October marks Black History Month, a time where we get to celebrate and recognise the black heroes across the County involved in all levels of the game.
We are proud to use the power of football to help tell the stories of iconic black figures in Lincolnshire, and shine a light on their stories like never before. The next inspirational figure within Lincolnshire's footballing community that we've spoken to is young Referee, Shemakay Own.
Shemakay, from Scunthorpe, is a Level 4 Match Official that Referees at Step 5 & 6 on the Northern Counties League. He also runs the line at Step 3 & 4 on the Northern Premier League. He was awarded Young Referee of the Year at last season's Lincolnshire FA Grassroots Football Awards, and also featured in the Officiating team that Refereed the County Sunday Cup final at the LNER Stadium in April.
Without Referees like Shemakay, the game simply doesn't happen. So naturally, he plays a massive part in football and, along with every Referee, should be incredibly valued. However, Shemakay hasn't always been made to feel valued or a welcome part of the grassroots football community, having been on the end of racial slurs. Shemakay has opened up to us on this, as well as incredible importance of representation, and why he feels it's taken 15 years for a black Referee to become a permanent official in England's top flight football.
In your eyes, how important is Black History Month in both society and football?
Personally for me, Black History Month is important in society and football as it promotes diversity and inclusivity in global sport's, making it clear that all individuals from underrepresented backgrounds can excel. The educational value of Black History Month can show to others the struggles black athletes and referees have historically faced, and how they've been able to break the barriers and move forward.
Role models are so important for inspiring the next generation, so can you tell us who yours were when growing up?
My role models are not specifically anybody famous, but my grandparents. My grandparents on both sides migrated to England and faced many challenges. One example is my grandad worked on the steelworks in Scunthorpe, and told me how he was constantly called racist names or laughed at by his co-workers because he was black.
England was a very different country back then and my grandad had no support from anybody, however he still turned up to work everyday and I have to admire him for that. So if he can do that with no support; what I can do with the support given now is endless. I have a great circle of refereeing friends, and I am also apart of a WhatsApp group chat with BAME referees where we all support each other.
Akil Howson recently became the first person of black, Asian or mixed heritage Match Official to be a permanent official in England's top flight since Uriah Rennie retired 15 years ago. Why do you think black referees are so under represented? And why do you think having more black match officials at the top flight of football is important?
I know Akil personally, and to see him in the top flight of football is a very proud moment for anybody from the BAME community. It wasn't long ago that I was off on holiday, and Akil was working at the airport, much to my surprise! For him to be full time now is an amazing achievement which is so inspirational, and whenever I see him on TV, I smile and say "I know that guy!"
I think black match officials are so underrepresented because black people never see referees at the top flight, therefore they can never picture themselves being there. However now, with Akil and other Black referees pushing through, it can really give black people a boost to start refereeing and see that it is achievable to go all the way to the top - it certainly has for me!
Racism is still a problem, certainly in elite level men's football. We also see it on social media with Wes Foderingham and Destiny Udogie being the latest high-profile targets. Have you faced any challenges as a young black referee?
I personally have received racism at football. One game, I was made aware by my Assistant Referee thata fan had called me a racial slur. I reported the matter and it was subsequently dealt with, but it’s disappointing that somebody can see the colour off my skin negatively and use it against me when I am enjoying a game of football. However, I reminded myself there is more good than bad people and that I needed to push it to the side and move onto the next game.
I wouldn't class it as racism, however a few weeks ago I was refereeing at a club and as I walked through on arrival, I told the man at the gate I was the Referee - to which he laughed and didn't believe me. I then showed him my kit to which he then apologised, saying the last black referee they had was Uriah Rennie twenty years ago and they never get young black referees.
The man behind the gate actually came to the changing room after the game and said how he was very impressed with my performance and that he hopes I can do what the last black referee they had did. Uriah went on to Referee in the Premier League, so it was a really nice gesture by him.
What would you say to someone who is black and is looking to start refereeing, but is worried about discrimination in the game?
With the support networks now, including the backing by the County FA, there is no need to worry as there will be all the support you need as a Black referee.
There are many black Referees now who will also offer advice, and I for one would like to say anybody reading this in Lincolnshire who is Black - I am fully willing to support you, as I believe I am one of a few black referees in Lincolnshire and it would be awesome to see our County with more BAME Match Officials.
For more information on Black History Month, click here
For more information on how to get into Refereeing, click here
To be one of the first to receive the latest grassroots football news from Lincolnshire, and to receive exclusive offers and discounts from Lincolnshire FA partners – click here