Blackburn Rovers made a small piece of history ahead of Saturday’s SkyBet Championship encounter with Millwall by becoming the first EFL club to give an aspiring match official the chance to become the referee mascot for the day.
The first recipient of the new package – currently being undertaken as a pilot with the support of Professional Game Match Officials Limited – was 15-year-old Ellie Mayor, who is shortly set to undertake her refereeing qualifications with a view to hopefully fulfilling her ambition of one day becoming a professional official.
She was able to meet referee Gavin Ward and his team ahead of the game, shadowing their movements in the build-up to the game, covering a range of essential checks such as testing the new goal-line technology, programming the fourth official’s board and even being shown how the communication between the four officials is integrated into items of kit including the assistant referees’ flags.
Ellie then got to walk out alongside the matchday officiating team, carrying the match ball to the centre circle for the pre-match handshakes before sitting back to enjoy the game, keeping a close eye on the officials’ role throughout the match.
The new opportunity, which initially runs until October with a hope of extending it further, has been pioneered by the club’s official charity, Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, who hope that it will encourage more young people to harbour aspirations of becoming a match official.
The Community Trust’s senior business administrative officer Martin Winters is also a qualified referee and is set to officiate at matches up to and including North West Counties League standard this season. As such, he has driven the scheme from concept to reality, having gained support from the PGMOL’s Mike Riley to undertake the trial.
“We were fortunate enough to meet Mike Riley at last season’s EFL Awards, so we were able to pitch our idea to him then,” explained Winters.
“Our idea was to ensure that aspiring young officials from Lancashire are given an insight into the excitement of being a matchday referee and inspire them to put in the hours of dedication that it takes to reach the top level, officiating in major fixtures.
“We’re delighted that the PGMOL have given their backing to our innovative idea and we hope that we’ll enjoy plenty of success during the trial, giving us the chance to extend the concept where we can and use it as a blueprint for other clubs if they wish to follow.”
Further participants in the referee mascot concept – largely aimed at those in their early teens across the county – are being drawn from the Lancashire FA’s Basic Referee Course, with the hope that participants on their Mini Whistlers programme may also get the chance to get involved in the future.