For decades, football was regarded as a man's game. But women have been helping to shape the sport for ages and now is the time for more people like Stephanie Frappart to come to the forefront, writes Joscha Weber.
From a full sprint Stephanie Frappart comes to a halt on the edge of the area, having covered half the pitch. Her breathing is slightly heavy, but she doesn't exude either fatigue or panic, merely serenity.
She's just ruled out a goal by Christian Pulisic. It would have put Europa League winners Chelsea 2-0 in front against Liverpool, quite possibly deciding the match even before halftime.
But Frappart and her assistants, Michelle O'Neill of the Republic of Ireland and Manuela Nicolosi of Italy, spotted Pulisic offside in the build-up. Video referee Clement Turpin checks the video only to confirm that the officials got it right in real time — no goal.
As the US international appeals stroppily, Frappart stays cool. Don't be intimidated, show decisiveness and confident body language — the French ref knows her metier. There was no doubt of this before the game, and less still after.
Even before the 35-year-old officiated this match she was seen as one of the best in the business. She was refereeing men's matches aged 19, international matches from 2011, and her career peak to date was the Women's World Cup final last month. Still, her call-up for this game in Istanbul did change her life in one way.
"I'm more famous now," Frappart says, making pretty clear she thinks the hype around her and this "historic" game is all a little overblown. "The football is the same."
Already ready for more
That many football fans do seem to care whether a man or a woman referees a match betrays a lot about the world's most popular game. It was, and remains, a man's world. Saturdays in the stadiums were overwhelmingly male-dominated for decades and this is only changing gradually. And no, this isn't Iran or Saudi Arabia, but here in Europe, in the very cradles where the game blossomed.
Yet the fortifications of these macho castles are crumbling. Bibiana Steinhaus is refereeing in the Bundesliga, and Frappart's joining France's regular Ligue 1 officiating team after her Super Cup outing. Female voices are becoming more audible in the stands, women are taking up staff positions in professional clubs, and there are many female presenters and journalists in the Bundesliga press corps (even if too many of them still have to put up with malicious feedback). And that's without even mentioning the many women, whether in the police or serving snacks or selling tickets or directing broadcasts, who help to make it possible to experience a football game. Women have been part of the game — including the men's game — for ages now, even if some men appear to have missed the memo.
Even in a tough contest, Frappart kept her cards in her pocket until the 79th minute, when she issued an (albeit rather innocuous) opening yellow to Azpilicueta
Stephanie Frappart and her team delivered a really strong showing, even in a tough and highly competitive game brimming with drama, and despite the added public pressure. In the 84th minute Frappart disallowed a second Chelsea goal and was proven just as right as she was in Pulisic's case. This exemplary performance shows that women referees are ready for even tougher challenges: It's probably time for a woman to officiate a men's match at a major international tournament — with Euro 2020 the next obvious opportunity. The men's game can only profit from refs as serene and unflappable as Frappart.
Perhaps then, that last great taboo might finally be broken; namely a woman coaching a major men's club or national team. Why not?