Gambia: Super Nawettan Fracas Could've Been Averted

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It would have been one of the best super nawettan championship organised, but it is a shame that another final in the same competition failed to conclude.

Bakau, one of the dominant forces in Gambian football were banned for a whole year after their fans halted a final match against the Serekunda East super nawettan team in a game played at the Serekunda West mini-stadium and were just making their return this year after their place was temporarily occupied by guest team, BEM.

Upon their return, Bakau were one of the revelations of this year's tournament that saw a record number of 12 participating teams and were tipped to win the crown ahead of its Saturday final with Brikama.

For much part of the game, that was never on the cards as Brikama dominated and rose to a 2-0 second half lead only for Bakau to peg them back and draw the scores at 2-2. With time running out, the game was poised for the gruesome post-match penalty shoot-out before a controversial call allowed the Sateba boys to restore their lead, much to the disbelief of thousands of spectators inside the Serekunda East mini-stadium.

This however provoked the whole melee which caused the game to be called off after the officials had to spend several minutes inside the pitch before they were escorted into their dressing rooms by the Police Intervention team at the game.

A Daily Observer photographer got beaten while another reporter from the Point newspaper got a phone taken away from her. But the trouble could have been avoided if the right measures were taken and from the match officials to the Police Intervention team and the Bakau fans, each has contributed in one way or the other to the melee.

Officials

Having surrendered a two-goal advantage, Brikama restored their lead with time running out and on course to win their first super nawettan title that has eluded them for all these years. The manner in which they scored to take a 3-2 lead in the closing minutes of the first half was controversial but the call made by referee Bakary Papa Gassama was right. Having come close to stealing the title themselves, a Bakau player was lying down in pain inside the Brikama penalty area after colliding with the keeper.

The Brikama net tender kicked the ball away for the player to receive medical attention only for right-back Foday Saidy to stop the ball from leaving the pitch. He pushed the ball for few meters and had a look at the referee twice before deciding to embark on a mazy run on the right which resulted to a fabulous goal. Bakau cried foul play with the decision by the referee to allow play to continue because they felt it should've been fair play. But fair play is only optional and not mandatory, so despite the fact that it was a brave call, there was nothing wrong with the decision.

But not everyone is a master of the laws of the game and I was equally embarrassed when a national team player sitting not far away from the press area argues that the referee was wrong to allow play to continue. But having said that, the referee could've stopped play in a situation where the majority doesn't know much from the laws of the game.

Security

After that goal, I was sitting close to a colleague whom I told that the game would end in trouble and his response was yes there should not be but there will be because the fans behind us think that it was mandatory of the referee to halt play for their player to get medical attention. Before I could even finish my statement, a Bakau fan beat the heavy security and jumped over the perimeter fence to intrude the pitch. He was chased by a police officer who hit him with a pipe on his head and he lay down unconscious straight away.

As soon as the police hit the pitch intruder, the whole Bakau bench rushed into the pitch and their fans immediately followed by throwing missiles into the field. Stones were pouring down like rainfall and everyone inside the perimeter fence had to rush and seek refuge in the middle of the pitch. It took the police several minutes before they could have control over the situation.

What the police officer who flogged the supporter should have done was to get hold of the boy and take him away for the game to continue and then later press possible charges against him at the court of law. Every time in international football we have always seen on television that fans will intrude the pitch at some point but they never got beaten and the most recent was in the latest instalment of the Manchester derby when a City supporter was charged for intruding the pitch and is currently standing trial in the United Kingdom.

Bakau fans

Having caused their team to not participate in the competition last season because of a similar incident a couple of years ago, many taught that lessons were learnt by the Bakau supporters but no, they have not and their actions are becoming unacceptable because hooliganism is the order of the day whenever they are playing. They were fined heavily by the organising committee for the "unruly" behaviour of their fans earlier in the competition.

Despite the fact that one of them got beaten they have no right to throw missiles on the pitch the same as the intruder had no right to invade the pitch. They even threw missiles at the VIP section of the stadium where you have the minister of Youth and Sports, Alieu Kebba K Jammeh amongst others seated and even clapping to urge the players to accept the spirit of fair play. Disappointment was written all over his face because it was a very big sabotage from the Bakau supporters.

After they were driven away from the stadium, they went into the main road by mounting roadblocks and throwing wastes on the road which has nothing to do with the game. Eyewitnesses that spoke to the Daily Observer said they even had their vehicles stoned at by the angry Bakau supporters before they themselves came to their senses and left the place but up until mid-night, you could still spot broken blocks on the highway. Just few hours before kick-off, I was advocating on national television that fans should respect the spirit of fair play and accept defeat in good faith with two other colleagues but our advice fell on deaf ears.

Bakau technical staff and players

In that fateful final in 2009, some Bakau players got involved and were dealt with severely by the organising committee. But despite their fans' failure to learn, the players have as they comport themselves very well in the middle of the melee despite the anger, frustration and disappointment.

The head coach Abdoulie Bojang, who is always known for his discipline was seen and heard asking his players to stay calm. Lie and his technical team should be commended for dealing with the situation maturely and it is a shame that they are threatened by another severe punishment because of the unacceptable behaviour of their fans.

Journalist got beaten

In its efforts to restore order, the police were left with no choice but to throw tear gas and when a Daily Observer photographer, Nfamara Drammeh, took out his camera to take pictures of the scenes, he heard an order given to beat him and he was hit twice by a pipe and his hands had to take a bitter blow when he used them to protect his camera. Another reporter from the Point, Fatoumatta Jawara also had her IPhone 4 taken away from her as she was taking pictures and up until the time I left the stadium, she was crying like a baby as she could not find the phone.

It is the second time that Nfamara got beaten after he had his own share in that Bakau violence just executing his duties. Another Daily Observer reporter, Alieu Ceesay was also left in severe pains a week ago when another violence this time involving Sukuta fans erupted that saw him got hit by a stone on the head. This latest ordeal prompted a very angry reaction from a couple of reporters who wanted to fight back but my colleagues and I had to calm them down.

The way forward

Despite the ugly scenes at the end of the game, the fact should not be taken away that it was a very successful super nawettan competition. But a dialogue is the way forward from all stakeholders in order to stop a future occurrence.

Football administrators, referees, players, security, fans and journalists should come together frequently and interact to explain to each other their roles and the laws of the game. It will help everyone to know where limits start and end and unless that is not done, this kind of situations might not be far away from us.

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