(Image: Lauren Riddel (middle) and referee’s team)
As a young girl in England, it seemed that playing football was never really going to be an option for Lauren Riddel.
Despite that, Riddel found other ways to fulfill her love of the game including building special memories alongside her Dad.
“I was a mascot for Partick Thistle when I was three,” she recounted. “I remember just how happy my Dad was, seeing and knowing I loved football just as much. I followed the same club.”
Eventually being on the sideline was not enough and eight years ago Riddel was finally able to run onto the park. First, it was with the ball at her feet as a player. More recently, it has been with the whistle in her hand.
“Football wasn't the thing for young girls to do in the UK where we grew up, so I only watched the game until I came to Australia,” she said.
“I originally took up refereeing because I wanted to raise money for a charity trip to India. At the time, my Dad was a referee and had been most of his life, so I figured he could teach me. I loved it.”
Riddel is now a regular figure in her local football community and can be found commanding the middle of the pitch as a referee in Ballarat and Melbourne.
Since picking up a whistle six years ago, the 21-year-old has been on the rise and gaining recognition for her work. In 2015 she was runner up in Victorian Sport and Recreation Volunteer of the Year award, and part of the referee team for the 2016 and 2019 National Youth Championships in Coffs Harbour.
Today, Riddel is a Branch coach at the Ballarat District Soccer Association – one of the youngest in the state.
“I have learned so much about myself, my leadership capabilities, my physical capabilities. Refereeing has given me so many life skills that I use on a daily basis,” said Riddel of the impact of football on her personal growth.
“I feel connected to the game. I have met so many amazing, inspiring people that I would never have been in a position to meet if I had not taken up refereeing.”
That connection to football has led Riddel to want to give back to the next generation of young referees as a mentor, administrator and now a Community Bid Champion.
For the 21-year-old, a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Australia would not only result in limitless opportunities for those on the pitch, but those in the middle and off it.
While a home FIFA Women’s World Cup™ would allow young girls and boys to see our fierce female athletes in action, it is also an occasion to see strong female referees on the world stage.
Riddel believes it is a chance to continue to build the capacity and visibility of female referees with the eventual result being equality in refereeing appointments across football.
“A limitless future for girls and women in refereeing would definitely see more games like the UEFA Super Cup and Stéphanie Frappart’s appointment.”
“But it wouldn't just be at an international level. There would be no more questioning of our ability to referee matches that traditionally women and girls have not been refereeing.”
“Instead we would see increased visibility of female leaders on our TV, in our newspapers on our local games, and they would be supported and encouraged.”
A Women’s World Cup in Australia will also provide the prospect of the country’s world-class officials like Kate Jacewicz and Casey Reibelt - and many other coming up through the ranks - to officiate on home soil.
For Riddel a home tournament would also be a moment to take pride in her adopted country and people.
“Moving here my first impression was how friendly everyone was, and that has not changed to this day,” she said.
“Australia will be a great host because of the diverse range of people who make up our nation and the positive attitude we carry into sport as role models.”