Former referee Lyn MacIntosh was one of the first accredited referees in the world – a journey that saw her shake hands with Pele and Eusebio and win over their doubters
When Fifa announced their list of 36 referees appointed for the World Cup in Qatar, the three names that stood out were Stephanie Frappart, Yoshimi Yamashita and Salima Mukasanga.
They will become the first women in history to officiate a men’s World Cup game and will be joined by three other assistant referees in Neuza Back, Karen Diaz and Kathryn Nesbitt. Frappart, in particular, is used to making history as the first woman in Ligue 1, the men’s Champions League and men’s World Cup qualifiers.
However, it’s a familiar tale for Lyn MacIntosh, credited as one of the first accredited female referees in the world when she signed on with FIFA in Dallas in the early 1970s. It coincided with an effort to popularize football in the United States and while she later had difficulty registering with the local association after returning to Wales in 1977, she found that the inter-collegiate and amateur players in Texas gladly welcomed them.
“Honestly, after a few minutes, they forgot you were a woman,” she says I. “You were just in black and white and they either liked what you did or they didn’t. And they either cursed you or thanked you or just ignored you and moved on. It didn’t happen often, just every once in a while it made you wonder, “Why don’t you go home and have babies?”
MacIntosh took a Fifa course and signed up with the RAF (her husband was based in the US Air Force) before she started refereeing local matches.
At that point it was 1975 and Pele had joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Such was the desperation to popularize the sport that the Brazilian was taken on a PR tour during which he was amazed to find an ‘arbitrra’ – or female official.
“He came to this park and saw that I was a referee. And Pelé says ‘Arbitra, Arbitra!’ [the Portuguese term for a female referee]. When it was half time I met him and I’m like a little kid, he speaks Portuguese but it was wonderful to have a big smile on his face and he thought it was wonderful that there was this lady, this ‘ award ‘. He was beside himself.”
After moving to Canada, MacIntosh had the same experience when he met Eusebio, who “was more of a god to me than Pele — I absolutely adored him.”
Returning to the UK nearly ended her career as a referee when she struggled to register with a local league in Wales. “I went over there and they’re all looking through the door – ‘You mean there’s a woman out there?! And she wants to sign up?!’ They didn’t know what to do and they said, ‘We can’t do that’.”
She found a way back via a league struggling to find officials. “There were a few ‘Oh damn it’s a woman!’ Then everyone comes, “good game, referee” and “she’s not bad for a woman”. And the manager said we hope you will do more.” She then noticed that other local referees were watching her from behind the goal.
“The manager said, ‘I think they wanted to come and see you.’ They wanted to come and watch me screw up, that’s what they wanted. But I never got a game again.”
MacIntosh doesn’t think Qatar 2022 officials will face the same challenges given their experience as Uefa and Fifa officials in previous high-level games for the men. But that reflects how much has changed in the 50 years since she first picked up her pipe.
“I was 17 when I got married, I never questioned anything,” she says. “But my refereeing became my thing. I wasn’t someone’s mother, someone’s wife, I was just a referee, not a woman making the game the best it could be – because it’s all about the football, not the referee.”