This Sunday six women will be making history as they take to the field for an American Football game. But why is this game so special?
We spoke to Susannah Taylorabout this historic moment for women in the UK game:
Tell us more about how the British American Football Referees Association are celebrating International Women's Day?
We have assigned an all-female crew to the BUCS league playoff game between Derby Braves and Newcastle Raiders. This is the first time we have assigned an all-female crew to any 11v11 contact fixture in the UK. We planned to do this to coincide with International Women's Day 2020. Our aim is to celebrate the contribution Women have had and continue to have in American Football and sport in general.
Who do you have on the team?
We have 6 qualified officials taking the field, two of which have also officiated at the recent European Championships (Alisha Darkins and myself). We've also got Great Britain International, Elizabeth 'Lil' Bush, Leanne Spencer, American native and head coach Benita Grant-Booker and Barbara Jacquin who is a French native now living in the UK.
What reaction do you get when you are officiating a game?
Players are almost universally respectful and often don't even notice that we are any different to the rest of the crew of men. Coaches are equally enthusiastic towards us too and so I rarely come across any discrimination or even bias. Over time I've got to know several players and coaches well and the camaraderie makes it a joy to be involved in the game. The officiating teams we work with are different every week and have been nothing but supportive and include us in all aspects both corrective and supportive of officiating work - they want us to be the best we can be!
How does it feel for you as a female being involved in American football?
Officiating is a totally brilliant way to get involved in the game. I could play contact or non-contact or be a coach or administrator but I'm so glad I chose officiating - I feel like I've found a home and a family.
What opportunities has American football given you that you wouldn't have without it?
We've had the opportunity to officiate at the highest level in UK and overseas. Alisha was assigned to the international competition for the flag world championship in Barcelona in 2015 and I joined her at the Women's European Championship in Leeds last summer. One of the events I've enjoyed taking part in was the Play 60 events NFL hosts in UK. Seeing 40 odd teams of 9-13-year olds playing Flag Football all day (and meeting some big-name players) was unforgettable. But my favourite "perk" of officiating in UK is the opportunity to assist the NFL referees at the International Series games in London. It's open to all qualified BAFRA officials and we provide chain crew, ball relay and many other important support roles on the day. I had two games in 2016 at Wembley and Twickenham and can say I provided a critical assist as clip operator when an interception was called back on a penalty. We'd already shifted downfield for the first down but as I had operated a 2 clip mechanic, we were able to quickly reset at a reliably accurate spot almost seamlessly thus saving the officiating team.
How can people get involved?
Follow this link, fill in the form and we'll be in touch! You could be on the field in a little as a few weeks because we provide a one to one training programme that fits with the rookie's life and timetable. Then there is a 10-game apprenticeship. In UK we play American Football all year round so no long offseason to wait for the first game!