Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional and grassroots clubs and organisations.

In a new feature series, Kick It Out has been speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the organisation has spoken to four women from across the game – Ffion Eade, Preeti Shetty, Sue Prior and Susan Patterson-Smith – to discuss their role in football, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.

First up Kick It Out spoke to Ffion Eade, Chairperson of the Hampshire FA referee youth council about her path into refereeing, reporting sexist comments from players and the need for better guidance for young women breaking into the football industry.

Having grown up in a family of referees, perhaps it is unsurprising that Ffion Eade decided to follow suit at the age of 15 – although her initial motivation is not what you might expect.

She explained: “My dad and brother were both referees and when we’d watch Match of the Day, they’d tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about because I hadn’t done my course! So I did it to prove a point.”

From that moment onwards, Ffion was hooked. She began her refereeing career by officiating Under-12s matches before working her way up to take charge of men and women’s games.

Off the pitch, she has expressed a keen interest in referee development and has been at the helm of Hampshire FA’s referee youth council since October 2016.

“The more involved the better for me. I do a lot of work with the referee’s youth council, and I’m working with the county to develop women in refereeing and to try and encourage more to come into the game.”

Concerned that the council had been spreading itself too thin, Ffion has “stripped it back to basics” and decided to focus their efforts on two key projects.

“First of all, we’re focusing on development days for everyone across the county to try and encourage networking and developing our skills as referees as a whole.

“Secondly, we’ve developed a talent programme which is a county version of FA CORE – The FA Centre of Refereeing Excellence – specifically for talented young referees that we’ve identified who could progress.”

Ffion takes a strong sense of fulfilment from the role.

“Having it all set up and seeing the success of young referees, listening to them feedback about what they’ve done and watching their confidence grow – for me that makes me very proud that we’ve been able to help them in that journey.”

Currently on a gap year, in September Ffion will be heading to the University of Southampton to study Geography, but she has no plans to give up refereeing – despite the role becoming a more challenging one now that the majority of her games are at senior men’s level.

“I knew when I signed up to be a referee that it would come but since moving into the men’s game, you do get comments like ‘stupid woman’ or ‘go back to the kitchen’, ‘you don’t belong here’, ‘you don’t know the rules love’ – all of those are comments I have received.

“When you turn up, they’re either quite pleased and receptive to you, or I just see them standing, talking and staring at me.”

Ffion explained how she handled incidents of sexism from players and praised her county association for their support.

“Hampshire FA are very good – obviously I report it and if there’s something serious, they’ll talk to me, make sure I’m okay and keep me updated on my complaint. They’re really supportive and willing to help.

“When I started I took everything to heart and as I’ve grown up, I’ve definitely developed a thick skin for it. I just think ‘whatever you’re going to say to me, I’m doing it because I enjoy it and I’m not going to let anything you say get to me’. And because I’ve been quite lucky to have that support, I’ve learned ways to deal with it.

She added: “It’s got no place in the game. I don’t think they understand that what they’re saying is not a joke and it’s not something that football should accept. You wouldn’t say it walking down the street, so why would you say it to me on a football pitch?”

Ffion credits the encouragement of Hampshire FA as vital to her development and she believes that similar guidance is needed for any young women hoping to take up refereeing.

“I think it’s important to share success stories and realise that there are women operating in the game. If it’s something you want to do, you can do it.

“Support is needed for people coming in and when things go wrong – which happens because there are always challenges – there should be someone to pick you up and say ‘actually, no we’re here for you and we’ll get through this together’.”

Ffion recognised the importance of International Women’s day in highlighting the achievements of women across the world throughout history, but emphasised the need for organisations such as Kick It Out to continue the fight for gender equality in football.

“The leaps and bounds we’ve made as a nation in women’s rights and equality is huge, and although we’re not there yet, it’s a massive jump from where we started to where we are now.

“Kick It Out plays a huge role in the game because it’s something that brings everyone together and I just think it needs to keep going because although not everyone is listening yet, the more people you continue you to reach, the more chance that everyone will buy into it.”