Chelsea Gillespie – Getting back into the middle

Chelsea Gillespie – Getting back into the middle

Chelsea Gillespie has become one of the female match officials making the step up into the FOSROC Super Series Match Official landscape.

Having started playing netball at a young age in her native New Zealand, Chelsea quickly realised she was “a bit too competitive” for social team sports and took to umpiring the game instead.

It wasn’t until she was fifteen and her dad – a former player, coach and referee – brought her along to one of his match officials’ meetings where she decided to keep the whistle but swap the ball from round to oval.

“Back then it was not the most normal thing for a fifteen-year-old girl to be doing.

“For me it was just a different sport and a different challenge. I was in a new town and a new school, so I just thought why not be a bit of an odd teenage girl and just do something completely different, which was refereeing.”

In New Zealand, Gillespie built her reputation as a go-to match official, refereeing all over the country at high level competitions including the 2009 Women’s NPC final between Auckland and Canterbury in Christchurch. Gillespie found herself in the Rugby Seven’s circuit and was involved in match officiating at various tournaments around the globe.

Gillespie had a short stint in England before moving north of the border and after the birth of her son and decided to take a break from her passion.

“Going from being a semi-professional referee to being a full-time mum was quite intense.”

However, this break didn’t last long as she realised that growing her family wouldn’t stop her from returning to the field.

“I guess having that time off you start to miss that part of your life and I just thought ‘rugby has given me so much that I just wanted to give back a bit’.”

“I decided to start helping out with the AR-ing because it was just a bit easier to focus on just that instead of being in the middle and having to think of seven different things happening at once.

“Rugby used to be everything and anything to me and that’s why I have loved getting back into it and being involved in Super Series has allowed me to get that part of myself back.

Chelsea awarding a try at Hawick Sevens in 2019 (Image Credit: Borders Rugby Referees’ Society)

Gillespie currently stands as the only female match official involved at the FOSROC Super Series level, after making her assistant referee debut during the FOSROC Super Series Sprint earlier this year.

“I was doing some of the lower leagues and it was fun, and I enjoyed being involved in the grassroots game, but I guess I missed the hype and buzz of bigger games, so I wanted to get back into assisting some of the higher-level games and getting the challenge of refereeing more competitive rugby.”

“What I like about the Super Series is that the players are more willing to throw the ball around which makes for more exciting rugby and it makes it fun to watch as they want to attack more and get the points instead of just playing not to lose.

“The actual professionalism with the whole sport has come a long way. I think Super Series is a good example of that because it is a good bridge for players to make that step up into the professional game.”

Gillespie is part of the growing roster of female match officials making an impact and commends others who are paving the way for women within the sport, like fellow match official Hollie Davidson.

“Like anything in life, I have been a very firm believer that if you want to do something do it!

“When I started, yes, I was a female in a very male dominated space and especially being so young, but I always felt very welcomed, and it nurtured my confidence and helped to shape me into who I was.

“I am so proud of how far Hollie has come, and seeing so many other girls come through is everything I ever wanted.

“She has just gone out and got the opportunities she has got because she raised the standard of the game and was good enough not just because she was a girl.”

Last Saturday saw a record 16 women take the Introduction to Match Officiating course at Scottish Gas Murrayfield, the largest female cohort to take the course in one day.

For more information on how to become involved in Match Officiating, click here.

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