Former national referee Fernandes battles cancer, financial problems; football body steps in to help
Whenever a referee finds himself in the midst of a tempestuous battle on the football field, he can't help but hope and pray that the match ends soon. Former national referee Joe Fernandes' family however, is hoping and praying that there's a delay in that final whistle this time!
in pain: Former national referee Joe Fernandes at the Intensive Care
Unit of a city hospital yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
Fernandes (67) is battling prostrate cancer and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of a city hospital yesterday after his condition deteriorated. He has even lost his speech following a stroke a few months ago. And with the doctors informing the family that he is in the last stage of the illness and "it's only a matter of time," the Fernandes household, in one of the bylanes of Dhobi Talao's Marine Street, is living on a prayer. Joe is the only earning member of the family and their troubles are piling on.
Wife Nazi (66), daughter Janice (38) and sons Glen and Gavin (twins, 36) are pillars of strength nevertheless.
"My father has been a very active member of this family. He'd wake up at 5am everyday to fill water, then go to the market to fetch groceries at noon followed by church attendance in the evenings. It's unbelievable to see him laid low like this," said Glen of his bed-ridden father, diagnosed with the dreaded ailment in May.
The family has not told Fernandes about his illness. "We have simply told him that he has a back problem. We cannot tell him he has cancer for we don't know how he will react. He might collapse," said daughter Janice, who lives with her husband and child in Pune.
Nazi recalled how her husband never refused a football assignment. "After his retirement too he just could not refuse assignments. He would officiate anything -- from inter-school matches to inter-college encounters and even small private tournaments. It was not about the money because we were fine with the Rs 9,000 he brought in from his job at a private firm (it shut recently after the owner passed away). He just wanted to be close to football," said Nazi, who admitted being pampered by her former-neigbour-turned-husband.
"My father has stood in some big tournaments like the Rovers Cup, Santosh Trophy and the IFA Shield, and wanted us to be referees too. But I took up a job at a call center, while my brother went off to work on a cruise liner," said Glen. They have now quit their jobs to tend to their father, who needs 24-hour attention.
Money is of utmost importance but the Fernandes' are hesitant to ask. "Joe's medical expenses add up to Rs 10,000 per month. It's difficult, but we are managing," said Nazi.
Yesterday, Western India Football Association secretary Souter Vaz presented Nazi a cheque of Rs 1,11,000 following an appeal made by former national referee Tony Gonsalves. "Joe will be glad to know you were here. He speaks very highly of his friends in the football circle," Nazi told WIFA Honorary Secretary Vaz.
Sons Gavin and Glen meanwhile, embraced each other at Bombay Hospital, overwhelmed by the gesture from WIFA. "He is happiest when on the football field. We wish daddy could just get up and take to his referee's whistle again," they said. Meanwhile, Fernandes remains in the dying moments of his crucial battle for life. Let's hope that hooter is not blown just yet!