Derby challenge for fans, officials

Exactly two months after the Mohan Bagan-East Bangal game that ended in acrimony, suspensions and controversey, another derby looms. As the sides line up for their I-League return-leg fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday, the focus this time will be on the fans and authorities rather than the players.

During the ill-tempered game last time around, crowd trouble led to the fixture being called off after half time. Fans went berserk after Mohan Bagan's Okolie Odafa was red-carded, throwing glass bottles on to the field. One of the missiles hit Bagan's Rahim Nabi, who had to go under the surgeon's knife to fix his broken cheekbone.

The troubles didn't end there as the federation suspended Bagan for walking off, then went back on its decision and fined them instead.

Considering all that has happened, the local police and authorities will now be better prepared than they were last times. Banter, jibes and invective will be inevitable during a high-voltage derby, but fans can indulge in them without resorting to hooliganism. Soccer hooliganism was a big problem in Europe in the 1970s and '80s, but now the issue has been dealt with.

Local enforcement authorities could learn from those methods of crowd control. And the organisers too are taking a few steps to ensure a more peaceful contest.

Fans will not be allowed to carry anything this time, including food and water bottles. There will be a larger police deployment and the security personnel have been asked to stand facing the crowd and not watching the game. The AIFF also has to be more judicious in selecting its match officials, someone who will be more in control of the proceedings and not let things get out of hand.

Shamik is a senior staff writer based in Kolkata.

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