Come Saturday morning, and I suddenly become a very difficult person. My family members have more or less given up on me when it comes to Saturday mornings. The reason is that this is the time in my otherwise mundane life when I play soccer. I have rarely missed any Saturday morning game for almost a decade. Hence, if anyone asks me to do anything on Saturday morning, I refuse outright!
Actually there’s more to it than just being an ardent player, it’s also about following this game. It is similar to how we talk about movies on our way back from one of the cinemas or how people talk on streets about the fate of the nation after attending a political rally. After a good ninety minutes of soccer, we assemble in a nearby tea shop, gulping mineral water, soda, or anything we can lay our hands on, and end up taking stock of last week’s soccer. Unfortunately, it’s never domestic soccer that steals the limelight, but rather games from around the globe.
Spanish La-liga, Italian Serie-A, and Germany’s Bundesliga, we end up covering them all. But it’s the ever favorite English premier league we talk about the most. It’s almost like each one of us has completed a course in British soccer, we not only know the names of players, but we also know which model each is dating, and how much per week they make. That probably reflects our passion for the game.
Of late, however, I have been noticing that in this weekly meeting of ours, there has been a gradual increase in the number of references we were making to Nepali soccer. We were talking of Manang Marsyangdi and Three Star, and of players like Bharat Khawas or Anil Gurung. I still have trouble matching these players with the clubs they play for, but nonetheless, I was beginning to develop a certain liking for our own league.
One day, out of the blue, there was this unanimous decision to go see a certain game after our game was over. This actually got decided during the half-time break! Since all of us were busy for rest of the week playing the game of ‘going-to-work-and-getting-back-home’, Saturday was the only day we could afford to go play a game and then go see one. But as with most things we planned to do out there, this plan too died an immature death. We did not go.
In the evening, I was watching one of the English Weekend games on television from the comfort of my couch. Somewhere around the interval, to avoid advertisements, I flipped the channel, when I was confronted with news of a certain club rioting in Dasrath stadium earlier in the day. It was not until I saw a facebook message that read ‘what a miss. We missed the most eventful game of this year’s league’ did I realize that was the game we had planned to attend.
The channel was broadcasting detailed footage of events that had unfolded in the stadium that afternoon. Hordes of people were running amok, and many were throwing seemingly outraged expletives at the referee and other officials; but their facial expression seemed to suggest just the opposite. They were smiling, with every facial muscle revealing how much fun they were having! Everyone seemed intent on trying to stop the next game from taking place. In the midst of it all, one gentleman was being held back by three or four strongly built people.
He seemed to be the angriest of all, completely outraged. At another time, the angry guy, who happened to be the coach of the team, was shown hurling a chair at the referee! To sum it up, it was something I had not expected to see on soccer ground, and that too from a club in the top most division of the country!
I was itching to get back to the second half of the English game that I was following. The news ended with the news reader saying that the governing body of Nepali soccer had taken the incident seriously, and had assured everyone that such behavior by any club or official will not be tolerated. Decision regarding disciplinary conduct would be taken soon.
Fast forward a week, and it was Saturday morning soccer once again. We played a game before gathering in the tea shop for a round of soda, tea and hot jeri. There someone reminded us of the game we had missed out on. No sooner had he done so that a flurry of comments started flying in from left and right. One quipped ‘How can a coach be so outraged if there wasn’t something fishy going on?’ Another one, munching a samosa, shouted ‘That was a ‘fixed’ game, and therefore the reaction! Good that we didn’t go for it!’
A third one, slightly gentler, tried to explain ‘Actually, both teams apparently had decided to share a point each by drawing the game. So, as a part of the plan, after conceding a goal, the opponent had deliberately fouled their player in the d-box, assuming his own automatic suspension from the game followed by a penalty.’ He took a gulp of the drink he was holding, and continued, ‘99 times out of 100, that would have been a penalty, but that particular time the referee did not do anything. Only god knows if that was because he did not see the incident, or chose to ignore it!’
After the explanation, what I had seen on television a week ago suddenly made sense. ‘So what happens next? Isn’t somebody going to ban the club for life? Or at least, for a long time?’ I asked.
‘Hitesh, I guarantee nothing will happen. At most, ANFA may ban the club for two years, but that’s it. It won’t hurt the club much, nothing serious,’ someone shouted from the crowd.
As it turned out, he was right. The club faced a ban of one year, was fined three hundred thousand rupees, and that was it, the matter was closed. This probably hurt most followers of this beautiful game. Time and again, we hear the sportsmen of the country complaining about the intrusion of political forces in sports, and how they should be left alone. And yet, when such a blatant breach of discipline had taken place, they seemed to be least bothered.
Rumor has it that the team (and the coach responsible) celebrated ANFA’s decision because it was nowhere close to what was expected, not even by the perpetrators!
Nowhere else in the world could a decision like this have been made. People elsewhere would have appealed for a ban. In Nepal, culprits just ended up celebrating the punishment.