A young woman has made history by becoming the first female Muslim referee in the UK.
Jawahir Roble, 24, known as JJ, who moved from Somalia to the UK with her family as a child, is currently in her second full season as a Football Association-registered official.
After starting her IT studies at university, JJ made the decision to dedicate herself to becoming a professional referee, after being asked to referee in a local girls’ league in North West London as a teenager.
JJ, who is 5ft4ins tall, said that her presence on the pitch was initially met with ‘giggles’ from some players, and that it took her a while to command respect, but that now she couldn’t be happier in her role – and hopes to one day judge Premiership and Champions League matches.
JJ, who said stepping on to the pitch gives her a feeling of ‘pure happiness’, said she’s determined to show girls they can ‘do whatever they want’.
Jawahir Roble, 24, who moved from Somalia to the UK with her family as a child, has made history by becoming the first female Muslim referee in the UK, against all odds
Speaking about the first time she officiated at a match, she said: ‘When I first turned up to the match you could hear some boys just giggling, “No way she is the ref? No!”
‘[But] they can see that I am the ref because I am wearing my full kit.’
‘Now, I don’t know if word of mouth is spreading, I don’t even get that anymore, they’re like, “Do we have linos?”, they ask me other appropriate questions, instead of, “Are you the ref?”‘
Explaining that players have now accepted her, she continued: ‘I don’t get any grief because of my gender. There was one time a guy came up to me and said, “I really like female referees, they’re good”.
JJ moved from Somalia to the UK with her family as a child, is currently in her second full season as a Football Association-registered official
‘I will take that, that’s very nice, but no one has ever said, “Get in the kitchen, you don’t belong here”. I’ve not heard that yet and I don’t want to hear it.’
However JJ admitted people online have been less kind, explaining: ‘[They say] stuff like, ‘You’re not even following the religion, you’re not following the culture.’ I don’t know, some weird stuff.
‘Of course, football is not in my culture, no. But you know, I am here to break the stereotypes. Girls can play football, girls can do whatever they want.’
Explaining that she believes being a Muslim, a woman and a referee aren’t contradictory to one another, she questioned: ‘Who said girls can’t be a referee and be a Muslim?’
Her journey hasn’t been easy, and Jawahir, known as ‘JJ’, has had to battle to break stereotypical attitudes both from footballers and her community
‘My religion, it is part of me, and I love it,’ JJ said.
‘It is just being a good person, being modest and doing what makes you happy and I think I am doing all of that, but when people start mixing culture with religion, that’s when it gets confusing because some cultures are super strict, and people mistake it for religion.’
She said: ‘I want to encourage more girls and people and youth in general to actually take part in football, take part in any sport and follow their dream and passion and I don’t think they should be stopped because of a certain thing. I think we need to move away from that.’
She couldn’t be happier in her role and hopes to one day judge the Premiere and Champions League
Having always loved football, JJ made the decision to pursue refereeing more seriously after studying for coaching badges as a teenager.
A local girl’s league was short of match officials and JJ stepped in, eventually going on to do a refereeing course.
‘I asked to volunteer for a girls league, called Capital Girls League, and they were short of referees… and I haven’t looked back.
‘The support I received – all the positive feedback from parents and players – that kind of helped and pushed me towards the course.’
And speaking about where her love of football stemmed from, JJ remembered how she would play among the rubble of the war-ravaged Mogadishu streets.
Explaining how the dangers of war were an every day normality to her, she said: ‘In Somalia there was war and random attacks every day. I remember going to school, coming home and chilling with my siblings and playing [football] around on the street.
Standing at just 5ft 4inches, JJ from North-West London admitted it has taken a while to command respect from players
‘We would just meet up and make some goals and play until the sun goes down and rush home: ‘Mum, we’re back don’t worry!’
‘You had to be home before the sun goes down, while it was still light.’
Eventually JJ’s parents decided to move their family to the UK, with JJ adding: ‘Literally no one was safe so the only choice was to leave, get on the next bus or coach, whatever and disappear.
‘I remember being at Heathrow airport, that was so sick, literally. Our family walked out of those automatic doors and literally the first thing we did was [go] to some chicken and chip shop.
‘It was such a night, I will not forget.’
After starting her IT studies at university, JJ made the decision to dedicate herself to becoming a professional referee
As well as refereeing the weekend amateur hackarounds, JJ referees for London and Middlesex county FAs.
Currently at level seven, but aiming for a double promotion to level five, JJ’s mentor Alan Hill, a referee coach, believes his mentee has the potential to go all the way to level one.
He said: ‘JJ is willing to learn. She has got the personality and she can communicate.
‘She has that ambition. Now I can out her on the first steps of the ladder and it’s down to her commitment if she wants to do it. She is a good referee.’
As well as refereeing the weekend amateur hackarounds, JJ referees for London and Middlesex county FAs
Currently at level seven, but aiming for a double promotion to level five, JJ’s mentor Alan Hill, a referee coach, believes his mentee has the potential to go all the way to level one
JJ added: ‘In ten years’ time I would like to see myself as a professional referee, refereeing in top leagues: Premier League, Champions league: there is [sic] no limits, I want to go all the way to the top.’
‘Referees have the best seat in literally any game. They’re in the centre, you get to see everything that is happening, we’re in the best seat, and refereeing is so amazing. You get to make decision on important things.
‘As soon as I step onto any pitch and I’m refereeing, it’s just pure happiness.’
JJ’s story will feature in The History of Football global TV event, airing on History (excluding USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), from May 28th-10th June 2018.
‘In ten years’ time I would like to see myself as a professional referee, refereeing in top leagues: Premier League, Champions league: there is [sic] no limits, I want to go all the way to the top’