Mayhem after spectators flock onto pitch before final whistle
A pitch invasion and riot involving two of the Eastern Cape’s top rugby schools at a derby match – in which it is claimed alcohol consumption by adults played a large part – has led to an investigation by school rugby authorities.
The on-field mayhem has put the reputation of the Border Rugby Union and the two prominent schools – Dale College and Queens College – in jeopardy, with both headmasters expressing deep concern over the incident.
The derby between home side Dale and their Queenstown visitors in King William’s Town ended in a 24-24 draw last Saturday – which culminated in the chaotic pitch invasion.
Border Schools Rugby secretary Mongezi Mncono said they were aware of the incident and would compile a complete report after gathering information from both schools and the Border Rugby match officials involved.
“We cannot just fold our arms after an incident like this. It not only reflects badly on the schools, but on Border Rugby as well. We hope the information gathered and the action taken will help prevent similar incidents in the future.”
A video on the Dale College Facebook page, broadcast live during the match, showed the dying moments of the game with Queens leading 24-19. The game went into overtime, leading to a controversial try by Dale, where the ball could have been lost forward in a tackle. Nonetheless the scoreboard ticked over and levelled the match. The conversion was never kicked.
Queens pupils, mistaking the try being awarded for the final whistle, rushed onto the pitch, joined soon after by Dale pupils. Chaos ensued as staff from both schools and parents also charged onto the field.
Dale headmaster Mike Eddy said they regretted the incident.
“This was not how we wanted to end our season. This has definitely left us with a sour taste and we hope the situation can be handled in such a way that it does not hamper any future clashes with one of our longstanding rivals.”
Eddy conceded that the school could have exercised better pitch control to prevent the 7 500-strong crowd from invading the pitch, but added there was no indication prior to the incident that a pitch invasion was anything to be concerned about.
“I asked my staff after the match if any of them expected it, and they were all blind-sided. We have ample seating on our stands and in the future we will exercise more control.”
Eddy also confirmed alcohol was served at the event, but not during the match in question.
“Alcohol consumption could quite possibly have added to the occupation of the pitch. No alcohol was served during the first team match.”
Eddy considered the match to be a victory for Dale as the rules stipulate that in the event of a draw, followed by a pitch invasion, the game should be awarded to the team whose fans did not interrupt play.
Queens acting headmaster Mike Boy, however, believes there were controversial decisions by the referee throughout the match, including the final try. “Yes, our boys did invade the pitch first, but they did so out of jubilation for what they thought was the final whistle and a good result for their team.
They never intended to disrupt a losing game, or start the incident that ended in a pushing and shoving match between parents and officials,” Boy said.
His main concern was the “freedom to consume alcohol” next to the pitch. “Besides some concerns with the referee’s decision, we are more concerned about the amount of alcohol that was freely available around the field. “Not only Dale parents, but Queens parents and other spectators were seen with drinks in hand right next to the field.
There is no doubt that this contributed to the altercations on the field.” Mncono said circumstances leading up to the pitch invasion, including claims of a biased referee and alcohol consumption, would be investigated. Reports of an alleged assault on the referee and other match officials have not yet been confirmed, but will form part of the investigation.
“No one has the right to attack the referee, no matter how much you disagree with his decisions. A referee’s decision is final, no matter how wrong it may be. “The allegation of alcohol next to the field is a major concern for us.
We do not promote the consumption of alcohol at any school sporting event as we know how it can influence a crowd in an already competitive and heated situation like a school rugby match,” Mncono said.
He said Border Rugby could not dictate to schools with clubhouses and liquor licences how to control the consumption of alcohol, but condemned the incident and added that parents were partly to blame for the incident.
“Parents should set an example for their children, but now some parents cross the line and send the wrong message to their kids. Parents should also not be allowed next to the field of play.
They should occupy the stand available to them and not be allowed into a position where a pitch invasion is possible, regardless of the presence of alcohol or not,” Mncono added.
Other prominent Eastern Cape rugby schools said they viewed an incident like this in a serious light and practised strict control over alcohol consumption at sporting events.
The public relations officer at East London’s Selborne College, Jeff Fetting, said it was against school policy to serve alcohol during a sporting event.
“We have a clubhouse that is used for various school events, but at events such as rugby matches the clubhouse is only opened after the last match has been played,” he said.
Fetting said they also had additional security personnel at their gates who searched spectators and confiscated any alcohol. They also removed people from their grounds if they were caught smuggling alcohol onto the grounds.
Alan Thompson, headmaster at Grahamstown’s St Andrew’s College, said their clubhouse, which is open during sporting matches, was well controlled to prevent any drinking next to the field of play.
“Our clubhouse is more like an upmarket restaurant and is completely fenced in. We know it is important to keep the balance between school sports and serving drinks to spectators, so we keep very strict control over who comes and goes from the clubhouse.”
In Port Elizabeth, Framesby High School deputy principal Anton Gerber said their policy prohibited their clubhouse from selling alcohol during matches.
“Our clubhouse only opens after the last whistle of the last match. Besides the safety aspect, we also need to uphold the school’s educational role. No pupil should see people drinking next to the sports fields,” Gerber said.