What started out as proving a point has led Townsville twins Page Malau-Aduli and Paula Malau-Aduli on a journey to become match officials selected for not only the inaugural intake of the Football Queensland (FQ) Referee Academy in 2020, but for the first Football Australia (FA) Referee Academy intake this year; a pathway that will provide the girls with skills and opportunities to become world class referees.
“Our brother would always tell us that we didn’t have the personality to do it, but we wanted to prove him wrong, so our dad signed us up when we were 14 and it’s been so good, I’m honestly glad that we started doing it and just sort of kept going with it,” Paula said.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be any good when we first started, and every time we get to go further, do different things, become better, it all feels kind of surreal; just the further we go the more like, how amazing it is,” Page said.
Queensland has produced a long line of world class referees, from Chris Beath to Casey Reibelt, and in commitment to continuing this legacy, FQ formed a referee academy for promising and dedicated young match officials in every region, enabling the next generation to learn and develop as part of a supportive network while gaining valuable advice from experienced coaches.
“I think it’s kind of hard to put into words how much it has benefited us, like Townsville is great but it’s quite small and you’re kind of limited in the number of opportunities you get, so, when we first got into the FQ Referee Academy it was great to just go away and meet referees from all around Queensland,” Page said.
“It’s still refereeing wherever you go, but I guess there are sort of things that people learn differently or have different takes on, so learning all of that is great.”
During their time in the FQ Referee Academy, Paula and Page were exposed to a variety of developmental experiences within Townsville and across Brisbane, ranging from zoom meetings with highly trained coaches to officiating at state tournaments to sessions with FIFA referees when the CommBank Matildas went up against the New Zealand Football Ferns in Townsville last year.
“It was really a big event for the girls in refereeing to get together and we got to talk to the FIFA referees about what they’ve learnt, it was a really good learning opportunity,” Paula said.
“It was really cool because they came to Townsville which is crazy in the first place to have them, and they said there was a real kind of pathway for us and we shouldn’t be put off by how small or far away Townsville seems; keep working hard at it and take all the opportunities you are given, and it is a possibility.”
Earlier last month, Football Australia announced the twins will be two of the twelve up and coming match officials chosen from across the country to continue onto the next step of their referee journey as part of the first class of the FA Referee Academy.
Within the FA Referee Academy, Page and Paula will receive the support of coaches, sports scientists, and sport psychologists to develop the technical, physical, and social skills to meet the needs of professional football.
“I think I’m really excited because I loved being in the Queensland Academy and having that broad perspective from a lot of different people and so I’m really excited for that again but on a bigger scale which is really exciting,” Paula said.
“There’s this whole other page and chapter and probably stuff that we haven’t even thought about and it’s just going to open up so many new opportunities and ways to improve the way that we referee.”
Looking back on where their referee pathway has taken them, both girls credit their success to the community of match officials they have met along the way, with a special mention to the Townsville senior referees and coaches that took them under their wing at the very beginning.
“Just being in Townsville growing up I’m grateful for those guys that kind of paved the path for us and took us along the way, they were so deliberate in building us up, building the next generation with what they could teach us and pass on,” Page said.
“Sometimes being in the regional areas you don’t get some of the same opportunities that the metro areas get but with this knowledge and depth of insight from people in the academy, bringing it back to Townsville is going to be really cool because the whole Townsville refereeing group gets some of that knowledge as well which I think is really exciting.”
The referee journey is a long road of ups and downs, learning to be resilient in difficult on field positions; Page and Paula offered some words of encouragement to the next generation of regional referees with dreams of the A-League.
“I guess my advice is to not give up and keep going, there’s such a great community of referees so lean on one another, build each other up because this is something that when you get higher you take everyone with you. You’re in it together,” Page said.
“Don’t be deterred, like we see people from different areas doing different things, I think it’s really cool that we can all start in different places but that doesn’t really exclude us from being able to make it; keep going as far as you can because it’s a really cool pathway to be on,” Paula said.
Images: Matthew McKean/Mitchelton FC