There are so many things about Jawahir Jewels which set her apart from her contemporaries.
Indeed, being a young, modern woman with an overriding love of the Beautiful Game and a keen and enduring affection for football’s rules, regulations and history is, perhaps, in itself sufficient to prompt the raising of eyebrows in what does remain – whether we care to admit as much or not – a male-dominated world of machismo and testosterone.
Then, of course, there is the fact that Jawahir – or JJ as she prefers to be known – is happy to trot out onto any muddy pitch anywhere, in any kind of inclement weather to take charge of teams made up of players of dubious quality and unpredictable temperament.
Oh yes, and then there is the small matter that this particular referee is diminutive, black, Muslim and happily flourishes red and yellow cards whilst wearing a head-scarf.
JJ is, in fact, the only such Football Association-qualified referee the Sunday morning hackers are ever likely to come across.
Twenty three year-old Jawahir admits there can be looks of surprise, stares of sheer astonishment and the occasional judgemental comment – but still she loves it.
“Yeah, they look at me as though they are seeing things,” she says with a giggle. “Quite often I have to tell them four or five times that it’s true – that, yes, I am the one who will be refereeing their game. They ask me if I really am the ref – I just tell them I have the whistle so I must be.
“All I can do is just ask them to get on with it and judge me on my performance. I would like to think that after a few minutes most of the players are so engrossed in the game that it could be Mickey Mouse in charge,” she added.
Whilst many would argue that an often cynical – sometimes cruel – world where prejudice is not simply prevalent but a harsh fact of life is perhaps sufficient for a young Muslim woman to contend with, JJ relishes the challenge proffered by refereeing and has ambitious targets.
“I truly do love it. It is such wonderful fun and I cannot get enough of it; I would referee a game every day of the week if I could,” she said.
A promising schoolgirl footballer brought up in West London by her Somali parents, JJ first took up refereeing whilst taking her coaching badges in her teens. Despite finding herself on the end of some highly-offensive racial abuse whilst in charge of a junior match – “ I didn’t hear it but some parents did “ – she decided to seek further refereeing qualifications.
She moved swiftly up the ladder, controlling matches like women’s’ games at the City University ( London ) where she is currently studying Computer Science.
Now studying for the FA’s Level Six referee qualification, she is grimly determined to achieve her ultimate goal of taking charge inside the Women’s Premier League.
“Wow, wouldn’t that be cool – little old me getting into the big-time,” she said. “I would SO love to become a role model – not just for women inside football but for Muslim girls inside football.
“I have worked very hard to get where I am but I want to go further – I want to go right to the top. If enthusiasm and dedication counts for anything then I will get there,” she added.
And JJ’s favourite referee? Why, it is the world’s best, Mark Clattenburg of course, the man who joined you-are-the-ref.com last week as International Director of our new online Academy.
“I watch his performances on television and YouTube. He is so cool – he’s the best there is. You-Are-The-Ref is such a key and important forum for all those who wish to pursue a career in refereeing,” she said.
Indeed Clattenburg was full of praise upon hearing about the young referee.
“It is so refreshing to hear of a young woman who simply exudes enthusiasm for both refereeing and football. For so many years it has been taken for granted that match officials simply MUST be males……but things are changing.
“As I travel around the world I am more and more aware of what I could describe as the rise of the female official – and, hand on heart, I couldn’t be more delighted.
“Jawahir sounds like a very, very special woman – she is a trail-blazer in more ways than one.” he said.