Referee Shyam Lama, while watching a football game during his teen days, found it appalling when clubs which lost the game go on to thrash a referee blaming him for the defeat. During those footballing days of Tribhuvan Challenge Shield, Birthday Cup, it was often the case of a referee being beaten by the losing side. "The referee was seen as a culprit by the losing side and was chased after the match was over," said Lama.
One day in the year 1982, Lama went to watch a U-23 Asian Youth Football tournament match which was being officiated by a foreign referee at Dasharath Stadium. The game went peacefully. "That gave me a thought. Why local referees are beaten after the match while their foreign counterparts receive good respect? It was that moment Lama was fascinated over the prospect of becoming a referee.
Born in Simaltar, Kathmandu, Lama, one of the most decorated FIFA referee of the country, used to play football in his locality. He started with a local Newari club, Pasa Kasha Pucha from which he played 'C' Division qualifying matches. "I played only a few matches from the club which later became defunct," he said.
Lama was a keen spectator who loved watching football matches at the stadium. Tickets cost 10-15 paisa and games then were more physical. Rules were often flouted and were not implemented strictly. "Still it was fun to watch games. Mahendra Police Club, now Nepal Police Club, Thimpu 11 were some of the big clubs then," he remembers.
In 1980, Lama began working in the All Nepal Football Association. "It was after I got the job at ANFA and watched that match of the U23 Asian Youth Football Tournament, I aspired to become a referee." Eight years after starting the job in the football association, Lama then took the refereeing training in Hetauda. It is the only training he has taken in his refereeing career. "Back then there were few provisions to become referee compared to now," he said.
Lama then started officiating in 'A' division matches. He went on to officiate over 200 'A' Division, Birthday Cup, Tribhuvan Challenge Shield matches. He said officiating a match between Iran and Iraq in the group stage of AFC Asian Cup in Lebanon in 2000 is the proudest moment of his career. "The best thing about me officiating those matches was those clubs whom I saw thrashing referees after losing a match in my younger days used to come to me and say they would be happy to lose a match if the decisions were taken correctly," Lama said. "I also take the criticism levelled by spectators at the referee after their team loses the match as a challenge to better myself in the next game."
"As a referee, it is always challenging to give the right decision within a matter of seconds. Back then, the matches were not recorded as they are now. I always hoped to watch the matches where I had done mistakes to correct them in the future," said Lama. Lama said modern refereeing has been made easy with the use of technology but it doesn't mean the challenges have lessened. "Refereeing is a challenging job. You need to be fitter than the players. Technology can assist but it is the referee who takes the final decision," said Lama.
Lama said scope for referees in modern days has become better than the past. "Referees can now receive better benefits and facilities and if you work hard and do better fame will follow you," said Lama. Lama retired in 2008 after officiating over 300 matches in his career. Since his retirement, he has been grooming aspiring referees at ANFA. He hopes to help the upcoming referees pass the knowledge which he gained in his 22-year career. "I have spent so long in this field, I don't think I can do anything than this," Lama said.