The irony is hard to miss. Just 24 hours after the multi-crore Indian Super League teams were announced on Sunday, a Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) league Super Division match between Income Tax (Fort) and Father Agnel (Vashi) at St Xavier's ground, Parel scheduled for a 4 pm start could only get underway at 5:15 pm due to shortage of referees.
Pic used for representational purpose only
That indeed is the reality of Indian football. A few days ago, a match between Young Boys (Madanpura) and Renaissance Hotel (Andheri) was similarly delayed due to shortage of referees and had to be eventually called off as the late start led to bad light making play impossible.
Talking about the delayed start, Income Tax coach Bosco Fernandes said: "Although our match against Fr Agnel was scheduled for 4 pm, it started after 5 pm. The referees were not ready to officiate as they were tired. Only after repeated requests, they agreed to officiate our match."
Bombay Football Referees Association's (BFRA) assistant secretary Richard Dixon said his referees are upset over unpaid dues. "I was not present when the incident took place. All I can say is that the boys are fed up as they have not been paid for a long time."
The organisers though had a different story. MDFA secretary Hugh Banerjee said: "I was present when the incident took place. Everybody wants to take the referees' side. As far as we are concerned, they are not co-operating with us. We requested them to accept their pending dues in parts, but they refused.
"So, we decided to use officials from the Bombay Referees Association (a rival referee body), but BFRA referees do not want us to do that as well. "
Walter Pereira, chairman of the referees' board of Maharashtra, told mid-day: "BFRA referees who officiate MDFA matches do not have the strength but they still want to operate.
Their referees are not even qualified. At this stage, I cannot intervene till the MDFA writes to Western India Football Association (WIFA). As far as the issue of referees not being paid by MDFA is concerned, they should go on strike and not officiate matches."