Carol Baxtor has been known as many things: teacher, referee and most recently, recipient of the SFA Grassroots Award for ‘Best Volunteer’ in youth football for the North of Scotland region.
After over 26 years volunteering in the 13s to 19s juvenile football leagues in Aberdeen as match secretary, Carol scooped the regional prize in August that ‘aims to recognise and reward people across the country that make a difference to grassroots football in their local community.’ It’s safe to say, she certainly has done that.
When Carol got the news that she had won the award from Mark Slater of the SFA, she didn’t believe it at first.
“That was the day of the terrible thunder and lightning in Aberdeen and the school was flooded, so we couldn’t get kids back in. Mark phoned me all joyful, and the first thing I said to him was: ‘Who gave you my phone number, because I don’t give out my mobile phone number!”
Carol was also shocked to learn that “when our season is up and running properly, I do more fixtures than the whole of the Scottish leagues and the English leagues put together!”
She was brought up in a footballing family, dating back to the 1950s: “We’re going back a lot of years, but my dad won a Scottish Juniors Cup Winners medal with Sunnybank and my uncle John won a Scottish Junior Cup medal when Banks O’ Dee won it – so that was 1954 and 1957 if I recall.”
“I lived in a street where the kids of my age where all boys as well. They used to knock on my door and ask if was coming up the park to play football. There’s always been football in the family. My brother played junior football as well.”
While training to be a teacher, Carol went to Auchterellon Primary School, which was the biggest in the Grampian region at the time. There, she took on one of the younger boys’ football teams, adding: “I decided, everybody thinks they know the rules and the laws of the game, but I decided to go to the referee’s classes. There’s always a shortage of referees. At that time, we were encouraged to referee while you were going through the classes.”
Eventually, she was approached to help on Sundays, too. After some persuasion, she committed to the Saturday games too - only when she wasn’t going to Pittodrie every week as a dedicated Aberdeen season ticket holder.
Being the ‘woman in the middle’ came naturally, and she refereed for over ten seasons – as well as becoming the first woman to run the line at a senior men’s match; an encounter between Cove and Rothes.
Unfortunately, women referees did not have the same opportunities, so she decided to lend her talents off the pitch as match secretary. As a referee, she faced the usual from the fans – but always responded well with her deep knowledge of the beautiful game.
“Often the male parents – although sometimes the women were as bad – tried to tell you that you didn’t know what you were doing, you got that wrong, whatever. I used to carry the laws of the game in my bag, and if somebody said something I’d say “I haven’t time to argue with you at the moment, but I’ll see you at the end and I can show you!”
She does admit that by being a female referee at the time, she was in the minority. Still she recalls the “good camaraderie” between the three of four women referees and says: “The referee’s nights out were a bit different – we were there and instead of bringing wives, we took our husbands.”
Despite Carol’s pioneering efforts, she is still sad to see fewer women refereeing: “It’s disappointing that you don’t see them especially with the development of girls and women’s football. It’s disappointing to not see more women refereeing at a higher level in football, even now.”
Fast forward to today and Carol is the match secretary for the Aberdeen District Juvenile Football Association (ADJFA) and doing a stellar job, too. Among other duties, she creates grids for league matches, arranges pitches and organises cup finals. Of course, they need referees for these games and she works closely with the Aberdeen District Referees Association as well.
Asked how she would describe the job, she joked: “A pest! A nightmare!” before adding,
“It’s my job to ensure that all the matches and the leagues are played to a conclusion. Last season being a difficult one for everybody.”
As part of a team, Carol said: “It’s not just about me, or even the other members of the executive committee. It’s about all the guys and girls that give up their time to be qualified to actually run teams and give the youth in the area a game of competitive football.”
Humbled and shocked by the award, she added: “When something like this comes along it is a surprise, and you think ‘somebody somewhere appreciates what you’re doing.”