Sikh brothers Bhups and Sunny Singh Gill will make English Football League history this weekend when they become the first pair of British South Asians to officiate in the same Championship match.
Bhups and Sunny, sons of the first turbaned Sikh to referee in the English Football League, Jarnail Singh, will be part of the officiating quartet for Saturday’s game between Bristol City and Nottingham Forest.
The match takes place on April 10, ahead of the spring harvest festival of Vaisakhi early next week. Vaisakhi is widely celebrated in India and beyond, and is Sikhism’s most important festival.
Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) – the body responsible for appointing match officials across the EFL – have confirmed Bhups as one of two assistant referees for the Sky Bet Championship clash at Ashton Gate, with Sunny named fourth official.
PE teacher Bhupinder, 36, started refereeing in his mid-teens and is England’s highest-ranked South Asian assistant referee. Sunny, 37, is a prison officer at HMP Feltham and started refereeing at 15. He is the most senior British South Asian referee in the country.
The Berkshire brothers have both officiated in the Championship this season but have so far yet to be part of the same game in the division.
Their appointments come a day after English football history was made on Easter Monday when Rebecca Welch refereed the League Two clash between Harrogate Town and Port Vale, becoming the first woman to referee a full EFL match.
Gill: Britain’s Sikh community will be proud
News of the Punjabi brothers being appointed to the same Championship game was greeted by Shadow International Development Minister Preet Kaur Gill, who is Britain’s first Sikh Member of Parliament.
Speaking from St Andrew’s, the Birmingham Edgbaston MP pointed to the central role played by the boys’ father in helping them reach this point in their careers.
“I think it’s [going to be] wonderful to see the two brothers refereeing and the likelihood of them refereeing a Championship game is brilliant,” the Shadow International Development Secretary told Sky Sports News.
“But of course, they saw their father Jarnail Singh, a referee, and they clearly needed to see someone who inspired them because how else would they see a pathway into their chosen career choice?
“I think what Bhups and his brother are doing is really going to inspire others to think, actually ‘I can do refereeing, I can get the support, and I can transition into the [pathway to the] Premier League’. We do need to see more of that.
“And I think ahead of Vaisakhi – which Sikhs will be celebrating – to see this game and to see two Sikhs refereeing will be absolutely something the Sikh community here in Britain can be really, really proud of.”
Webb: Bhups and Sunny have excelled
Former Premier League match official Howard Webb, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final, told Sky Sports News Bhups and Sunny have all the attributes required to reach the very top of their profession.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to see the progress that Sunny and Bhups have made in the game. I’ve had my eye on them for quite some time,” said Webb, who has been managing VAR in Major League Soccer for the past four years.
“I go back with their dad for quite some time, we worked in the Football League together. And Jarnail Singh, in addition to being a really, really good referee, is just a wonderful guy. He was always a pleasure to work with.
“They [Bhups and Sunny] are athletic, they know how to manage people, all these skills that you need to be successful. If you don’t have them, you don’t survive in the professional game. These guys have done more than survive, they’ve excelled and I think will continue to do so.
“Both have gone through those hard yards of local football and then progressing through the different levels and probably feeling like at some point they want to pack in because it’s not been an easy day at the office but they’ve persevered through those difficult times.
“I know their father will be so proud to see them on the same game. They’ve made good progress and they’re still on the upward trajectory. There’s still more for them to achieve. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it every step of the way.”
‘Refereeing is the family business’
Speaking from Derby County’s Pride Park Stadium, Punjabi Rams supporters’ club founder Pav Samra said the brothers offer hope to youngsters hoping to break into football away from the playing side of the game.
Samra said: “We always talk about role models and creating a pathway and talk about following in the family business!
“Their dad was a referee and hopefully, they are going to follow him and then go into top-flight. I think it will be brilliant.
“If you have got youngsters who may not be the greatest players out there, they can say, ‘look, I can be a Bhups, I can be a Sunny, I could be out there running with Aguero or Sterling or Kane’ – it shows that there is a career in football aside from playing, and I think it is really exciting for the community as well.”
Gallagher: The boys prove it’s there if you want it
Jarnail presided over almost 200 Football League matches and is now a referee assessor. The 59-year-old worked alongside former top-flight referee Dermot Gallagher, often acting as his fourth official when the pair were both in the Football League.
Gallagher says Bhups and Sunny have emerged as role models in their own right and are now in a position to inspire the next generation of British South Asian match officials.
“It just shows now in refereeing, there is no barrier to entry,” Gallagher told Sky Sports News.
“It also shows now that it is about the person for the job, whether that is a man or a woman. Whoever is the best person for the job gets that job, and that is how it should be.
“They just seem like really great role models and I would suggest that’s because of their father because he is such a nice guy and you can see that has cascaded down.
“I always say perception is reality. What people see is what they believe and people seeing Asian boys refereeing or running the line in the Championship, possibly in the Premier League – it sends out a message to friends, colleagues and people that you can do this
“It’s there if you want it – and I think that is the message they send out. It is there if you want it.”
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