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Hong Una makes English soccer history

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  • Published : May 5, 2010 - 09:13
  • Updated : May 5, 2010 - 09:13
In England, football is all about tradition and pride. But for Hong Una, it is about challenge.

Korean football referee Hong made history by taking charge of the FA Women’s Cup final in England on Monday night. The FA Cup final between Arsenal and Everton, is regarded as one of the biggest sporting events in the country. 

Hong Una of Korea became the first non-British referee to take charge of an FA Women’s Cup final between Arsenal and Everton on Monday, in Nottingham, England. (FIFA)
Since its establishment in 1972, no non-British referee had ever officiated the big game.

“I am deeply honored to referee the historical game,” Hong told The Korea Herald prior to kick off. “Am I nervous? Well, a bit. But I’m not worried. I’ve been whistling in England for more than four years, and have also been involved in some major international matches, too.”

She is still relatively unknown, but Hong is already a well-established figure in the field.

The 30-year-old Hong was the youngest referee at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she took charge of the women’s semifinal between Germany and Brazil. She was also selected as referee of the year by Asian Football Confederation in 2009.

Hong has been blowing whistles for almost 10 years, but she had a dream of being a referee much earlier.

“When I was watching the 1994 World Cup, all of the sudden, I wanted to be a referee,” Hong said.

Why not a footballer or a manger, instead?

“I don’t know why, but it was very attractive to me, and I thought it would be great to be in charge of a big game.”

To realize her dream of becoming an international referee, she moved to England four years ago.

Hong completed her Ph.D. in sport policy in January at Loughborough University, in Leicestershire and is now teaching at Durham University, while also refereeing a men’s semi-professional football league.

“Refereeing here is very different from Korea. English players often start conversations with referees, which is very unusual back home. It was hard at first to get used to the different culture,” she added.

As she become more accustomed to English football, however, she found more challenges.

“Sometimes people make harsh comments against women, and especially against an Asian woman. Being a referee is not an easy job. It can be a very lonely job as you get more criticism than praise.”

Yet, Hong said she still enjoys every moment. “If one of the players is missing, you can still play a game, but without a referee it is impossible. I’m proud of my job," she said.

There is still no woman referee in the Premier League. Asked whether she aims to be the first, Hong said it was unrealistic at the moment.

“There is a huge gap between semi-pro and the Premier League,” she said.

“I will take it step by step. If I keep working hard and stay in form, I believe I can make it.”

But before that, Hong’s next goal is the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, slated for May 19-30 in China and under-20 FIFA World Cup in July 2010. 

By Oh Kyu-wook  (596story@herald.com)