What a day. Where to begin? It started so well. Pal phoned me at our agreed meeting place saying he would not be able to make it and I should meet him at his brother's house in Cite Planton. I agreed to take a taxi. His brother spoke excellent English as did his wife, Madagascar's Green queen who has spoken at conferences in Paris and, most recently at Copenhagen with plans to attend the UN conference in Cancun soon. They drove Pal and I to Charles' house. The snarling trainer was still snarling but invited us into his typical Madagascan home. One and a half rooms upstairs or rather up about a dozen slats of wood. The other half room had a bed. His wife was working downstairs intheir roadside restaurant. Everything was wooden. There was no plaster on the ceiling but the air was fresh and cool because there were 4 large windows in three different walls. I would not have wanted to spend the night there but it was pleasant enough and very interesting to see. The picture on the wall was of Marc Ravolomanana, the ousted former president.
From there it was a 5 minute walk to the pitch with me carrying a ten gallon container of fruit juice for the team. I think it is fair to say that of the six teams I watched in three quarter-finals we were undoubtedly the second best. Unfortunately we played against the first best and could/should have beaten them. The first half was very even but they were much bigger and better trained than us although our performance was a huge improvement since last time. They went ahead about 10 minutes before half-time after a bad pass in our centres went to ground and bounced up perfectly for their centre who was 5 yards offside. He collected and strolled under the posts for 7 points.
We needed to start the second half well and did. We were more aggressive and they looked nervous and with 20 minutes still to go we had converted 2 penalties to bring the game to within one point. I was feeling quite confident even when the converted a penalty in front of our posts for 6-10. I was sure we would catch them as they lost confidence and began to panic. A fine break by our 13 took us well into their 22 with about 5 minutes to go. I called for a scrum and was ignored when we were awarded a penalty on the 5m line, We tapped and got nowhere. I call for a scrum. Ignored. We tapped and got nowhere. I called for a melee which I learned last week is French for scrum. Ignored. We tapped and got nowhere. I spoke to Reev the coach who agreed and also called for a melee. By this time the screaming women in the crowd were stood in the in-goal area behind the try line and had encroached to the five metre from touch line One more tap and go got nowhere and at last I.got the attention of the captain and ordered him to call for a scrum. They had worked on a move last week and I was sure it would work. Then the referee ordered the crowd from the pitch She was absolutely right. The crowd didn't move. She walked towards the touchline and got to the 15m mark and the crowd refused to move so she walked off and ended the match.
What happened then was an absolute disgrace the like of which I hope never to see again. The incensed crowd, our supporters, chased the referee and her touch judges from the field. They charged the opposition and drove them the length of the pitch and some of them managed to flee by leaping over the stadium wall. I walked off in frustration but I assume they treated our opponents pretty harshly because about 10 minutes later they returned will bricks, stones, wooden stakes and corner flags and charged our players who, to their credit had not been involved in the riot and had returned to where I was standing. When they returned our number 8 held out his hand to shake but he was just shouted at by players whose shirts were ripped and whose faces were bloodied. One of their players had a huge swelling over the top half of the left side of his face so that I could not even see his eye. They were waving sticks and corner flags at this group of 3 or 4 of our players when 2 huge 4x4 with lights flashing drove into the stadium and started to do donuts in the middle of the pitch to break up the crowd. At the instigation of the opposition they then drove straight at me but stopped about 3 yards short where the small group of our players stood. 4 policeman (I assume they were police - they weren't in uniform) piled out of the first car and manhandled two of our players into their car. They then spoke to the opposition players and then took a third of our players and threw him into the car. Pal had told me to stay where I was and I was happy to obey. Brave man that he is he then spoke to the police before returning to tell to get home with Reev as he was going with the players to the police station.
Twenty minutes later in the taxi which I decided to pay for, Reev said with absolute accuracy that it was the fault of the spectators. He agreed when I said that the referee had behaved absolutely correctly and we talked with great concern about what would happen to the arrested players and what other sanction the club will face. Apparently the other club are sponsored by a soap factory owned by the Minister of Justice which is why the police arrived so quickly and forcefully and whay our players were arrested although the opposition were holding the rocks and staves. Finally he said "This is why I would not manage this team last year, Because of the crowd. And now it has happened again."
I fear that I may have been supporting Madagascar's equivalent of Millwall or Leeds.