Ex BUCS athlete JJ tells us of her ambition to referee the Premier League, challenges she has faced progressing through grassroots football, and what it's like being the face of a new Nike campaign.

Jawahir Roble, also known as JJ, is on a remarkable journey. As Sky, the BBC, and countless other news outlets have reported, JJ is the first Black Muslim female referee, and one who is taking the ‘man’s game’ by storm: “I’m showing them who’s boss: this is anyone’s game.” And as a UCFB alumni, she represents everything we could hope for and more from a BUCS athlete... 

Growing up, JJ was always involved in football; “my whole family played, but I was the only one who took it to the next level”. JJ is refreshingly candid about the hesitations and discouragement her family had once she took that step: “They tried to stop me! I heard ‘you’re a girl, you’re muslim, you’re black’ countless times, but honestly, I just saw myself as a girl who wanted to play football.” 

Achieving her Level 2 coaching badges, she began to do voluntary work with the Middlesex FA, which led to then helping out with refereeing. Her first match, reffing 5-6 year old girls, received enormous praise, being told “it’s so nice to see a female referee”, and catapulted JJ into role model status. From there, she gained refereeing badges and her refereeing career began. 

The biggest challenge JJ faces on a regular basis is public transport - “I haven’t got a car, so relying on public transport to get to games in time is a struggle”. Whilst this struggle demonstrates the clear divide between grassroots sport and elite sport, JJ is grateful that she has never received any racist or sexist abuse whilst refereeing. 

Whilst at UCFB in Wembley studying football coaching and management, JJ was very much involved with BUCS, playing for the university team in Wednesday afternoon fixtures, whilst also displaying her passion in the middle of the pitch with a whistle. Having now graduated from UCFB, JJ is a full time athlete - training six times a week - with the aim of refereeing in the Premier League. 

When giving advice for young women or BUCS athletes following in her footsteps, JJ explains the ways she entered the industry - “get in through volunteering”. She also highlights the importance of diversifying your skill-set - “don’t stick to things you know. As long as you’re in a sport and giving things a go, you’ve got nothing to lose.” 

Being unique is something JJ uses to her advantage; “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t lose your identity - make that your strength.” And unique she is; JJ is now involved in campaigns with major global brands, including Nike. “Refereeing can be a lonely job - it’s amazing that Nike wants to be part of the journey”. 

Some of JJ’s career highlights have included refereeing the UEFA Solidarity Match - a charity match in Sweden, and working with the organisation Football Beyond Borders. She recalls being overwhelmed at meeting the players afterwards; “I met all my childhood heroes, and I remember thinking I was so glad I’m in football!” 

After refereeing her first men’s game four years ago, the feedback was incredibly positive. “They told me that I was one of the best referees they’d had that season - that gave me the confidence to continue.” 

Refereeing up to five times a day across the lower leagues in the UK, JJ is proving herself to be a force to be reckoned with in both the women’s and the men’s game. Her resilience and ambition for the future is inspiring, and BUCS is proud to have played a small part in the development of her career. 

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