AUGUSTO RODRIGUES | NT
Ashok Wadgeri reaches the Panaji fish market at 6 am from Mapusa. From six to ten, he moves around the fish market selling tea and snacks to the fisher folk selling their catch to customers. He sells a cup of tea for Rs 10. By 10 am, Ashok leaves the market and reaches the Goa Football Association (GFA) stadium in Duler where he begins his work as grounds man.
After watering the ground, Ashok goes home for lunch and after a quick bit with his wife and three children he is back in Duler, this time manning the only gate at the stadium. Manning here means, selling tickets, cutting the tickets and allowing the fans in.
Work at the gate over and Ashok is seen sitting in the ground next to the stretcher. When the need arises, Ashok is one of those running in the ground to get a player out in the stretcher. Sometimes, he is the ball boy and after the game is over, Ashok cleans the stadium – including the toilets- before calling it a day.
Ashok normally retires home by 8pm but it gets later if there are floodlight matches.
“I have three children to bring up. My eldest daughter is 15 and I decided on selling tea here in the Panaji fish market in the morning to make ends meet. I could not educate my children with my salary from GFA and that is why I started selling tea in the morning. The people are happy with the service I give them in the morning and the money I make is enough to keep my wife and kids going,” admits Ashok.
Forty six year old Ashok joined GFA in 2017 as a grounds man for a salary of Rs 3,000 and now earns Rs 12,000. “It has been in my nature to work. I do whatever I am asked at the Duler ground. I may be the grounds man but that has not helped me in helping with other chores. You have seen me selling tickets, sometimes getting abused by fans and even shouted at by fans when we run with the stretcher to get an injured player out. I even cleaned the toilets after the match. I have to work to give the best I can to my children,” claims Ashok.
“Football is a funny game. There are times when I am entertained when I am watching a game sitting on the sidelines next to the stretcher and there are times when I sleep as the game is going on. Somehow, football soaks my tiredness and at times gives me energy to continue afresh despite starting work so early in the day,” admits Ashok.
“My wife helps me prepare tea for my morning work and my elder daughter helps in the house work when my wife is busy,” says Ashok.
“Had I not started selling tea in the morning, I would not have been able to bring up my family. I put in four hours in the morning in the market and eight hours with GFA and spend the remaining time with my friends and family,” claims Ashok.
In the end, Ashok is not just a grounds man or fish market tea seller but an off- shoot of the football eco system. Ashok is a form of the beautiful game.