10/25/2020
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'I didn't speak English': how football changed a young Muslim girl's life


Friday August 21, 2020

UK’s first Muslim female football referee explains how the sport helped her fit in after fleeing Somalia

Jawahir Roble has set her sights on officiating in the Premier League. Frame Creates
Jawahir Roble has set her sights on officiating in the Premier League. Frame Creates


The UK’s first Muslim female football referee – who fled Somalia aged 10 – has set her sights on officiating a major final and explained how the sport helped her settle in when starting at primary school while unable to speak English.

Jawahir Roble, 25, says she struggled to communicate at first after moving to north London, not far from Wembley, the home of English football.

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"I didn't speak English but football was there from day one," she said. "I would bring my own ball and whoever has the ball at primary school is at the top. All the boys and girls would play with me and it was the best feeling,” she told BBC Sport.

"In the classroom it was all grammar and I was so confused but the only time I was actually trying to speak was when I was playing with the kids. I would say 'please pass me the ball', 'thank you' and 'shoot'.

"Words would just come out naturally and I was like, damn, I'm speaking English."

Speaking earlier this year to We Play Strong – The Women’s Football Channel on YouTube, she explained what it was like living in Somalia and leaving as civil war struck.

“I remember vividly what happened in Somalia. It was horrible because imagine you are at home, the kids that you play football with, everyone is being told to run for their lives and go somewhere else,” Ms Roble said.

She also wants more women to become involved in officiating and says she regards herself as a full-time athlete having recently graduated from university.

"In terms of increasing the level of female referees, I would say celebrate each one and support them," she told the BBC.

"The women's game is growing and referees have to progress alongside it. Encourage, encourage, encourage."

Ms Roble also insists she would always stand up to any form of abuse directed her way. She has also got used to – and enjoys – the surprise people express when telling them that she is the referee.

"When I first go to the ground I do not wear my kit, and so I go to the groundsman and say, 'Hello sir, I'm the referee today, please can you give me a changing room?'

"Then it's usually: 'Are you?'

"At the beginning I was wondering why they would be surprised, but now I can't wait to say it and you get used to it. I like the shock."

 



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