The life of the world's first female referee: Weymouth's Pat Dunn

10:00am Thursday 27th January 2011

By Diarmuid MacDonagh

THE issue of sexism in Football has hit the headlines following the sacking of Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray.

Gray and co-presenter Richard Keys were initially suspended after their off-air remarks assistant referee Sian Massey were leaked to a newspaper.

The pair agreed that female officials “don’t know the offside rule” and predicted Massey would drop a clanger during Wolves’ home game against Liverpool last Saturday. She ended up correctly calling a crucial borderline decision.

Gray was later sacked after footage of him making lewd suggestions to a female colleague were aired.

The row over sexism has brought back memories of the very first woman to take charge of a men’s football match.

During the week Pat Dunn worked in the quiet confines of the Dorset Echo accounts department.

At weekends she stepped into an altogether different world – that of men’s football.

Pat campaigned for women’s rights in sports and in 1969 was made president of the Ladies’ Football Association of Great Britain.

But her struggle to gain acceptance in a male-dominated world was not easy.

When she passed the official referee’s examination in 1967, the FA said regulations did not permit a registration certificate to be issued to a woman.

Undeterred, Pat wrote to the then Minister of Sport, Dennis Howell, and also to the Queen, in a bid to persuade the FA to give her official recognition.

It was not until May 1976 that the FA relented and told her she could officially take charge of men’s matches.

The following month she was registered by the Dorset County Football Association as a referee and made history in September that year, when she was the first woman to referee an official FA game.

Pat took along a bottle of champagne, saying: “If it’s a good game I will break it open and share it with the lads. If I have a bad game, I shall run.”

But it was champagne all round after the match.

In February 1979 she was promoted and could officially take charge of games in the First Division of the Dorset League. In the same year her quick thinking saved Portland footballer Pat Matthews, when she gave him the kiss of life when he stopped breathing after being injured during a match.

Former Echo sports reporter Brian Copp said Pat would have been disappointed that women officials are still struggling for acceptance in the game.

He said: “Pat battled for recognition and succeeded in becoming a sports personality in her own right.

“She was extremely determined and was at the forefront of bringing more acceptance of women in football. But I feel she would be very disappointed that there still seems to be people who do not want them at the highest level.

“If she was still around she would be fighting for women to be officiating in the top leagues and in the biggest games.”

Pat, who was an accounts clerk at the Echo, died in 1999. Portland referee Paul Durkin, who officiated in the Premier League and major international tournaments including the 1998 World Cup in France, said at the time that she was a pioneer in football.

He said: “She was seen as a novelty when she first started refereeing, but she got over that by impressing people with her proficiency on the pitch.

“She was a very capable referee and a pioneer for football.”

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