The 41 teams, yes 41 entered the 2002 senior tournament were split into 7 groups of 5 and 1 of 6. The defending champions White Dragons were drawn in Group 1 with Durga Timbers “D”, Outlaws, Woolwich FC, and the Woolwich All Stars…. And boy did they defend their trophy just like their French counter-parts did in the World Cup? The White Dragons crashed out in the first round and just like France without winning a game. However, unlike France and so ermmm.. to their credit they did score a goal, 2 in fact, so well done! The stars of group 1 were the Woolwich All Stars who won all their games. They were joined in the second round by their neighbours, Woolwich FC. Group 2 saw Premier EuroCom go through to the second round as winners with the Blue Dragons both of who were too strong for the Manukwa Hit Squad, Sukhpur Royals and Woolwich FC “B”. Group 3, saw Kingsbury Builders Merchants go through to the second round as group winners with some hard fought wins. They were joined by HB Squad who narrowly piped England for the runners up spot. Group 4 was one of the tightest groups, but Baladia “A” who managed to go through as winners, and they were joined by Durga Timbers “A” who went through via goal difference over Baladia “C” Group 5 saw Kera-Kundanpur go through as winners and they were joined by 8.1. (Now we’ve had some strange names over the years, but what is 8.1 all about?) The very impressive WHB 1 won group 6, but they were unfortunately disqualified for fielding two non-registered players.
This was unfortunate as WHB 1 has played some entertaining football, but they had broken the rules and had to go. The revised table saw Bendev B go through as winners and Baladia B joined them, half of whom were already in the shower having thought their tournament was over. Well if nothing else, they were definitely the nicest smelling team in the next round.
Group 7 was won by Real Woolwich which leads me to think the other Woolwich teams must have worked for the Abbey National, Nationwide, Lloyds TSB etc (pun definatley intended). They were joined in the second round by Haryom A.
Group 8 or even the group of death as it later became to be known because I nearly got lynched when I gave out the wrong results. It was eventually won by Harlesden FC and they were joined by East Side.
With the first round over, it was now time for the real business to start and for me to grab some well earned lunch before all the bhajia and bhel ran out, which leads me on nicely to take the opportunity to thank on behalf of the football committee, Kanji Kerai, Harshuk Halai and their family for running the food stall and providing the players and fans with the energy to get through what turned out to be a very long and hot day.
We would also like to thank Rubicon Ltd for providing some drinks and Kolak Snack Food Ltd for some crisps and Astral Agencies Ltd for their help with the transport. With everyone refreshed it was now time for the games to really begin and to separate the boys from the men.
The 16 teams from the second round were split up into 4 groups of 4. Group 1 was made up of Woolwich All Stars, Kera-Kundanpur, Durga Timber ” A and East Side. Woolwich All Stars “A, were the clear favourites after the way they had played in the morning but it turned out they were no match for Kera-Kundanpur or Durga Timbers “A” who marched on to the next round. Group 2 was a more straightforward affair, with the much fancied Premier EuroCom progressing into the quarter finals with a 100% record. They were joined in the quarters by Bendev “B” which meant that Woolwich FC and 8.1 narrowly went out. Group 3 saw Baladia Youth Club ” A and Harlesden FC go through to the next round, but it wad Harlesden FC who went through as winners by virtue of a superior goal difference. Haryom and HB Squad both went out with their heads held up high as both had won a game each in the second round. Group 4 was the tightest group of all with Kingsbury Builders Merchants, Real Woolwich and Blue Dragons all ending their games with 2 wins and a draw each. With some frantic last minute calculations the crowd, who were now starting to become restless and a little rowdy, started to spill over into the admin area, which added even more pressure for us to release the final group 4 standings. Finally, we were ready to announce the final standings … or were we? Clearly Real Woolwich FC had won the group as they had scored the most goals, so all that was left was who would be joining them? Would it be Kingsbury Builders Merchants who had 7 points and a goal difference of +1 or, would it to be Blue Dragons who also had 7 points and oh oh …… a goal difference of also +1.. Quick quick, find out how many goals they had scored. Oh no, 2 each …. and had conceded 1 each. They were tied neck and neck for second place. How the heck were we going to resolve this? I certainly had no idea, and to add to the drama there was no mention of such a situation in the rules (although, believe me there will be next year!) … Suddenly up stepped Dips, or is the right honourable Dips QC blah, blah, blah who like some top barrister referred the organisers to a case, I mean a match, that had taken place some 15 years or so back. Dips and his photographic memory recalled that in that year, the same situation had occurred, and it was decided that the team that had beaten the other that year went through. This seemed plausible, and after some frantic meetings the organisers decided that Mitesh’s outstanding goal against Kingsbury Builders Merchants would be the difference between Blue Dragons going through and going home. Lots of respect should go out to Kingsbury Builders Merchants for accepting defeat in such a cruel way, especially given that were well in their rights to ask for a play off.
The first quarter-final saw Baladia ” A play their best football of their tournament and they destroyed Real Woolwich 3 goals to 0. The second quarter-final saw Kera- Kundanpur go through on a penalty shoot out against the unlucky Bendev “B, who would have wrapped the game up in normal time had it not been but for some indiscipline which led to their defender, Aitish being sent off. The third quarter-final saw Blue Dragons fresh from their controversial entry into the quarters go through against the very strong Harlesden FC. Then came the “shock” of the tournament as Mukesh Hirani of Durga Timbers ” A scored one of the goals of the tournament to knock out the favourites, Premier EuroCom, who for the second year running had been knocked out by a wonder goal. At the end of the match you could have been forgiven to think that Durga were celebrating winning the tournament, but to be fair to them they deserved all the glory having beaten what looked like the best premier EuroCom team ever!
The first semi final saw Baladia “A” looking to reach their first senior final in god knows how many attempts. Standing in their way was the new boys Durga Timbers “A. By now, the weather had changed from wet and cold, to the type of heat we would only see if we were back home in our ghams in Gujarat! The heat was really getting to the players and how they had the energy to perform at the levels they were was a mystery to everyone watching. From now on, it was literally down to the survival of the fittest. As expected the first semi-final was a close one, and it took a piece of magic by Baladia’s Ajit to turn the game in Baladia’s favour. Durga tried to get back on level terms, but it looked as though the game against Premier Eurocom had taken its toll and Baladia managed to hold on to reach their first ever senior final. The second semi final was between Kera-Kundanpur and the Blue Dragons and like the first semi final was a close affair that could only be decided by an individual moment of brilliance. This was served up by Mitesh who put the Blue Dragons in the lead. From then on Kera-Kundanpur were up against it and as they looked for the equaliser they were caught out by a Blue Dragons counter attack who reached their first final at their first attempt. Could they now win the tournament or would it finally be Baladia’s year?
The final was a true classic, and had everything with players being sent off from both sides, Baladia winning that competition 2 sendings off to Blue Dragons 1. A missed penalty in normal time, which to be honest Ajit would have scored 99 times out a hundred in practise. Extra time and finally the dreaded penalty shootout, which went right to the wire and sudden death. Interspersed between this was some truly awesome football from both sides. Where they got the energy from god only knows?
With the game deadlocked after normal time and extra time, largely due to some outstanding keeping by the Blue Dragons keeper Jignesh and Nanji of Baladia, it was down to the dreaded penalty shootouts to decide who would be the 2002 champions. Once again, the 2 teams showed their class as one after another each team member slotted the ball home giving the respective goalkeepers no chance. With the score 4-4 it was Baladia’s youngest member, Jit to take his teams final penalty. Jit stepped back and struck the ball hard and low. The Baladia fans held their breath, and tried to will the ball into the net, but no, the goalkeeper guessed right and the Blue dragons were one penalty away from winning the tournament.
With some last minute illegal tips from Mitesh, it was now down to the same keeper to win the tournament. He put the ball down and struck the ball. Where was it going, would it be the one that would bring Blue Dragons the coveted Samaj trophy? … No was the answer as he completely mis-kicked the ball and Mansukh who couldn’t believe his luck saved the ball. The Baladia fans went wild as they realised they were still in the game. By now they must have been thinking that this was finally their year! Up stepped Baladia’s Chandrikant who had had already had a brilliant game. .. okay a brilliant 2/3’s as he had been sent off in the second half. He took a step back and hit what looked like a beautiful shot low and hard to the keeper left. Surely it was going in? But no, somehow the Blue Dragons keeper Jignesh managed to get to it off the save of the tournament. The Baladia players and fans slumped to their knees and any thoughts that this was going to be their year disappeared as they saw who was taking the Blue Dragons next penalty. Kiran as focussed as ever ignored the Baladia fans who tried their best to put him off and walked up to take the penalty He repositioned the ball, took one look up and BANG let fly with a crisp low drive that sent Mansukh the wrong way. Kiran and the Blue Dragons had done it, they had won their first of probably many titles to come. As the Blue Dragons celebrated, all Baladia could do was contemplate what could have been, and curse the penalty shootouts, which once again had been their downfall!
As always the Samaj committee Samji Harsiani, Manesh Patel, Hasmukh Bhudiya, Sash Mayani (& Bala for letttng us use their house for meetrngs), Ashwln Vekaria, Preetam Kera Raj Madha, Himansu Kerai and Sam Vishram would like to thank all the teams and supporters who made this years tournament a great success As always a big thanks goes out to Kenny and Ben of Bendev and a big thank you to Heera Construction for co-sponsoring this year’s tournament
“Preets, you aint mentioned the knockout tournament” . Ermmmmmmm all I will say is the less sald about that, the better!
Finally, well done to Kiran Varsani of Baladla “B” who thanks to his early goals against C7 and Haryom “B”, narrowly beat Ajiat s the tournaments leading scorer To rub salt into Ajit’s wound, not only would Baladla ” A had won the tournament had he scored the penalty in the final, but he would have been joint top scorer of the tournament with Kiran. So double commiserations to Ajit, and better luck next year.
That’s all folks. The Samaj Football committee as always look forward to seeing you guys again next year.
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