Calcutta: Konika Barman had butterflies in her tummy when the Calcutta Referees’ Association secretary and her mentor, Udayan Haldar, broke the news on Monday evening. “He told me I will be the referee for Tuesday’s East Bengal versus Railway FC CFL match… I was very nervous. A call to my parents (Sharan and Nilima) at Salugoda in Siliguri calmed the nerves. They asked me to keep my focus.”
Konika created history by becoming the first woman to officiate a match, featuring one of the big teams of the Maidan. In a way this diminutive 20-year-old broke the glass ceiling. After all, Maidan is known to be the male domain where women belong to a minuscule minority.
She passed the Tuesday test with aplomb and earned a lot of praise from the East Bengal players. “No. 11 (Ryuji Sueoka), in fact, praised me for playing the advantage rule when he was tackled by a Railway FC defender. He told me very few referees would have the guts to play the advantage rule in that situation,” Konika said.
“Given the fact that it was her first big match, I think she did a great job. She has a calm head and that’s what a referee should have… Sometimes the referee gets carried away and makes mistakes… She has a bright future and I wish her all the best,” Sueoka told The Telegraph on Tuesday.
Interestingly, Sueoka was brought down by a defender and Konika awarded a penalty in favour of East Bengal. As usual, the Railway FC players protested and play was stopped for three minutes. “Oh! It was a penalty and I had a clear view. Smaller teams always find a conspiracy theory in everything,” she said.
Railway FC coach Prokash Chatterjee, however, said Konica wasn’t impressive. “It was not a penalty... That much I can say,” he said.
East Bengal’s James Moga made an obscene gesture at Konica and that did not go down well with coach Armando Colaco. “What he did was uncalled for… I apologise to the referee for Moga’s misbehaviour.”
Konika started as an athlete, but lack of opportunities forced her to take up football. She was a striker and was playing in Siliguri when Udayan spotted her. She took up refereeing in 2011 and soon moved to Calcutta. She got a job in the Green Police wing of the Calcutta Police and right now is staying at the Bodyguard Lines. “Maintaining traffic on the roads has improved my refereeing. You may find it weird, but that’s true. It helps me to spot troublemakers on the field easily.”
Konika is an ardent fan of Ravshan Irmatov, who was named the Best Referee in Asia for four years from 2008 to 2011. Irmatov was the referee during a CFL Derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, in January 2012. “I could not meet him. But will surely do so in near future,” she said.
Konica’s dream is to officiate a match between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. “That’s my dream… Hopefully, it will come true soon,” she said.
Udayan has only words of praise for his protégée. “She has the talent and stays relaxed… I took five years to make the ark, but Konica, within two years, has got a big match. Even though I did not see her on the field today, the feedback I have got is very positive.”