It’s been a record-breaking summer for women’s football.
England’s World Cup semi-final in July was the most watched television of the year so far in Britain — triple that of the Love Island Final. It broke new ground around the world too: FIFA estimated that over a billion people watched the tournament.
But it’s still in its own corner. Although women’s football is now its own global sporting force, it’s still a segregated brand against the top tiers of the men’s game: no managers, few pundits, and a negligible number of women in positions of power.
From Wednesday, however, that might start to change: on one of the world’s biggest stages in Istanbul, referee Stephanie Frappart is set to lead an all-female officiating team in the UEFA Super Cup match between Liverpool and Chelsea — the first time a woman has ever refereed a major men’s European fixture.
Stephanie Frappart will become the first female to officiate in a major men's European match at tonight's #SuperCup.— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 14, 2019
She says her "life has changed" since her appointment - and she's ready.
Frappart, 35, has been breaking records for a while now.
She refereed the women's World Cup final in July, and she was the first woman to be appointed to the highest tier of referees in France — then ruling over her first Ligue 1 men’s match in April this year between SC Amiens and RC Strasbourg. Football is football, no matter the gender — but the UEFA Super Cup is a really big deal.
"I'm very happy, and it was really a surprise,” Frappart said. “I didn't expect to be given the Super Cup assignment. It's a great honour for me, and for female referees as well.”
"I hope it serves as an example to female referees, and to any young girls who may aspire to be a referee,” she added.
She will be backed up by assistant referees Manuela Nicolosi from France and Michelle O'Neill from the Republic of Ireland — who she worked with as the USA won the World Cup last month.
Referee Stéphanie Frappart will become the first woman to officiate a major European men’s game when she takes charge of the Uefa Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea in Istanbul pic.twitter.com/Wz5OmZM8M6— The Guardian (@guardian) August 14, 2019
Although women now have their own platform in football, it’s a stage they haven't been able to share with men. It’s important to win visibility on equal terms and equal footing as well.
“Being seen matters,” Suzanne Wrack wrote in the Guardian. “Girls see it. Boys see it. Men see it. And, consciously or unconsciously, it eats away at preconceived notions about the role of women in not just sport, but society too.”
And for the male managers of Liverpool and Chelsea, who made the final after winning the Champions League and Europa League titles respectively last season, the moment has truly been a long time coming.
"Finally it's time," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. "I've had a lot of experience with women referees in Germany. Bibiana Steinhaus is doing it. It took a while before she was considered — not by the professionals, but by the referees — to be ready. Meanwhile, she's settled.”
"I'm really happy we can be part of that historical moment,” Klopp added. “There are so many things in the world out there which we are still obviously not smart enough to make the right decisions, so that's a very smart decision that we finally bring a woman to be a referee of a very, very important game, and an important game in front of millions of people."
Bibiana Steinhaus was the first woman to referee a match across one of Europe’s top five men’s leagues when she officiated a Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in September 2017.
France's Stephanie Frappart takes center stage in a big moment for women in football, Klopp hails female referee for Super Cup final as 'historic moment'. Read more: https://t.co/LCCKfw3Gwxpic.twitter.com/S2AEaAzFpr— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 14, 2019
Frappart was first drawn to the game as a player. However, she gave it up in her late teens to follow her dream of being a professional referee, according to L’Express. Now, she will preside over some of the world’s most famous male players — including the Premier League’s record goalscorer Mohamed Salah.
"I think the game has come on a long way in many ways,” said new Chelsea boss Frank Lampard. “In terms of the Women's World Cup which we all watched this summer, in terms of how much respect the game's getting, how many people are watching it, and the interest in the game.”
"I think we were very slow everywhere on this and now we are trying to make strides, and there's still a long way to go,” he continued. “But in terms of tomorrow, I think it's a huge moment."
Frappart, however, is taking it all in her stride.
“Of course, my life has changed because I’m more popular around the world now,” Frappart said. “I’ve already been appointed to Ligue 1 in France so I know the feeling and how to deal with my emotions. It is not the first appointment to a big game for me so I know the meaning behind it.”