| CLIMAX LAWRENCE
Imphal, Nov. 2: Some disgustingly inept refereeing by Karnataka’s S.M. Balu, even more ineptitude by linesman Biswajit Bera of Bengal, a hypersensitive crowd and limited crowd control experience of the security personnel. This unholy cocktail led to the abandonment of the second semi-final of the 58th national football championship for the LG Santosh Trophy at the Khuman Lampak main stadium here on Saturday.
The match will be replayed on Sunday with several security restrictions being imposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the All Manipur Football Asociation (AMFA), the organisers.
Sentiments were running high with the home crowd knowing full well that this was probably their only opportunity to shine on the national scenario. With the AIFF’s native rule (only native born-players to play for their state in the Santosh Trophy) likely to be thrown out next year, and with the home team in good nick in the semi-final versus Goa, this match was important.
Following 53 uneventful, almost boring and goalless minutes, Goa’s Covan Lawrence sent a ball through a Manipur off-side trap. Climax Lawrence had started moving before the release and was clearly off-side. He trapped the ball, turned and shot home. Referee Balu blew for goal even as linesman Bera failed to notice the open breach of law.
All hell broke loose thereafter. Though the Manipur players protested and for a minute refused to play, they were hardly on an offensive path. They were back to play when the western stands went up in protest. There was tremendous crowd unrest and missiles (mainly water bottles) rained down on the ground. Play was held up as the crowd grew more restive, tearing down the scoreboard, the buntings and banners, lighting a quick bonfire. Appeals by the police, by the organisers and even by the Manipur players went unheeded.
The problem surely lay with the match supervisors. But it was also found that this was a tournament that the AIFF — with supremo Priya Ranjan Das Munshi more worried about his Lok Sabha seat than the affairs of a national body he heads — had totally neglected. There was no senior AIFF official around (except for match commissioner S.S. Shetty of WIFA). It was finally left to Hardev Jadeja — chairman of the disciplinary committee of the national body, who said he was here purely on other personal business— to try and sort out the problem.
The police, armed with sophisticated automatic weapons suited for tackling insurgents, were at sea when faced by restive football supporters. The old faithful baton, so useful in these situations, was absent. Moreover, there was little police presence in the stands, and control was hence loose. It was learnt that a water cannon was placed outside the stadium, but that again was too strong a weapon.
Every time they tried to start the match, missiles would come down from one stand or the other. After three such attempts failed and 43 idle minutes had passed, the match was declared abandoned.
Interestingly, the abandonment was announced over the public address system by Inspector General of Police (law and order) Romenkumar Singh, and not by any of the organisers. When asked about this, Jadeja said it was because of the “language issue”.
That sounds funny, because the president and secretary of the organising committee — Santosh Kumar and A. Borchand — are both locals. The two had, basically little say in the entire episode.
The match officials were escorted out amid a hail of bottles, and the place emptied.
Manipur sports crowds are among the most peaceful in the country. The IG could remember only one incident “way back in the 70s when Dara Singh had come over with his wrestling troupe that the crowd had misbehaved”. This, he said, was an isolated affair and would be dealt with properly.