Meet Caitlin O'Grady – Sheffield’s 16-year-old football referee out to change perceptions and with her sights set on the top of the game

Picture the scene – you're in the middle of a Sheffield park as the rain and wind seem to come in sideways.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 8:02 am
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 8:03 am
Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

You're the assistant referee of a football match between 22 men and you call offside as one of the team's strikers turns away in celebration.

You get 11 men screaming all sorts of abuse at you.

Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Now, imagine all that in the shoes of a 16-year-old girl.

One determined referee out to change that different perception you may now have in your mind is Caitlin O’Grady.

And while admitting she's not had too much abuse on the field, teenager Caitlin, of Ecclesfield, has her sights set on the very top of the game.

The Barnsley College student only picked up her whistle in October 2017 but has already run the line in a major cup semi-final as well as a number of Sheffield United Academy matches and the Women's Championship – the second tier of the women's game.

Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured with her dad Jason. Picture: Marie Caley.

Caitlin, who is also a fully pledged member of the Sheffield Referees' Asssociation, enjoyed six years playing for Steel City Wanderers before switching her allegiance to officiating.

She said: "I decided I didn't want to play anymore but I wanted to keep in football so I did some coaching for a bit at Hillsborough Pumas and then I decided I wanted to do my refereeing course and it's gone from there.

"I really enjoy it, it's just like playing – you have good games and bad games.

"I’ve never had lots of trouble. I had one granddad at a game once but that's about it and whenever I have a bad game I just think about it and think I'm going to prove them wrong next week."

Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley.

Having spent most of her weekends refereeing junior football, level seven FA referee Caitlin recently ran the line for the Wragg Over 35 League cup semi-final between Dinnington and Scawthorpe.

She said: "It was a big game to be part of and the atmosphere was completely different.

"There was a lot of bad language used but none of it was aimed at me and I really enjoyed it."

When she is not on the football field Cailtin is busy studying for A Levels in health and social care, drama, English literature and English language.

Caitlin O'Grady refereeing a game.

And it seems the committed teenager has already got her future planned out.

She said: "The dream in terms of work is to be a paediatric nurse but if I can push refereeing any further I know the NHS allow career breaks and time off.

"I would love to get onto the Football League eventually."

Caitlin's next big test comes on Sunday, March 31 after being selected as an assistant referee for Sheffield FC women against Hull City at the Coach and Horses ground in the Women's Championship.

She is also hoping to be promoted to a level six official – county referee – in the coming weeks.

Caitlin added: "The Sheffield Referees' Association are really good with me as well and the chairman will come to any game I want him to and send me feedback, which I can work on.

Caitlin O'Grady running the line at a game.

"I just really enjoy it and I just want to keep doing it and see where I get to."

Proud dad Jason O'Grady said: "I have played football at a local level and I didn't really want her to do it to be honest.

"I thought she would do a few games and that would be it but she hasn't. She absolutely loves it.

"She has started doing adult games and she has also been doing women's games. She's really looking forward to the Sheffield FC game."

For more information on becoming a referee visit or call Sheffield FA on 0114 261 5500.

Caitlin O'Grady (pictured right) after being assistant referee for the Wragg Over 35 League semi-final between Dinnington and Scawthorpe.
Caitlin O'Grady pictured with Premier League referee Craig Pawson.
Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley
Caitlin O'Grady, 16, pictured with her dad Jason and brother, Shay, eight. Picture: Marie Caley