A former India captain, Rebello has shot to fame after the I-League picked her as one of the referees for the upcoming season… The I-League is scheduled for a September start. Keep an eye out for this referee. She’s a woman, jovial, lets play flow, strict with cards and will bring players to their knees if they test her patience…
“Seriously, the whole of India will say that I’m a fun person!” Well, it’s always hard to believe that when a football referee says it. But somehow, with an easy laughter, a confident tone and the ability to talk about football for hours, Maria Rebello convinces you that she’s a fun referee. “Even jovial I’d say, a good observer and a very good listener,” she rattles off as we ask her one of the toughest questions on planet earth: Describe yourself. But the veiled warning isn’t far: “Once I’m on the football pitch though, nothing distracts me. Nothing.”
Rebello has shot to fame after the I-League picked her as one of the referees for the upcoming season, but Rebello was quietly building a brilliant resume all these years. She’s a former India captain, leading from midfield, where in her own admission, she had ‘incredible ball control and a knack for long shots’, and decided to become a referee because she wanted to keep in touch with the game.
“I didn’t want to be a coach. Those people sit in the technical area. I wanted to be out on the pitch,” she said.
Rebello has previously officiated men’s matches. We’ve seen other leagues, most notably the English Premier League use female referees in the last couple of seasons. However, they have been used only as lineswomen — and have also caused controversy. But Rebello, who has also officiated in the Santosh Trophy, revels in the position of power as referee among 22 men. She revealed that she met Premier League referees.
“I love it. The feel of power. It’s like I’m the boss. But, before you enter, you always have butterflies in your stomach. It’s not like they lay out a bed of roses out there. And initially players may have thought that I don’t know the rules of the game, but I’m strict, I’ve proven myself and now I’m more respected.”
About the whole experience on officiating men’s games, Rebello says that there were initial fears, but she’s a toughie who gives the players back a piece of her mind: “I’ve never given second thought before showing a card. For instance, there was a local match in Goa where I red carded a player for abusing me. The captain of the team came over to me and asked whether I’d send him off too if he cursed at me. I said yes. He cursed. I showed him red, and the crowd cheered me on for the brave decision. I take no rubbish from players. ” And yes, the team lost.
Rebello draws inspiration from Pierluigi Collina, Howard Webb, Ravshan Irmatov and Yuishi Nishimura — all top level referees. And despite the recent plaudits that have come her way, she’s in no illusion about the hassles of the job: “It’s a difficult job. You can’t take your eyes off the play and cannot afford teams to suffer because of your blunders. Plus, you’ve got to keep very fit —throughout the season, I cannot fail to not train or stop eating the right food.”
As football as progressed, players have been afforded more protection. Football shoe designs barely protect the ankle and short light shin-guards are usually worn. But Rebello, who loves watching the Bundesliga, the La Liga and the Serie A (she said the refereeing in the EPL is not great) feels annoyed that referees are too strict in not letting play flow: “For me, football is a contact sport and there will be robust challenges. Sometimes, play should just be allowed to go on.”
Rebello, who stays with her parents in Goa, says that all the tournaments she has officiated in has an equal pay for males and female referees. However, the I-League doesn’t follow an equal pay structure: “I don’t know how much it is, but it’s not the same for men and women.” The I-League is scheduled for a September start. Keep an eye out for this referee. She’s a woman, jovial, lets play flow, strict with cards and will bring players to their knees if they test her patience. All in all, pretty easy to spot.