Mel Cairns 2

iCanRef: Melissa Cairns

Tell us about how and why you got involved in refereeing?

I played football until I was 18 for a local girl’s football team in Pontefract.

The team sadly folded and there weren’t many teams out there to join.

I started college and Tom Shepherd sorted me out refereeing at A1 football factory on some 5-aside games.

He then posed the question to whether I wanted to do the course and start refereeing properly! I of course said yes.

The course was at West Riding and it was Dave Fuller, Brian Hamilton and John Macrae who ran the course and who were the guys that made the course a fun experience and gave me the motivation right from the get-go to go and referee 11-a-side games.

It was a chance for me to stay involved in the game I love, earn a bit of extra cash and just to keep general fitness.


What do you enjoy about refereeing?

When I first started, I’d just moved to Scotland for University.

I’m not going to lie I did it purely for money for a full season, it was far better than spending 30+ hours a week when I could go out 3 times a week and gain the same amount of money.

I then really started enjoying everything about it, the games and the buzz you get from walking out wherever that may be, going to training sessions with the local RA and meeting new people.

The rewards from refereeing are huge, even when games don’t go your way and you feel quite flat afterwards, there’s always someone you can ring and talk to, to lift you back up and get your mindset back on track and I think that’s a hard environment to come by.

I still referee as I do want to make it a career and really commit to it as its now taken over my life in a positive way.

I can no longer watch a game or go to a game without watching the referee, which can be annoying but great at the same time.


Who are your role models in refereeing?

Very early on in terms of being interested in even doing the course Andy Madley & Mark Dwyer taught me in high school and it was always really interesting to see and hear the experiences they were involved with at the time and where they were going etc as referees weren’t really talked about other than how much of a ‘shocker’ they’d had.

It was great to hear their side and that they were just normal people.

The guys that kept me motivated early on and offered the most advice was Steve Lynch, Eddie Stapleton, Ricky Taylor, Gav Hock & Christine Forsythe, I’d go and train with them weekly and they became great friends, they’d always be at the end of the phone to help if I needed it.

Everyone at Castleford RA as well for giving me great opportunities like refereeing abroad and the monthly meetings which are always a great laugh and there is always something to learn.

There’s Bobby Madley whose been my coach for the last season and this season, he’s always got great advice and is someone that is inspiring and motivating with everything he’s achieved and been through.

Last but not least James Bell who in recent years has been the biggest role model and inspiration, he’s such a determined and hard-working individual.

He motivates me every day to try and be better and he’s living proof that if you work hard enough you can achieve whatever you want.


What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?

For me achieving promotion over the last couple of years is a great feeling.

In terms of appointments, I was very lucky to be involved in the Women’s FA Cup Fourth Round as 4th official between Huddersfield Town and Ipswich.

They played the fixture at the John Smiths stadium and it was the first time the women’s team had played there in their history.

It was a great experience and it was amazing to be there as a match official.

I’ve been abroad to a couple of tournaments at the Iber cup with Castleford RA and was involved with the Girls U16 Final as an Assistant Referee.

I’ve also been an Assistant Referee for the Women’s County Cup Final, which is a great achievement for me personally as it was a season I worked hard and to then be rewarded just makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Being selected to be on the WRCFA County CORE is also a great achievement as its something that ive been working hard to be a part of.


What are your goals for the future?

My goals are nothing unusual.

Short term I want to achieve promotion to Level 4.

Every season for me it’s about being the best I can be and improving each time, whether it’s getting an extra mark in an observation or getting the high-profile games and feeling trusted to be on those games is something I do enjoy.

I think overall I just want to keep improving and developing and move forward each season as I know if I do that, I can reach any goal or target I set.

It’s smaller goals and targets through a season that can lead to big improvements and development in yourself on and off the field.

As I’ve been an assistant on the Women’s County Cup Final I do want to now referee that fixture.

Longer term it would be a dream to walk out at Wembley on the Women’s FA Cup final! I can’t imagine anything better…


What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in refereeing?

Anyone that thinks refereeing is easy, could not be more wrong.

The rewards out way the bad moments but they still happen.

Although I’m very proud to say being a female certainly in the men’s game has never been an issue, ive had very little (if any!) sexist remarks.

So, this shouldn’t put any girls/women who want to referee off getting involved.

There is the case of the abuse in’s a hard thing to deal with but it’s something you learn not to take personally as it’s really not.

You have to use your personality and your human emotions like sympathy and empathy to connect with people and show them you are just a human that will make mistakes.

I’ve found being honest to coaches/players etc is the best way to deal with anything.

Trying to fight fire with fire just doesn’t work and will only exacerbate situations.

People respect the honesty and I’ve not had as many issues since being more of an open and honest referee and not trying to be clever or refusing to talk to coaches/players that are irate.

They just want you to talk to them, once you do that majority of the time, they accept what you’ve done and are understanding.

Imagine being really annoyed at someone for something they’ve done, you just want an explanation not to be ignored.


What advice would you give to people wishing to get involved in refereeing?

Just go for it.

It’s one of the best things I did, whether you just want to do it as a hobby on a weekend for your local club or taking it up seriously and making it a career.

It’s well worth doing, you’ll meet amazing people, go to amazing places and just overall refereeing will develop you as a person off the field as much as it does on. 

If you are new to refereeing just enjoy every moment, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be the perfect referee as there isn’t one.

If you enjoy it and focus on yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t go far in refereeing.

In terms of new referees and advice, it would be to just enjoy every moment.

You’ll find some matches harder than others but those are the games you learn and develop most on, just embrace it for what it is, be positive and you’ll go as far as you want to!


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