After a half of end-to-end football, which saw an Odafa red card and Nabi grievously injured, Bagan refused to come on, citing security issues with the match being called off
By Kaustav Bera
What was poised to be India's answer to the high profile Manchester Derby, coincidentally on the same day turned out to eclipse the Premier League contest, but for a multitude of different reasons. Everything except a good 90 minutes of football was at show in the football capital of India. A fiercely contested derby, it was expected that it would see its fair share of drama. Unfortunately what transpired had little to do with the football pitch and more with the peripheral aspects of the beautiful game.
It was a derby marred by issues which could have and certainly should have been prevented, especially in India's biggest game on the footballing calendar. At the outset things certainly looked up, as Derby Day approached with torrents of people decked up in the colourful attire of either club, blocking the streets of Kolkata. And the game certainly did not disappoint as the match lived up to its billing with both teams going for it in the first half which resulted in forty five minutes of end-to-end football where either side had chances.
It all soured as we entered injury time of the first half. Just two minutes before, the Red and Gold had a fortuitous lead with Harmanjot Singh Khabra heading in a Mehtab Hussain free-kick. The Mariners felt that decisions were continuously going the opposite way with three Green and Maroon bookings compared to none on the opposite end, and the already simmering atmosphere was almost reaching boiling point.
What happened next was drama befitting a Bollywood blockbuster, with Khabra winning a freekick for the home team yet again. Bagan skipper, Odafa Okolie, clearly discontent at the decision going against them, got into an altercation with the referee Vishnu Chauhan. The referee responded with a straight red card but television replays showed Odafa had not made contact with the official but could only be held guilty of gesturing or mincing words.
Things turned ugly after that with a shard from the supporters, possibly directed towards the referee in retaliation for the perceived poor decision making throughout the half, which accidentally caught Syed Rahim Nabi, the Mohun Bagan player on the face. Co-incidentally the missile was thrown from the Mohun Bagan section of the supporters in the stadium, which caught their own player. He had to be rushed to the nearest hospital as the wound had made him lose consciousness. ( UPDATE: Thankfully Nabi had regained consciousness in the hospital where 4 stitches had to be applied to close the wound. However he will have to undergo on Monday )
What followed next was sheer confusion amidst supposed police brutality. Eyes in the stadium reported that the police in fact had picked up the shards from the field of play and had hurled it back towards the supporters. Besides that they marcileslly baton charged the entire part of the gallery without any distinction between the guilty and the innocent. After about 13 minutes of so called 'cleansing' the match was underway and about 30 seconds of the remaining half were played by both teams.
Confusion was at the forefront yet again as the match was to be restarted after the scheduled break. While the match officials and the East Bengal team were out on the field at the stipulated time, the Mohun Bagan team was nowhere in sight. As everyone was bewildered as to what was going on, news arrived that Mohun Bagan had taken a decision to not continue any further and had written a letter to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) citing security concerns to pull out of the match.
Sunando Dhar, the I-League CEO, when asked the explain their take on a team boycotting the match after a half said that the Article 22 in the I-League Rules and Regulations would be the deciding factor in this case, but a final decision deliberating the event would be taken by the I-League Committee, the Disciplinary Committee as well as the AIFF Executive Committee. This would be only after the Match Commissioner had submitted the report to the decision making bodies. The rule states:
22. Withdrawal, penalty for failing to play and replacement
a) Clubs shall play in all Competition matches.
b) Clubs that withdraw prior to, or are excluded from playing in the Competition, may be replaced by another Club. I-League Committee shall make the relevant decision, including a change in the Competition system and the Technical Rules for the Competition if necessary.
c) If a Club withdraws after entering or does not report for a match at any Stage of the Competition, except in cases of force-majeure recognized by the I-League Committee, or if it refuses to continue to play or leaves the stadium before the end of the match, the Club shall:
i. Be considered to have withdrawn from the Competition.
ii. Have all its matches cancelled and considered null and void (all points, goals scored and goal against will not be counted and taken into consideration when deciding the ranking in the I-League)
iii. Be required to pay compensation for any and all damages or losses suffered by the other Club, the I-League and IMG-Reliance and TV partner(s). The amount of compensation will be determined by the I-League Committee.
iv. Be disqualified from taking part in the next two (2) edition of the Competition from which it withdrew. The I-League Committee may extend the suspension depending on the gravity of the situation and/or damages. The I-League Committee has the right to decide on the number of slots for the Member Associations concerned.
v. Be referred to the I-League/AIFF Disciplinary Committee for additional sanctions and fines depending on the gravity of the situation, then to Executive Committee for final decision.
vi. Return to the I-League any financial stipends that had been paid to them by I-League throughout the Competition or forfeit the right to the same.
d) The I-League Committee shall take whatever action it deems necessary in cases of force-majeure.
FORCE MAJEURE: Any event affecting the performance or any provision of this Agreement arising from or attributable to acts, events, omissions or accidents which are beyond the reasonable control of a party, and shall include but not be limited to abnormally inclement weather, flood, lightning, storm, fire, explosion, earthquake, structural damage, epidemic or other natural disaster, failure or shortage of power supplies, war, terrorist action, military operations, riot, crowd disorder, strike, lockouts or other industrial action, or civil commotion.
Dhar said that Mohun Bagan coming on for the remainder of the half clearly was contradictory to their claim of a security issue, and conceded that he thought the police did a good job of bringing order to the situation. However the final decision, he repeated would be taken after the said committees met after perusing the report.
Meanwhile Trevor James Morgan, the East Bengal coach praised his team's performance while slyly conceding that he thought the referee was spot on, while refusing to speak on the topic of Odafa's sending off.
"I thought my boys played splendidly in the first half, especially with the opposition clearly setting up to stop us from playing."
"The referee was very good and all his decisions were spot on, if you ask me."
When asked what he would have done, if he was in Karim's shoes and his player had been attacked, Trevor diplomatically replied that he knows what he would have done, while refusing to spell out any further.
Karim Bencherifa refused to be drawn into the debate regarding the refereeing quality but said that he felt it was unfortunate that Odafa had to be sent off while saying that the selection of the match officials for such a big game was poor.
"I think Odafa would not have been sent off. I spoke to him after the half and he told me he had not touched the official at all."
"A game of this magnitude needs to see a more experienced referee. You could see how our players were getting booked and there were fouls awarded against us at almost every minute. I think this is the first time this referee has officiated in a derby match. Sometimes you need to go with your experience, instead of always being by the book."
"We have seen that in I-League matches, players push and shove the referee and suffer no consequences. If you need to go by the book, you need to be consistent throughout, not dish out different decisions at different places."
Karim confirmed that the decision to pull out was not his own, but was a concerted decision of the club and its officials.
While it is certainly debatable whether Mohun Bagan should have continued playing, you can well understand the reasons behind their not agreeing to continue. However you can also guage the disappointment of the 100, 000 plus capacity crowd, who had lined up from the morning to see the spectacle but were punished for a few hooligans.
It is also highly ignorant to call this a 'shame' for Indian football or a day to 'forget' about, as football derbies and several other matches have seen much worse incidents with football hooliganism being the norm and not the exception in countries like Turkey and Argentina. Coming back to the Manchester Derby which recently concluded with United picking up a last gasp victory, even under such stringent security arrangements and with probably football's greatest assets on show, Rio Ferdinand was hit by a missile from the crowd, resulting in a cut under his eye which began to bleed. This was followed up by a pitch invasion where a City fan snuck into the playing field. Thankfully that happened when United had wrapped up the victory, with hardly a minute left to play.
What if this same incident had happened at half time. Would Sir Alex Ferguson allow his team to continue to play? Who would be blamed then? Clearly things to ponder about instead of instantly writing off Indian football.
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