WITH the Courts Inter District Championship less than two weeks away, I take you back in time to a high-drama final from the 1982 event.
The venue was Prince Charles Park with the home team (Nadi) and Ba facing off in the final. The teams could not be separated at full-time and extra time so came the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
What we knew through the media (radio and newspaper) back then was that after finishing the entire 11 sets of penalties each, there was still no winner, some confusion arose and the match was abandoned and later replayed at a neutral venue. It was reported that Nadi failed to turn up the following week at Churchill Park so Ba took home the Lloyd Farebrother Trophy.
Yesterday, I spoke to former Fiji FA senior vice-president Dr Hari Kewal, a dental surgeon from Nadi.
He was the Nadi Football Association vice-president and team manager that year.
Dr Kewal, who always shared a very healthy working relationship with the media during his time in the FFA office, took time out from his busy schedule to give me an insight into what really happened that day at Prince Charles Park and why Nadi did not turn up in Lautoka.
Dr Kewal recalls that after two sets of five penalties each, the two teams were still tied having "both missed three penalties each".
So they were down to the two goalkeepers, Savenaca Waqa (Nadi) and Bale Raniga (Ba). It was closing in on 6pm.
"Waqa had a bad leg but he scored with his attempt," recalls Kewal.
"He was now facing Bale and the 10,000 mainly Nadi crowd went mad with delight and ran on to the field as Waqa saved Bale's shot.
"Gopalan Khanna was the referee and he was fine with the save. Gaffar Ahmed was the assistant and he flagged that kick down saying it had to be retaken. He claimed that Waqa had moved during Bale's run-up. These days the keepers are free to move around on the line while awaiting the kicker's run-up but back then you could not move an inch."
This, Dr Kewal says, led to a commotion and there was a lot of confusion as most fans were unaware as to what was happening.
Former FFA president Dr Shamsu-din Sahu Khan was the parent body's vice-president at that time.
Nadi insisted that Waqa's save was legitimate and that they should be declared winners but referee Khanna, going with Ahmed's call, stood firm with his decision.
Kewal recalls that when he realised there was no way out but a re-kick and with time ticking past 6.15pm and darkness falling, he had to cook up an excuse.
"He (the ref) came up to me and asked as to what the delay was about and was surprised to hear my reply," Kewal laughs.
"I told him in Hindi that 'Waqa ratauni hein', meaning he has poor visibility at night."
Nadi called for lights if Waqa was to take his place in goal, knowing they'd get away with it as there were no floodlights. That's when Dr Sahu Khan intervened.
"He (Sahu Khan) came up to me and said 'come on Doc, let's sort this out somehow. How about we pull the winner from a hat'," Kewal remembers.
"I was very straight forward. I told him 'agar tum long manta hat me se winner draw kare, 15 minutes wait karo haam ghare chall dei tab naam khichna' (if you people want to draw the winner from the hat, give me 15 minutes, let me go home and then you pull the winning team's name).
"Dr Sahu Khan asked me 'why'. My reply must have rang a bell in his ears. I told him 'agar Nadi ke naam nahi nikla toh hum to surgical ward me jaabe karega aur hamar saathe saathe tum long bhi recovery ward me rahio' (if Nadi's name does not come out, I will surely end up in surgical ward and you officials will be in the recovery ward).
"The crowd was all over the park and the frustration was growing as many had thought that Nadi had won already so surely they would have vented their anger out on us and I really did not want be there.
Six months each
"He (Dr Sahu Khan) stood there staring at me. Then he slowly asks 'any another alternative'. I told him 'just share the trophy six months each'.
Dr Kewal says the Nadi players spoke with their Ba counterparts and both teams agreed to the idea.
"Dr Sahu Khan (who was calling the shots on behalf of the FFA president, the late Manikam Pillay), straight away objected saying 'that is not in the rule books'."
The Fiji FA then abandoned the game saying there would be a replay.
But little did Dr Kewal, Nadi players and fans knew that the replay would be held at a neutral venue (Churchill Park, Lautoka), a decision taken by the then Fiji FA board.
Dr Kewal and coach Mani Naicker got the players ready the following weekend to travel to Lautoka.
"We were adamant that we'd go there and win. The Fiji FA told us that we'd get gate shares and the boys really wanted to play," Dr Kewal reminisces.
"That's when our president (the late SV Chetty) turned up. He told us that we were not going to play and instead would march in town against FFA's decision to host the game at a neutral venue.
"He (Chetty) told us that he had called Ba mentor, the late Sashi Mahendra Singh and that SM Singh had assured him that Ba would not play the final either.
"Chetty said 'rahan doh, nahin jao, Ba bhi nahin ai, dekhio kiske Fiji football trophy dewe' (Leave it, don't go, Ba won't come either, let's see who the Fiji FA gives the trophy to).
"We, the team officials and players, wanted to go and play but we were told that if we did that we'd be suspended. So the players picked up their bags and went home and we headed to town to march with billboards like 'Down with Fiji FA' and all."
The group moved on to Prince Charles Park where there were speeches with everyone blasting the parent body.
What happened next makes Dr Kewal break down in fits of laughter.
"Someone turned on the radio and the commentator, I think it was Joe Singh, was saying that the Ba team were there warming up for the match. We were all stunned. Ten to 15 minutes later, they (Ba) were declared winners. Hum long march kar ke speech dete rahe gaya, Ba trophy utahe ke hoy lis (Having marched we were busy giving speeches while Ba took the trophy and headed home)," says Dr Kewal, laughing uncontrollably.
Dr Kewal said Chetty was furious. "He called a press conference and accused SM Singh of (cheating, and not keeping his words). The following day, SM Singh got back through his lawyers, wanting to take Chetty to court. Slowly we helped calm things down but this was one hell of an IDC and I will always remember it for as long as I live."
Seems like there was more action and drama off-the-field of play in 1982 then on it.
Thanks for the memories Dr Kewal.