Incensed hockey fans invade pitch over match flare-up
Inflammatory taunt during highly-charged clash between Khalsa and Punjab sparks outrage from more than 100 supporters of the sides
It wasn't just two fingers. Harpreet Singh used his whole right fist to celebrate a successful short corner he converted to give Khalsa the lead for the first time - but his gesture inflamed the Punjab fans who took exception at the perceived insult and they stormed the pitch.
It was all-out action at Happy Valley on Sunday with the best, and worst, of Hong Kong hockey on show. Even big-name star Sohail Abbas, who finally broke his Hong Kong duck by scoring off a trademark short corner for Punjab, was overshadowed by the antics of Harpreet, one of 14 Singhs on the roster of both teams.
The Singh against Singh show luckily ended with the best possible result, a 3-3 draw, for that at least placated the fans of both teams. Otherwise the taunt might have been more costly to the image of the local game.
It came when the highly-charged game was evenly poised following Khalsa's superb comeback after trailing 2-0 at the break - Abbas and Sukhwinder Singh on target for Punjab - drawing level with two deflected goals from Enis Ahmed and Ahmed Ishtiar.
Overseas signing Harpreet, playing only his second game for defending league champions Khalsa, converted a controversial short corner awarded to Khalsa, and then ran towards a section of Punjab fans and pumped his fist in rabble-rousing fashion.
It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull and the Punjab fans reacted. More than a 100 people - supporters from both teams - ran on to the pitch in a full-fledged invasion, one side baying for the blood of the offender, the others trying to shield him.
Officials tried desperately to defuse the situation and it took them almost 10 minutes to restart the game. Surprisingly, Harpreet - the instigator of all the trouble - remained on the pitch.
"We decided not to give him a yellow card for we felt that would only inflame the situation and that wouldn't have been helpful to anyone," said umpire Duncan Mackay.
In front for the first time in the match, Khalsa kept pressing, but the first meeting between the two top teams this season ended in a stalemate when Gurjant Singh knocked in a goal right at the death to allow Punjab to escape with a draw.
A senior official of the Hong Kong Hockey Association, Billy Dillon, who was at the match, said the "deplorable incident" would be investigated and the executive committee would take action.
"Fans running on to the pitch is very bad for the image of the game," Dillon said. "We will investigate it fully and take appropriate action."
An incensed Punjab captain Sunny Bali, angry over the decision to award the penalty corner that resulted in the goal and the subsequent inflammatory celebrations, called for the book to be thrown at Harpreet.
"He brought the game into disrepute and he should be punished," Bali said. "In the first place, it was a piece of bad umpiring. That short corner should never have been given in the first place. Sohail Abbas was penalised for something even he couldn't fathom and the penalty was awarded. We were robbed of victory by poor umpiring."
Khalsa manager Gurcharan Singh said he did not condone the actions of Harpreet, who had been the victim of verbal abuse from Punjab fans. "He had been getting a lot of stick from fans and perhaps he reacted a bit strongly. But we have spoken to him and it will not happen again."