LONDON: History will be made in English football next Saturday, December 23, when FIFA official Rebecca Welch becomes the first woman to referee a top-level league match.

The Premier League fixture between Fulham and Burnley in West London will mark the moment.

In a further sign of long-delayed and awaited progress on the diversity front Sam Allison will become the first black official to referee a Premier League game since Uriah Rennie in 2008. Allison’s debut will be Sheffield United v Luton Town on Boxing Day, December 26.

Welch’s appointment is the latest in series of breakthroughs. In April 2021 she was the first women appointed as referee a Football League match and then the first to control a men’s FA Cup tie in January 2022.

Welch, 40, was also appointed as the fourth official for Manchester United’s 1-0 win at Fulham in November – the first woman to carry out the role in the Premier League.

She has also refereed in senior non-league competitions, in the Women’s Super League and she also appeared at this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Allison will make the step up to the Premier League after several seasons in the EFL. He was promoted to the Championship at the start of the 2023/24 season.

In January, Bhupinder Singh Gill became the first Sikh-Punjabi to officiate in the Premier League when he was appointed as an assistant referee for Nottingham Forest’s trip to Southampton.

Refereeing director Howard Webb described the appointments as “exciting” and as signs of the success of the development group set up by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

He said: “This follows an initiative tied into the elite referee development plan, which has been in place for a couple of years now to fast track talented officials to the pathway.

“We’ve already seen three officials from that group take charge of their first Premier League games. Now we have number four and five. It shows the value of the work happening in that space is really evident.

“We’ve not seen a female take charge of a Premier League game before so it is significant. Sam being the first black official since Uriah Rennie is down to the quality of his performances in recent weeks in the Football League and the Championship. Both appointments are well deserved. It also shows them as role models. It demonstrates that people can make it through the pathway.”

“They’re both from groups that are not traditionally represented in the Premier League officiating cohort and hopefully it might inspire other people to give it a go.”

Allison is a former professional footballer, having played for Swindon, Bristol City, Bournemouth and Exeter before moving into non-League.