By Andrew Parkinson
When Ellie Hayes first picked up a whistle it was for the same reason as many football-playing teenagers – to simply get her hands on that extra bit of pocket money.
But refereeing has taken her on a journey most could only dream of.
Roughly three years after becoming a match official, Hayes had already been nominated for the W-League panel.
The two-time reigning Northern NSW Football female referee of the year is now a fixture in the W-League but also the NNSW NPL, Herald Women’s Premier League and NEWFM Northern League One first grade competitions.
A physiotherapist by trade, Hayes moved from Coffs Harbour to Newcastle to attend university after leaving high school.
And she hasn’t looked back.
“I first started when I was about 16 or 17. My mum and dad suggested to my sister and I that we do the refereeing course around playing. I was still playing at that time and it was a chance to make some extra pocket money,” she said.
“Within my first year refereeing in Coffs Harbour I was identified as having some potential. I was nominated to go to what is now called the TOP [Talented Official Program] Camp.
“From there I got to referee at a junior state titles and from that I was nominated to go to my first girls youth nationals. This was all in 2011 when I was in year 12. From there I went to the youth nationals and continued to referee locally with the Women’s Premier League and men’s youth grade as well.
“The next year I was re-nominated to go to the youth nationals again. And it was from there I was nominated for the W-League panel in 2012.
“From my I understand now of progression through the ranks that was definitely quite fast. I was surprised but obviously people saw something in me and I really enjoyed it.”
From there Hayes joined the W-League panel for the 2012-13 season. She worked her way up to first grade appointments in the NPL, WPL and NL1 as well as FFA Cup games.
Hayes was also part of the AFC Project Future in 2017 and 2018 which saw her travel to Asia to referee with officials from across the confederation. She also started to earn consistent W-League finals appointments.
Her next goal is to be nominated for a FIFA badge as an assistant referee.
But as important as the goals she has achieved and the accolades she has received, Hayes said there was plenty more refereeing had given her.
“I really enjoy the people that I’ve met. I’ve made some really good friends especially locally here,” she said.
“The ladies I referee with in the W-League a lot of them are the people I first met at the 2011 youth nationals and we’ve all kind of followed the same pathway at the same time. It’s great to see how we’ve grown within football and in our personal lives as well.
“Football has given me really good people skills, conflict resolution skills, the ability to talk to different personalities, quick decision making. On the field you don’t have much time to make decisions and that has helped me personally but also in my job as a physio.”
Hayes has used the suspension of football to take a short break from the game but will be ready to go again once it resumes.
And Hayes, who was also part of the match official team for the 2018-19 W-League grand final, encouraged anyone interested in refereeing to get involved.
“I’ve taken a little bit of a break but more of a technical break. I’m not watching too much football obviously but I’m not analysing any football which has been good,” she said.
“I think you’ll find most refs don’t watch games anymore. They can still appreciate a great shot on goal or great bit of build-up play but we’re also watching how the ref moves, any contact there is and what decisions should be. But I’m still keeping the fitness ticking over going running.
“[My advice is] definitely give it a go. You might surprise yourself with the enjoyment and friendships you get out of it. Refereeing gives you so many life skills as well. And it’s also very valuable in terms of perspective from the other side, being a player and having the opposite view.”