March 17, 2015

Confusion at the Stadium. A Football Cup Final in Port Vila

Note: This was written before Cyclone Pam ripped through Port Vila and the other islands of Vanuatu. It is to be hoped that all players and those involved in Vanuatu Football survived without injury, although as the images show the destruction was terrifying. The stadium will be closed for some time while repairs take place on the damaged stand, and debris removed from the pitch.  

A Saturday afternoon in Port Vila and what to do. Picking up the Vanuatu Daily I read that the TVL Football Cup Final is on at Port Vila Stadium. That sounds like a must see, so I grab my camera and walk towards the stadium. The first thing I notice is how many people have gained vantage points on the hill outside of the ground to watch the action for free. Admittedly binoculars would make it easier to see, but through the branches you can glimpse two thirds of the ground.

I actually wanted to get bit more of the atmosphere, and get closer to the action, so I paid 200 Vatu (US$2) to get in and wandered around the ground looking for a good position. Having turned up just before kick off the ground was packed, and all terrace seats had gone. I manged to get a position beneath the scoreboard as the two teams came onto to massive roars from their fans. The team were Tafea, a team made up of players from Tanna Island, and Ifira, the island in the middle of Port Villa harbour.

The somewhat obstructed view from Pompidou Hill
The standard of football was pretty high but neither team could convert their attacking play into actual goals, and after 90 minutes the score was still 0 - 0. This meant another thirty minutes of extra time, but again neither team could score. The match had not started on time, as you travel around you realise this happens with many things in Vanuatu, this was now causing problems as dusk descended.

The floodlights at the ground, which was also used as the international stadium, had not worked properly for many years. This meant that the penalty shoot out began in very poor light. This would not have been an issue if either team had successfully gained a goal advantage over the other but the team matched each other goal for goal, and the miss for miss. I have never seen anything like it in all the matches I have ever seen!
Tafea (in blue) and Ifira in action
It came down to the eleventh penalty kick, with the score on 4-4. It was the goalkeepers turn. This must have happened somewhere before but I had never heard of it! I took a long exposure shot, see below, which makes it appear much lighter than it was, the brightness of the lights outside the ground gives you some idea. It was night time now.

The Tafea goalkeeper took a shot at goal and the Ifira goalkeeper saved it to roars from the Ifira supporters. Reversing their positions, the Ifira goalkeeper took a couple of steps back, walked foreard and the ball went into net. Exactly where it went in the net was not clear from where I was standing and I was fairly close to the action. The Ifira crowd went wild, invading the pitch and partying to celebrate their cup final win.

Unknown to the fans, the referee had decided that from his position by the goal even he could not see where that last ball had been kicked, and after conferring with his linesmen, decided to abandon the match. The strange thing about this was that this had been the same for the previous 4 or 5 penalty kicks taken in semi darkness. The non-result only became clear on the Monday morning when the abandonment of the match made front page headlines, so for the rest of Saturday night the Ifira fans could be heard celebrating their win with horns, shouts and singing all across Port Vila.

The match was replayed the following Saturday, and Tafea won 3-0 in normal time. Ifira fans could with some honesty say "We were robbed".

The final kick, goalkeeper to goalkeeper. It is much darker than the long exposure makes it appear!

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