bundesliga. What do you expect for the future of female refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “As we said in the previous question, different countries are in different levels and have choosen different ways. In the future I guess that many more female referees will be involved in mens football. Not because they are women, but based on quality between referees.”

Top 3 tips for you by Ingrid Jonsson

I ask people I speak with usually about their tips for others. What are your top 3 tips you’d like to share with other referees?

Ingrid Jonsson: That is difficult, because it’ss always individual what is important for different people/referees. But for life in general:

  • always do your best, so you do not regret that you did not give everything
  • enjoy every moment, do things that make you feel good
  • surround yourself with people who give you energy