PEOPLE: ‘Football is my life’

Deepak Nitin Raj at the J R White and Company Ltd in Lautoka. Picture: REINAL CHAND.

Being raised in a poor family has its fair share of trials and tribulations. Some wilt under pressure, succumbing to peer pressure and end up on the wrong side of the law; other’s even go to extremes in order to rid themselves of a negative filled life, devoid of a way out – by committing suicide. Only the tough survive. And one such tough person is Deepak Nitin Raj.

Being the eldest in a family of two brothers and two sisters, Raj’s father Dinesh Chand was a sugarcane farmer.

“I am originally from the rural outskirts of Vaivai in Lautoka. My parents were cane farmers and I come from a poor family background. Life was really hard back in those days,” he said.

Raj attained his Year 12 education from Pandit Vishnu Deo Memorial College in Saweni, Lautoka, after completing his primary school education at Vaivai Indian School which is now known as Shree Ram Govind Memorial School.

“I joined the work force immediately after completing my Year 12 education. I wanted to support my parents.”

Raj was an avid footballer, however an unfortunate incident put a slight dent on his football aspirations.

“I loved to play football. Unfortunately, while participating in a locally organised seven-a-side football bazaar tournament, I broke my leg in 2013 while in Year 11.

“My dad was furious. After I got healed utilising herbal medicines my father literally chopped my brand new Mizuno football boots. That was the end of my football playing days,” Raj conferred with this newspaper.

A broken hearted Raj, though down but not out, tried all avenues to ensure his exuberance for the sport never dwindled. Thus began a blossoming career as a match official in the sport of football.

“My workmate was a football referee at that time and he asked me to join them because I was scared to play football. I made up my mind and joined them officiating as an assistant referee, which was referred to as a linesman.

“So I joined the refereeing family and got registered with the Lautoka Football Referees Association. A year later I debuted in the Courts IDC as an assistant referee.

“Being a novice I officiated in the super premier division semi-final between hosts Ba and Suva, which was the feature match, won by Ba 1-0, and was one of the match officials for the premier division final, which was a huge achievement for me, personally. It motivated and inspired me to achieve greatness in the sport, as a match official.”

“In 2016, I started to officiate in the Vodafone national football league matches and since then I have been selected as a match official in all the Fiji Football Association sanctioned local football tournaments.”

Raj’s matrimonial vows in 2018 to Anushilia Sharma of Drasa in Vitogo,  Lautoka, was a new chapter in his life.

“When I got married in 2018, I received an appointment to be a referee. My dreams were being fulfilled. I believe my wife brought with her all the luck for me.

“I started to referee the secondary schools competitions, Vodafone senior division games including the Vodafone women’s league.”

Raj proudly recalled his first match in his ascension to be  referee in the top tier.

“In the year 2018, I became a fulltime Fiji FA affiliated referee. My first Vodafone national league game in the premier division was between hosts Ba and Tavua. The match ended in a draw.

“I had to stop the match for 10 minutes because one of the assistant referees was pelted with stones by some fans.

“It was an intense game to referee and I will never forget that match especially the unruly behaviour by some hooligans.

“The first tournament I officiated in as a match referee was the same year at the Courts IDC which was played at the ANZ Stadium.”

Raj’s endeavours on the football pitch as a match referee did not go unnoticed among his peers and he was offered the biggest break in his career.

“After officiating the first game of the annual Pillay Garments Champion versus Champion series this year, I received a call from the Oceania Football Confederation based on my performance to be part of this year’s OFC Champions League pool stages.

“I was a bit apprehensive because it was a step up and more professionally administered. However, that did not deter me and upon passing the required fitness tests, I featured in three pool games – twice as a fourth official and I was chosen to referee the football match between hosts Hekari United of Papua New Guinea and Heinghene Sports of New Caledonia at Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby on Wednesday, 19th February.

“It was the feature match of day two in a group which also included Eastern Suburbs of New Zealand and Vanuatu’s Galaxy FC. It was a surreal experience.”

Raj had a vision to be a FIFA badge holder to officiate at the highest level of football.

“Football is my life,” he proudly proclaimed.

More Stories