Calcutta, Dec. 9: A red card brought missiles and bottles raining from a Mohun Bagan gallery at Salt Lake Stadium today, fracturing a player’s cheekbone, triggering a police baton-charge and forcing abandonment of the I-League derby against East Bengal.
Although the match resumed after a 13-minute stoppage at the fag end of the first half, Bagan, down 0-1, refused to play after the break citing player safety concerns and faces possible expulsion from the national soccer league for up to two years.
Even Bidhannagar commissioner of police Rajiv Kumar had a bruised cheek from a flying stone but what should leave the entire force with a redder face was a foreign reporter’s allegation that some cops had flouted norms by hurling missiles back at the stands.
Bagan midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi, hit by a brick apparently meant for referee Vishnu Chauhan, will need surgery tomorrow at Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals for a fracture between the right ear and jaw.
The police said about 45 people, including seven cops, were injured inside the stadium and 27 people, including two journalists, in a scuffle outside, where some Bagan fans disrupted traffic and stoned cars. Two persons were arrested for stoning cars.
The problems began when the referee awarded a foul against Bagan moments after the club had fallen behind to Harmanjot Singh Khabra’s 43rd-minute goal. Bagan’s Nigerian striker Okolie Odafe charged at the referee, gestured and used abusive language and was promptly red-carded.
This was when the first few missiles were hurled. A journalist from Britain’s The Sunday Times who was at the stadium, drawn by curiosity about Indian football after the Eden Test ended early, said the situation worsened after shield-wielding policemen threw stones at the gallery.
“If anyone (from the police) threw stones back at the crowd, it’s very bad,” commissioner Kumar said. “Having said that, a lot of restraint was shown as there were clear instructions not to use force unless pushed to the wall.”
Unlike Eden Gardens, there were no security checks at the entrance but most of the missiles seemed to be concrete lumps from the rubble of the crumbling stands.
First, the police caned the mob and cleared the designated Bagan stand to the right of the VIP gallery. Later, some of the fans were allowed back when the match resumed for a minute before halftime.
But just as the second session was about to start, Bagan football secretary Uttam Saha handed match commissioner Gulab Chauhan a note saying the club wouldn’t play.
“We didn’t play keeping the safety of our players in mind. They were left traumatised by what happened to Nabi,” said Bagan assistant secretary Srinjoy Bose.
The green-and-maroon plea is unlikely to cut much ice with the match commissioner and referee reporting that the situation was under control.
Only once before was a match abandoned for crowd trouble in the 16-year-old national league’s history — at Margao in the inaugural year of 1996 (when it was known as the National Football League). Since neither home team Salgaocar nor Air-India had refused to play, neither was punished.
Kumar played down today’s violence, perhaps keeping in mind August 16, 1980, when 16 people had died in an Eden that erupted over a Bagan-East Bengal derby. “Thankfully, what took place today wasn’t really violent,” he said. Asked whether the baton-charge in the narrow stands didn’t risk a stampede, police sources they had no option.
If the incident is another blot on Calcutta’s sports fans and police, it had ingredients to embarrass the government. The easy availability of concrete debris belied sports minister Madan Mitra’s promises of restoration of the huge, revenue-starved stadium that was in the glare for sheltering a gang when the Left was in power.
Bagan president Swapan Sadhan (Tutu) Bose and son Srinjoy, a club official, are former and current Trinamul Rajya Sabha MPs. The names of some top club officials had come up during the recent trouble at Haldia port, where a Trinamul-backed union was accused of arm-twisting to favour manual cargo handler Ripley and Co. The Boses own Ripley.