Despite being one of
four FIFA accredited
referees in India,
M B Santhosh Kumar
does odd jobs to
make ends meet.
Manu A B tells
Kottayam, Kerala-based Santhosh Kumar has refereed over 100 national matches, even ones featuring soccer stars like Lionel Messi, Thomas Mueller and Baichug Bhutia. He is the
only referee from Kerala with a FIFA accreditation.
Despite the prestigious tag, he continues to
juggle small-time jobs to support his family.
Thirty seven-year-old Santhosh’s ambition
of refereeing a World Cup match — a dream
nurtured by every international referee — is
fading away fast, as he struggles doing double shifts as a caretaker and an autorickshaw
driver, to look after his four-member family.
“Internationally, referees peak during their
mid-thirties and they are in demand till they
touch 40, as you have to be extremely fit.
There is not much hope in terms of an international career for me. So I need a permanent job, even that of a peon would help me
and my family,” he says in desperation, a year
after he got his accreditation.
Bogged down by financial problems, he
submitted petitions to Kerala Chief Minister
Oommen Chandy’s office and Kerala Sports
Minister K B Ganesh Kumar for a job. But
his efforts failed.
“My house is old and dilapidated. I wish I
could build a new house. I have lot of
responsibilities, as my children are young. I
don’t know how long I will be able to carry
on with refereeing,” says Santhosh.
All he remembers fondly of his childhood
“I grew up in a village that was very pas-
sionate about soccer. I used to devote hours
playing this magical game since the age of
ten,” he says. “Soccer is a beautiful game, it is
all about spontaneity, team spirit, perfect
mental and physical agility.”
The game kept him going strong despite
the family’s difficult times. His father
worked as a security guard at a rubber facto-
ry while his mother was a housewife.
“We used to have cows at home. I used to
help my mother look after them,” recalls
His parents were worried about his passion for soccer. While they wanted him to
study well and get a good job, Santhosh
spent most of his time on the soccer ground.
After finishing school, he played for small
clubs and earned $4 per match, a big
amount those days.
From officiating matches in barren paddy
fields in his village to refereeing I-league
matches, it has been an incredible journey
Financial problems and a ligament injury
A FIFA referee who drives an autorickshaw A FIFA referee who drives an autorickshaw
GIRISH KUMAR P J
did not allow him to pursue his ambitions in
soccer and so Santhosh decided to focus his
attention on refereeing. He had enjoyed controlling the game as a referee in matches
held in his village paddy fields.
In 1996, after clearing a written and a
physical test, he stepped into the world of
refereeing at age 21.
But soon he realized it was not a stable job
nor did it help him support his family.
He started working as a caretaker at an
apartment complex in Kottayam in 2001.
“I tried to find time for soccer matches
whenever I could. In 2004, I became a
national referee. However, it was difficult to
get leave to go for matches. Hence, I skipped
many matches and carried on with my
work,” Santhosh says.
Eight years of being a national referee paid
off. The winning moment came last year
when the All India Soccer Federation
appointed him as one of the three professional referees for 20 I-league matches
The seven-month contract will earn him
about $3,750. Though he is happy about this
remuneration, Santhosh says this is not
enough to sustain his family in the long run
so he has to continue doing other jobs as
His first match as an AIFF-contracted referee was between East Bengal and Sporting
Club de Goa. He has refereed difficult
matches between Goa and Jharkhand, Goa
and Punjab as well.
Another memorable game he refereed was
the one between Bayern Munich and India
in New Delhi in 2011.
Santhosh is happy that the AIFF is supporting and encouraging more referees with
“But after I turn 45 (the retirement age for
referees), I cannot continue being a referee.
I have to get a better job to support my family,” he says.
His performance as a national referee was
noted by the authorities. In 2010, his name
was recommended for FIFA recognition.