Stacey Fullicks makes great strides in transition from playing to refereeing
Stacey Fullicks is a rising star of the officiating world.
She may only have picked up the whistle for the first time in December 2017, but is quickly accruing quite a CV.
Twice Cambridgeshire FA official of the year, refereeing and running the line for England girls’ age group matches, being mentored by a leading Premier League figure and taking charge of the FA Girls’ Youth Cup final, there would appear to be no stopping the 30-year-old.
And that includes the sexist abuse from the stands that should have been banished from the games decades ago.
Talking to Fullicks you realise it will not stop her – you sense it may even give added drive, not that it is needed – and will be confronted in the way that befits a former combative midfielder.
She was heading towards her playing prime when, inspired by her husband, Richard, the world of officiating called. Now, under the tutelage of the county FA, she is a Level 4 official working in the men’s and women’s games.
“It’s quite scary sometimes as I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t actually been refereeing all that long,” says Fullicks.
“Sometimes you have to rein yourself back in. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and one I’m definitely going to keep pushing forward.”
While still playing for Cambridge City, it was a trip to Northern Ireland in 2017 to support Richard, also a referee, in the Foyle Cup that put a different perspective on things.
Having booked onto a referee training week, it became a natural transition, but the dilemma was balancing playing and refereeing.
The final straw was a double calf injury, having officiated in the morning and appeared for City in the afternoon.
“It was just a natural decision to say that I had really enjoyed playing, but I was going to give refereeing a go because I knew I could make a career out of it,” explains Fullicks.
“At some point, I would have had to stop playing as I got older, so to me it was a no-brainer really.
“When you love the game so much, and you want to find a way to stay in it, you will find a way to stay in it and still be a part of it.”
It may be a sweeping generalization, but it will be broadly true that most players do not consider becoming a referee.
It is probably also fair to say that more often than not it would seem a thankless task, with every move and decision scrutinized – the phrase ‘you can’t please everyone’ would certainly come to mind.
You could therefore easily presume that there would be a degree of apprehension given the stick that is so often directed at officials but, according to Fullicks, it falls into two categories.
“You do have to be thick skinned, but it’s the way you look at it,” she says.
“If you think about it, referee’s banter is part of the game and a lot of the time it is why people love going to watch a game as well, because they know they can give the referee banter.”
It seems like stating the obvious, but there is a line and that has been crossed.
“Unfortunately, I have been subject to sexism, discrimination,” says Fullicks.
Wendy Toms was the first woman to be included on the Football League assistant referees list in the 1994-95 season, and was promoted to the Premier League line in 1997.
That was 26 years ago, so it is shocking – though sadly, perhaps not unsurprising – to think that female officials can still be subjected to such abuse.
How Fullicks describes the emotions felt by such comments should be used to educate those who still think it is alright to make those remarks and not realise the impact of their words.
“It makes you feel completely and utterly worthless, I will be honest,” says Fullicks.
“I think the way you rise above it really builds your character, it just makes you stronger.
“It really is hard when you’re in a game and you hear it, and you’re trying to concentrate because that is way more important as I’ve got decisions to make. It’s so hard to knock it out of your mind, but you just have to do it.”
There are processes and procedures in place to deal with such instances, and Fullicks explained how she applied the measures once when running the line.
“I raised my flag when the sexism comments were coming up,” she explains.
“I was told by a substitute it was part of the game essentially, ‘why don’t you go and swap with the other lino?’. But I was like ‘why should I go to swap? I’m AR1 today, I deserve the right to be on this line, why should I go and swap just because there are some immature people in the stands that can’t behave themselves?’.
“You’ve put them in their place. The manager of the home team – because it was coming from a home team fan – was absolutely amazing, and dealt with it really quickly and really swiftly. I got support from them which was amazing.
“They know it is not right in the game, but unfortunately it is individuals – which is the only way to describe it – that let the game down.
“You have to follow the correct procedures, come back stronger into the next game and don’t let it bother you. If you let it eat at you, it really could affect your next performance in a game – you just really can’t let that happen.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come off games where all 22 players have shaken my hand and said great game ref – and I’ve had that more than I’ve had the negative comments. Even from spectators.”
It is reassuring to hear, and Fullicks would far rather accentuate the positives than talk about a minority of negatives, giving a ringing endorsement to the role, feeling there is no better time for girls and women to become a referee.
There are elements of playing that she misses – the team spirit and camaraderie of City, going into tackles and the physicality of the game. As Fullicks puts it, “as a referee, the only battle you get is a verbal battle off a player!”.
The new role has helped reflect on some of her own ‘misdemeanours’ during matches.
“I have hurled some abuse at referees before, but I guess now I’ve got this new-found appreciation for it, you could say,” she says.
“It’s what people do, but does it make it right? No, it’s absolutely not right. It’s just a lack of understanding.
“I think you should show the laws of the game to every player, to every spectator you could, and then give them all a session each and there would be a lot more understanding why you’ve come to that decision.
“A lot of people forget that you haven’t got a playback mode, you’ve got one shot and one shot only to get that decision right.”
Fullicks has already officiated four junior friendly international matches, running the line for England v US junior girls, and refereeing a match between England and Denmark under-16 girls.
For that game, her mentor was Sian Massey-Ellis, the current Premier League assistant referee.
It is that sort of support that she has received that has been invaluable, particularly from Cambs FA, with the county body now building a core group of girls’ and women’s officials.
“We’re seeing over a number of years there are more female participants in terms of refereeing, there are a lot of young girls that are coming up and coming forward,” says Fullicks.
“I get the privilege to mentor now and again as well, which is the main thing to give back to the community and back to Cambs FA.
“I’ve had amazing support and they have pushed me forward lots of times, I’ve had the opportunity to go to the women’s senior events and get selected for those which is extra additional training which would never have happened without Cambs FA.”
Fullicks cannot recommend the vocation enough. Her aspirations are to pass a forthcoming assessment to be able to officiate in the FA Women’s Championship and run the line in the Women’s Super League.
Further down the road, it would be to referee in the WSL and hold a FIFA badge.
She adds: “My selling point would be if you want to stay in the game, love the game, get into refereeing – contact your local FA, pick up a whistle and give it a try.”