ISTANBUL, Turkey — Stephanie Frappart’s trajectory to making history at the Super Cup final this Wednesday took shape as a football-obsessed 13-year-old in in Val d’Oise, a charming suburb in the north of Paris.
Frappart found that playing the game for local team FC Parisis wasn’t enough to satisfy her interest and so, she began to intensively study the laws that governed it. Soon, the teenager was officiating matches as often as she was turning out for her club, and at 20 years old, made the decision to trade in her kit for the whistle.
“At the time, women’s football structures were still developing, so I felt that it would be better for me to go on as a referee,” Frappart explained. It was an inspired choice as on Wednesday, the 35-year-old will become the first female official to take charge of a major UEFA men’s competition event with Liverpool and Chelsea contesting the Super Cup at Vodafone Park, the home of Turkish Super Lig side Besiktas.
Frappart will be assisted by Manuela Nicolosi and Michelle O’Neill, as was the case when she refereed the Women’s World Cup final between the USA and Netherlands in July. Turkey’s Cuneyt Cakir, who will function as the fourth official, enthused over the trio’s brilliance during the assessment protocols in Croatia.
“Two weeks ago in Zagreb, we did the same preparation, the same fitness tests, the same laws of the game, the same training sessions, there is no difference,” he explained.
“My honest feeling is they are really brave, they have courage, they don’t hesitate to give unpopular decisions. You will see on Wednesday, believe me. When we go to field of play, we are all called referees. There is no gender.”
Wednesday will be a seismic moment for all three women but it’s hugely significant for the sport as well. It is an indictment that the names of female officials involved in the men’s game — Bibiana Steinhaus in the Bundesliga and Sian Massey-Ellis, who serves as an assistant running the sidelines in the Premier League, immediately spring to mind — are so easily listed given the lack of them. The Super Cup could signal a welcome change to that.
Said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, “finally! It’s time. It’s a smart decision to have women referee a very, very important game. It’s the first time, but I hope it’s not the last.”
In 1996, when Frappart’s passion for refereeing took hold, Nelly Viennot was the only female to act as an assistant referee in Ligue 1 yet during the course of her 11-year career, she was never promoted to the main role. It was Frappart who smashed that ceiling in April, over two decades later, by officiating Strasbourg’s goalless draw at Amiens. The home supporters decided to mark the historic occasion with a banner that read: “Welcome to the Stade de la Licorne, Madame Frappart. Long live women in football!”
Frappart, who works three days a week at a multi-sport federation in France, had been refereeing in Ligue 2 for five years by that point, had featured as a fourth official in the top-flight and even fulfilled duties as an assistant VAR.
Pierre Bouby, US Orleans midfielder, described her as the best ref in France’s second division earlier this year, predicting she would progress to the men’s game.
“She is a talking point for the Super Cup, but one of her big strengths is to allow the game to be the centre of attention,” a UEFA source told ESPN FC. “She is well respected and she has everything to be a success: the right mentality, the quality, experience and knowledge.”
Bouby labelled Frappart “diplomatic” and committed to “doing what’s best for the game,” which is a common refrain from those who have witnessed her work. Composed, physically sharp and never shying away from her status as a pioneer, the 5-foot-4 Frenchwoman will officiate Ligue 1 matches regularly this season after being assigned to the country’s panel of elite referees.
Frappart is thought of as “game-changer” and it is hoped her body of work and opportunities will encourage an increase in female referee applications.
“I hope the skill and devotion that Stephanie has shown throughout her career to reach this level will provide inspiration to millions of girls and women around Europe and show them there should be no barriers in order to reach one’s dream,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said.
Frappart shares the same aspirations.
“I didn’t expect to be given the Super Cup assignment: it’s a great honour for me, and for female referees as well,” she said.
“I hope it serves as an example to female referees, and to any young girls who may aspire to be a referee.”