Karla Martin laughs when she recalls the first football match she refereed. In her own words, it was a “baptism of fire”.
“It was a U16’s boys game in Port Macquarie and it went very badly,” she said with a wide grin. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
But despite how poorly her first 90 minutes being in charge of a football match went, she didn’t want to hang the whistle up. She managed to grow her knowledge and skills and by the end of the season, she was in charge of the same team’s semi-final.
“That was a very rewarding feeling,” she said. “It made me realise how much I had learnt and grown in one season.”
After her debut season in Port Macquarie, Karla moved down to Canberra to study and quickly joined the refereeing team in the nation’s capital.
“I was one of two female referees up in Port Macquarie so coming into a bigger female community in Canberra was really helpful,” she said.
“I wasn’t as alone because I had other female referees who mentored me and helped me develop my skills.
“To be honest, what I love most is that I get to meet so many different people who are all there to enjoy football.”
Learning how to become a more confident whistleblower has helped Karla on and off the field.
“I find that all the skills I learned as a referee actually helps me in other aspects of life, including my day job,” she said.
“I have also been a bit introverted but refereeing has helped me to be more confident and be able to speak up.”
Speaking as one of the 120 female referees in the ACT and surrounding region, Karla said Female Football Week was an important chance to acknowledge and promote the important role women play in developing football.
“Football has always been male-dominated so as a female referee, you are already starting off on the back foot,” Karla said. “I have found that most men are really respectful and I understand that I have the same authority as the men and I have the skills to do my job.
“Some of them are still not quite there yet but I know that it is a cultural change which can’t happen overnight.”
Female Football Week provides a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the female players, coaches, volunteers and referees that have had an impact on the game. If there is someone you would like to acknowledge, please contact Lachlan Roberts.