During his growing-up years, Santosh nursed dreams of becoming a footballer. But with his modest skills not getting him much field time, he decided to become a referee at the age of 20. Despite his days of financial struggle that saw him switch several low-paying jobs, Santosh continued to officiate games.
His persistence has finally paid off. Santosh is among the AIFF’s first batch of three contracted professional referees. His seven-month contract guarantees him 20 I-League matches and a sum of Rs 2 lakh, in addition to allowances. Santosh hopes this will help him repay the loan he took to buy his auto-rickshaw, for which he had to mortgage wife Deepa’s jewellery.
When not officiating a game, Santosh’s day usually stretches to 16 hours. He trains from 6.30 am to 8 am at the Nehru Stadium in Kottayam to maintain his fitness. For the next six hours, he is the caretaker of the apartment complex. And after 2 pm, he ferries passengers in his auto-rickshaw, before calling it a day well past 9 pm.
“As refereeing doesn’t pay enough, and I had to sustain my family which includes my mother, wife and two school-going children,
I bought an auto-rickshaw two years ago,” said Santosh. “But refereeing is my passion... this new contract that guarantees me a fixed salary will hopefully help me tide over my financial crises,” he added.
His journey from a state-level referee to a FIFA referee, to which he was appointed only last year, took nearly two decades. On Sunday, Santosh will officiate his first match as an AIFF-contracted referee — East Bengal versus Sporting Club de Goa in Goa.
Among the other referees who have signed a contract with AIFF are Pratap Singh, an ex-serviceman, and C R Srikrishna, who owns an electronic goods shop.
AIFF’s head of refereeing Gautam Kar said the idea behind giving contracts to referees was to guarantee a regular income to those like Santosh.
“When youngsters realise that being a football referee in India means getting a regular salary also, it will encourage them to become officials. Earlier, our referees used to be paid per match. Now, those who have been given a contract will earn almost double of what they used to get earlier,” said Kar.