Few things generate frustration among supporters quite like poor refereeing decisions. When the man in the middle appears to be giving everything in your opponents’ favour, it normally results in several different approaches from those watching the game.
The first option is sophisticated chanting from the terraces questioning the referee’s eyesight, ability and qualifications to oversee the game. Of course, we have the other well-known chant, but I shan’t reference that here. Following that, we have ironic cheers when your side is awarded the most blatant of free-kicks in an innocuous area of the field. After the game, managers also enjoy coming out in their post-match interviews suggesting that the result would have been different should a debatable decision have been given in their favour.
One thing you don’t usually see in reaction to controversial decisions, however, are pre-determined protests. Nowadays, any action aimed to put the game into disrepute would be vehemently opposed by managers who appreciate and understand the connotations this would have.
In 2002, things turned out rather differently in the footballing dynasty of Madagascar. The THB Champions League is the domestic competition in the African island nation, consisting of 24 teams who qualified for the competition from the 22 regional leagues. Initially, the clubs are divided into four groups featuring six sides, with the top three subsequently qualifying for the second stage of the competition. Two more groups of six are then formed with the top two qualifying for the final round, the Groupe des As.
The Groupe des As in 2002 consisted of arch-rivals Adema Analamanga and Stade Olympique de L’Emyrne, Domoina Soivana Atimondrano Antananarivo and Union Sportive Ambohidratrimo. L’Emyrne had been victorious in the Champions League the year before, the only time to date that they have won the top domestic prize.
The champions had a successful season in 2002, not only in the domestic competition but on the continental stage too. L’Emyrne managed to reach the second knockout round of the CAF Champions League, having defeated Mauritian club Olympique de Moka in the preliminary round over two legs and then highly-fancied Angolan outfit Atlético Petróleos on penalties. Civil unrest within Madagascar meant that the first round was only played in Angola. Their continental run was subsequently ended at the following stage to Costa Del Sol of Mozambique.
Back at home, L’Emyrne faced Antananarivo in the penultimate game of the Groupe des As knowing full well that anything other than a victory would mean they would be out of the title race and it would be awarded to rivals Adema, who they would subsequently face in the last game of the tournament the following week. As the game approached full time, Antananarivo were awarded a highly contentious penalty by referee Benjamina Razafintsalam, which was subsequently converted.
The decision by the referee to award the spot kick angered both the players and the management of the holders. The manager of L’Emyrne was incensed, believing his side deserved to go into the final game of the season with a chance of retaining their title.
This is where the story gets interesting. The following week, the side made the 224-mile trip from the capital of Antananarivo to the eastern port city of Toasmino to play champions elect Adema. With the officials’ decisions in the last game still running through the mind of the manager and players, it was reported that an argument between officials, players and the management of L’Emyrne preceded kick-off.
Claims of biased refereeing led to the side taking matters into their own hands. In a protest orchestrated by the manager, Ratsimandresy Ratsarazaka, as soon as the visitors gained possession they demonstrated their dismay by deliberately scoring an own goal. Much to the bemusement of the Adema players, they failed to touch the ball again for the remainder of the match, with the visitors repeatedly kicking the ball back towards their goalkeeper. Own goals followed for the rest of the match.
The Adema players were shell-shocked. They stood stationary for the rest of the game as they watched their bitter rivals score own goal after own goal. Supporters, incensed by what they were witnessing, rushed to the ticket booths within the stadium and demanded refunds. All of this occurred as the referee stood helplessly, watching the game quickly shatter records for goals scored. All in all, 149 own goals were netted. The match wasn’t abandoned and the visitors put the ball into their own net at a rate of one goal every 36 seconds.
As you can imagine, the authorities were livid. They were quick to take action following the record-breaking game, with the club sanctioned by the football association for bringing the game into disrepute. The coach was banned for a total of three years for his role in organising the players’ protest. Alongside the management, goalkeeper Dominique Rakotonandrasana, Nicolas Rakotoarimanana and club captain Manitranirina Andrianiaina were all banned for the remainder of the season and bizarrely from visiting football stadiums for the same amount of time.
National team captain Mamisoa Razafindrakoto wasn’t issued with any formal punishment for his role in the defeat. Mamisoa and the rest of the club’s players were instead issued with warnings for the protest. The referee wasn’t issued with any form of punishment for a game which he couldn’t do a lot about.
Despite the eye-watering number of times the visitors scored an own goal, interestingly it is not regarded as the highest scoring game of all time. As it was deliberately thrown by the hosts, the game regarded by the majority of footballing historians as the highest scoring game ever was between Arbroath and Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup of 1885/86.
The early days of most sports are incomparable to the highly disciplined and professional nature of the 21st century. Over 130 years ago, however, the competitions were a lot less organised. The Scottish Cup that year welcomed entrants who didn’t need any prior experience in the competition. One would imagine that this was done with an aim of increasing participation and supporter interest.
The hosts may well have had an early indication of the level of the competition they faced that day when Bon Accord turned up to the ground without any formal kit. Always a good start. As the game kicked off, the considerable gulf in class showed with the home side managing to find the back of the net 15 times.
Whatever the manager said at the break, it clearly worked, and the home side didn’t take their foot off the gas. The hosts went on to score 21 goals in the second half, with 18-year-old John Petrie going on to score a total of 13 times. This stood as a record for goals scored by one player in a professional competition until 2001, when Australian Archie Thompson scored the same number in Australia’s 31-0 demolition of American Samoa in a 2002 World Cup qualifier.
At the end of the game, it is said that the referee was strict on the hosts, with his decisions meaning their tally of goals for the game remained respectable at 36. He told the local press at the time: “My only regret was that I chalked off seven of the goals, for while they may have looked doubtful from an offside, so quickly did the Maroons carry the ball from midfield and so close and rapid was their passing, that it was very doubtful whether they could be offside.”
Still, you didn’t catch Arbroath players going into the game the following week with the intention of protesting the referee’s decision by scoring 149 own goals. Quelle surprise.
Staggeringly, that very same day the Scottish Cup saw another game which featured 35 goals, with the referee originally writing down 37. Dundee Harp overcame Aberdeen Rovers 35-0 with the man in the middle acknowledging that he may well have lost count of the number of times the hosts scored and corrected himself when submitting the match report to the Scottish FA.
So, next weekend, I for one will be incredibly frustrated should we not see two games on Match of the Day featuring a grand total of 71 goals.
By Matthew Joy @MattJamesJoy