Meet the UK's First Hijab-Wearing Referee
Kids Ask JJ Roble Anything They Want
Handling over twenty kids running around a football pitch on one hand, homework piling up on the other and a full schedule of refereeing on top of that, you'd think Jawahir Roble, lovingly known as JJ, would be ready to take a break. But if you know JJ, you'll know she always has a giant smile on her face, a whistle around her neck and a positive attitude that's perfectly infectious.
As a Somali-born refugee, Jawahir has broken barriers in becoming the UK's first female hijab-wearing referee. But as much as she loves refereeing and playing the game, she's always had a special place in her heart for coaching, saying "Not a lot of kids in my area are playing football, especially girls. So, I wanted to change that and set up a girls' team. Then, I want to set up another girls' team, and then another. And then we have this area poppin'. That's the dream". She created the team in her neighbourhood as a way of simply getting her seven nieces out of the house—and it's quickly grown into an oasis for the kids and families in her community.
Leading, on and off the Pitch
In true JJ fashion, her coaching strategy extends far beyond the football pitch. She constantly supports her teams in all aspects of their lives, telling them "If you ever need somebody to talk to, I'm here for you—literally. Your secrets are safe with me. If you don't want to share stuff with your parents and you're going through rough times, I'm here". We flipped the narrative with her biggest fans, AKA one of the teams she coaches, letting them ask "Coach JJ" anything they wanted. Here's what they had to say.
Khadija: Why did you want to become a referee?
JJ: When I was first asked to be a referee, I never in my life thought I'd do it. But seeing the little girls I was refereeing, their faces, how surprised they were and how they appreciated seeing me as a female referee, that made me continue refereeing. After that, I started coaching adults and doing more challenging things.
Khadija: Who do you like training more—the older kids or us?
JJ: I just like coaching football. I feel more satisfied coaching the younger lot because I know once I coach you guys, you're going to appreciate me and like the game more. With adults, they already like the game—they know what they want to do. But with you guys, it's just putting you in the right direction to get you hooked on football and make football your dream.
Ilham: What inspired you to start playing football?
JJ: The fact that I liked playing football and I knew one day I wanted to be a footballer. So, I carried on with that dream and I started doing it.
Ilham: When you started refereeing your first big game, were you scared?
JJ: Yes, I was very, very scared. My first-ever referee gig was OK because it was little girls. For my first-ever men's game, I took my siblings and my cousins to come and watch me, because I needed a back-up, and they were there for me.
Salma: Who taught you how to become a referee?
JJ: I would say, watching other referees. My favourite referee is Mark Clattenburg, I watch him a lot. I watch a lot of referees–Premier League referees and other top-league referees. During the matches, I watch the referees and the game as well.
Salma: What was the biggest game you ever refereed?
JJ: The biggest game I've ever refereed is a charity game. I'd say it was the biggest game for me because it was at Dulwich Hamlet's stadium, and that was my first time ever refereeing at a stadium.
Adnan: Which league referee inspired you?
JJ: I'll name three! Pierluigi Collina, Mark Clattenburg and Michael Oliver.
Adnan: Is your favourite team Liverpool?
JJ: That's a very spicy question, I will answer that another day!