Jawahir Roble says it starts with the groundsmen. “They just have this face,” she says, laughing. “It starts when I ask where the changing room is.”
Roble, known as “JJ”, is the first female Muslim referee in the UK. She is wearing a black hijab and a bright blue Nike sweatshirt when she appears on our video call and mimes the kind of gawping stare she is greeted with when arriving at a new ground for the first time. “They’re still looking at me. I’m like, ‘I’m your referee, don’t worry, I’ve got this.’” The 26-year-old is graciously sympathetic to the undisguised surprise she receives on a regular basis. “I’m so different to what a normal referee looks like. But I’m there to surprise them, so who cares?”
Roble, whose story was told in a new Uefa campaign earlier this month, #WePlayStrong, is a qualified level-six referee and officiates in county leagues. She hopes one day to become the first female Muslim referee in the Premier League or Women’s Super League.
“I’m so different to what a normal referee looks like. But I’m there to surprise them, so who cares?”
In many ways, other people’s opinions have been the least of her obstacles. Born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Roble fled to the UK with her family at the age of ten, as the civil war ravaged her home country. “I never in a million years would have imagined we’d leave Somalia,” she says, remembering the days before the violence intensified. “We were happy there. We would go to the beach, take our packed lunches and spend the whole day there, until the sun went down.”
Her first love was always football. “In Somalia, the main sport is football, then basketball,” she says. “Everyone played football. Straight after school: football. Lunchtime: football.” There were no local girls’ teams, so she played alongside the boys. “I was so happy. During the 90 minutes, nothing else matters apart from what’s happening on the pitch.”
By the time she had turned ten, that reality had become fraught with danger and her parents decided to flee the country. They told her to pack her bags immediately, to leave the same day. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone. Why can’t we just stay for another day so we can say goodbye to our friends?’ But they were like: ‘This is a serious matter, it’s not about your friends, it’s about your life at risk.’”
Roble hopes one day to become the first female Muslim referee in the Premier League or Women’s Super League.
Roble spoke no English when she arrived, but she had a foolproof tactical plan. “The first day at school, I had my own ball. I had zero English, nothing — imagine, I’m fresh from the boat, talking to these kids with no English.” She mimes simply holding her hands out, presenting the ball. That was her key to this new country. “Any kid who has a football at school is top in the playground. A nice fresh ball, everyone wants to be your best friend. That was me.”
By secondary school, she was playing for the girls’ team and, around the age of 13, began to be offered trials for clubs. Her parents, however, were not keen. “Of course, I wasn’t allowed to be a player. My parents were like, this is not what we see you doing. I’d seen other girls play, I wanted to play for England. It was crushed dreams.” Incensed and desperate to keep football in her life, Roble settled on coaching and volunteered for Middlesex FA. While there, someone asked her to referee a local girls’ youth match. She loved it.
“I knew I could go far. The fact that I couldn’t play football made me more angry. I felt like they owed me something. With refereeing, I thought: I’m going to have this conversation, but this time I’m going to stand up for myself and say it’s what I want to do. My happiness is the most important thing and I’m glad I pushed through and my parents are now on the same page.”
A bomb disposal team was called after a “fossil” fished out of a river in Fife by a schoolboy turned out to be an unexploded First World War grenade.
Billy Haddow, 11, was fishing with his friend Alex Kesely on the River Carron, Fife, when they discovered what they thought were the preserved remains of an ancient creature. He took it to Alex’s house for a sleepover on Friday night before taking it home. It was not until the following day that the police, then the bomb squad, were called. The device had to be detonated in a controlled explosion in a field near Billy’s home at Hill of Beath.
Billy, a pupil at Beath High School, said: “I thought I’d found a fossil, but my friend told me it was a grenade. I had waders on and saw it on the river bank. It was on a little island in the middle of the river. I thought it looked cool and would be fun to have as a decoration, but I didn’t realize it was live.” His mother Maureen, 50, said she gave the pair a “rollicking” for bringing the hand grenade into her house after they smuggled it into Alex’s home for the sleepover. She added: “They’re typical boys, not doing any harm but always up to mischief.”