SO finally they have the monkey off their backs. They have exorcised a 28-year-old demon. When Aisea Mocelutu's extra-time goal secured Suva's last IDC triumph in 1983, 19 out of Suva's 22 squad members for this year's meet weren't even born. How's that for a start? That only shows how much this victory means to the Whites.
Two players from the run-on team against Ba in last Sunday's controversial final at Govind Park and one on the bench were in their napkins when Courts Samabula employee Mocelutu's header beat the despairing dive of Ba keeper Bale Raniga at the Queen Elizabeth Drive end of the National Stadium.
Skipper Simione Maikali was six months old, Ralph Sherwin was three months old and former Nasinu rep Nitan Kumar, who came off the bench, was five months old.
Fiji FA's verdict
The Fiji Football Association Board of Control's decision is worthy of praise. They rightfully awarded the game to Suva and fined Ba football $5000 as Ba players refused to continue with the remainder of the match with Suva leading 1-0. That's not all. There's a likelihood of some players, at least three to four of them, facing the consequences for shoving, jostling, abusing and threatening to punch the assistant referee Kavitesh Behari.
Anger and frustration
When the Ba players, led by a prominent Fiji rep, ran for Behari, we were seated right in front where all the action unfolded. Ba players were fuming. However, in all honesty, while most of the Ba players were upset, not all of them had lost their cool. I did speak to some of them and pleaded for them to stay calm and to make sure that no matter what happened, none of them punched any of the match officials. From what we had seen from our angle, it did not look like a goal so, at that moment, there was a lot of doubt until my colleague Baljeet Singh showed me his picture.
I actually felt for these players. It was a heat of the moment thing for them and they got carried away with what was at stake and in some ways were spurned on by the vocal, frustrated fans who were venting their anger on the opposition and the match officials, mainly Behari. However, players, be they from Ba or any other district, should realise that taking the laws of the game into your own hands won't change anything, it would only make matters worse — as in this case.
I salute referee Andrew Achari and Behari for being so brave. I could see fear in Behari's eyes when the Ba players came for him but he stood his ground and stayed true to what he saw. Like his brother Ravitesh, he is a very good match official. I met Ravitesh during the commotion and he said that his dad, and top former referee Suresh Behari, had called from home and said that judging from television replays the ball had crossed the line. Achari, from Nadi, was in complete control and the way he kept the dialogue going with the two team captains in such a heated situation, was a sign of a proven and experienced referee.
I felt for Fiji FA president Rajesh Patel. To be a sponsor and the top man, the least he would have expected was such a scene right on his own doorstep. Patel was Ba FA president for many years and had so much success with this team. Here was a Ba man at the helm of Fiji FA, sitting there stunned, having to watch all the drama. He gave so much to Ba football, what did he get in return that evening? Zilch! His company could not even do a proper presentation.
Police and security
The swift action taken by assistant commissioner of police, chief of staff, Ravi Narayan and his men should be highly commended. Police patrol cars and motor bikes, together with more manpower were brought in. As tensions rose among the near 8-10,000 mainly Ba fans and fears rose of an invasion of the pitch escalated, a fire engine was called in. Like they say, prevention is better than cure and they had to make sure that the Suva players, officials and their families were well protected.
I know how hard it is when the heart is hurt and the anger level is rocketing sky-high but here's what one of the Ba officials should have done to avoid the unnecessary delay and scene. If they felt they were being cheated and thought the only way out was by pulling out, like they did, then one of them should have gone up to the main dais, held the microphone and spoken to the Ba fans. They should have asked them to cool down and keep the peace or, if possible, disperse and let them take their case up with the match officials and the Fiji FA. They should not have let the fans create an atmosphere or fear by throwing plastic bottles at the match officials and reserve Suva players and officials, continuous cheering, jeering, cat calls and verbal abuse. They should have been quick to cool their players down.
I was called up on Wednesday morning by a Ba team official (named withheld). He told me how angry and disappointed he was with my opinion piece in Monday's edition about the behaviour of the Ba fans and players and added that some men from a certain village were asking around about me. That, to me, was a threat. If you are reading this mister, I just want to say that the only reason why I did not say much on the phone to you is because I always looked up to you with a lot of respect and often called you 'father' because of your seniority and experience. However, I did not expect that from you, especially for all those years of my coverage of you and your team, getting uprising stars into the limelight and writing about top former ex reps, last of which was Vimal Sami in last Saturday's edition. I have a lot of friends in Ba, from soccer reps, to current and former officials and top former players including Taito Bula, who himself agreed with my column and gave me a phone call on Tuesday afternoon. I have nothing against Ba and was even involved in trying to cool your players down. I did the same with the Suva boys. Friendship aside, I have a job to do and I will always respect the fact that, as a journalist, I am a watchdog of the community. So, with all due respect to your thoughts and unwarranted threat, I will continue reporting what I see — the facts. I also feel for Baljeet for he too was only doing his work when he took the picture of the goal that laid to rest any doubt that one may have had.
I know everyone is saying ban some of the Ba players and stop the BFA from hosting games at Govind Park. I feel otherwise, we should leave it at that and maybe warn the players or have them miss a few games or a tournament. I do not agree with a lengthy ban for two wrongs do not make a right. Also football runs in the blood of Ba fans, so let's not take away from them what they consider as the love of their lives.
Most of them are very kind-hearted people as my young Navua football team found out. The Reds were shown so much respect by the home fans, even against Ba. Besides their negatives, let's look at the positives — just one of it.
The fact that they did not invade the pitch against Suva. The blame lies elsewhere. It is the BFA's job to control their crowd and players and educate them on the 'dos' and 'don'ts' of football.
Unfortunately, that did not happen on Sunday. Once the Ba officials learn to keep their emotions in check, the rest will take care of itself.