IT WAS a tournament marred with controversy.
There was anger and frustration in pool play, commotion in one semi-final and even more drama in the grand final.
The 1979 Girmit Football Tournament at Govind Park in Ba is best remembered for both on and off-the-field incidents.
It was the Jimmy show in pool play as Rewa stunned highly-fancied Nadi 2-1 with goals to Jimmy Vosuga and Jimmy Okete. Ba was held 1-all by Tailevu Naitasiri. Sigatoka was surprisingly showing good form by holding Suva 1-all and beating Tailevu Naitasiri 2-1. Who would have thought that Labasa would go a long way after they were thrashed 3-0 by Lautoka? Nadi's tough luck continued as they drew 2-all with the northerners and bombed out of the semi-finals.
Suva coach, the late Pio Cavuilati was furious when Ba and Sigatoka played a 1-all draw, a result that saw the Whites miss out on a top four berth.
Cavuilati claimed that the game was "fixed" to ensure both Ba and Sigatoka progressed. Had Ba or Sigatoka won that game, Suva would have accompanied the winner into the play-offs.
Despite the loss to the Blues, Labasa somehow squeezed in following the draw with Nadi and a 4-0 win over Rewa. Labasa took on Sigatoka in one semi-final and with a little luck the northerners won that won 6-5 on a penalty shoot-out. The Ba-Lautoka semi-final was a thriller.
At one stage Lautoka coach Saheed Mohammed pulled his players off the pitch. This was after defender Upendra Choy bumped into Ba strike ace Farouk Janeman and it appeared as if the Lautoka sweeper was punched by Kini Mocelutu, who was sent-off.
Mohammed said he did not want his players to get "butchered" but later agreed to send them on. Ba went on to win 2-1.
Onto the final. Inia Bola volleyed Ba into the lead. With the Men in Black one up, Janeman was brought down in a strong challenge by a Labasa player. He was carried off the field to be treated. Ba officials, meanwhile, sent on Amani Qere as Janeman's replacement. Play was stopped for a while but when it resumed Ba scored again and much to everyone's astonishment it was Janeman who set up that goal for Bola. Wasn't he suppose to be off the field? The Labasa players protested about the opposition having 12 players and referee Hari Raj Naicker ruled out the second goal. The Labasa team though remained adamant that they had been cheated and did not want to continue the game. Naicker then abandoned the game.
"I could not believe it as he (Janeman) had been carried off the field and Dr Sahu Khan (Ba team official) had told me not to move him as he had a suspected fractured leg," Naicker said afterwards.
The Fiji FA later ruled a replay in Suva and Ba opted out handing Labasa the Girmit title. Some of the key players for Labasa in that tournament were goalkeeper Joeli Tudreu, the star of the semi-finals, the late Gopal Sami, his brother Anand and Johnny Williams, who is now helping the Blues coaching staff. Having lost 0-3 in pool play, Labasa emerged victors in what was, for the northern fans, an unbelievable fairytale victory.