Red alert for Papua New Guinean football

Scathing evaluation of NSL in a move to make changes

This article was written by a contributor with close connections to football in Papua New Guinea who has requested that they remain anonymous.

The fifteenth matchweek of Kumul Petroleum National Soccer League has exposed a lot of signs that the quality of football in Papua New Guinea is nowhere near what it was a decade ago, and certainly nowhere near where it should be.

The terrible decisions of the referees in the last two weeks have really shown that the understanding and education of football is below its expected standard.

The first controversy began in the first half of the match between Komara and Hekari: A challenge on Hekari’s forward Kolu Kepo, which left him on the ground, should have seen a direct penalty given. Instead, and despite being pushed by defender Kila Numa, referee David Yareboinen only issued a yellow card, and then reversed his decision, giving the ball back for a drop ball for Gulf Komara! In any other league, professional or not, that would have been a straight red offence!

While Numa would receive a second yellow for another challenge later on in the match, this time on forward Nigel Dabinyaba, it would have no doubt left a sour taste in viewers’ mouths. 

Another controversy occurred in the clash between Star Mountain and Morobe United in Lae when Star Mountain walked off pitch after another refereeing blunder: an apparent goal that was awarded and then disallowed. 

It was not the only match in Lae that had issues with officiating. A yet to be confirmed report states that Lae City themselves had faced indecision by officials. Refereeing is – in summary – killing the already abysmal quality of football being displayed in the major football league in Papua New Guinea. 

A major concern that needs to be seriously addressed, and which will not happen overnight, is the quality of football being displayed. Good football on the field is the result of good training. The final score at the end of the match is the end result of that training.

And it is leaving a feeling of frustration that the playing styles and foundation of these clubs is not what is expected of a semi-professional league. The reality is not that the winning team this season will be the one with the most talented players.

Lae City and Hekari have been the only clubs that have really matched each other – with the exception of Vitiaz United who have been a real force this season – and this says a lot about the technical education football coaches have in the league: FC Bougainville, Morobe United, Morobe Wawens, Star Mountain and Tusbab Stallions have done little in terms of showing what they have learned throughout 2020. Kutubu FC, for all the losses they have suffered and all the beatings they have received, have at least shown that they are following a set of instructions given by their coaches. So, too, have Gulf Komara, and considering that their players are mainly raw, rural talents, their fourth placing in the league is a massive overachievement. But not so with the other sides: Hekari and Lae are included. 

Hekari have not evolved. They have found it much more difficult in front of goal this season than at any other. Although Tommy Semmy and Obert Bika are not playing for them, otherwise they have the entire Papua New Guinea National Team front line on their squad. They also have a Samoan international striker – who, bizarrely, recently played as a central defender in a National Soccer League match for the club! 

Poor substitution choices over the last few weekends have left them languishing. And while a number reading this social commentary may say that Hekari is being picked on, bear this in mind: Hekari were the first side from outside Australia and New Zealand to have represented Oceania in the FIFA Club World Cup! A feat yet to be matched – and quite frankly one which may not be matched anytime soon – by another club from Papua New Guinea. 

Hekari have shown that they are and can be the epitome of football in this country of eight million people. The fact that they are in third place will leave them open to scrutiny because of the quality that is expected from them. They are playing well, but they are just not where they normally should be: at the top of the league. And Lae City, despite its dominance this season, plays too much like Hekari. The only difference between the two sides is the colour of the uniform.

This raises the question – are the coaches imposing their philosophies on these sides respectively, or are they taking advantage of the pure quality of the individuals they have at their disposal? Blindly supporting your team can lead to a subversion of reality and not demanding more from players and coaches alike. And fans, supporters and sponsors of these franchises should really demand more from their teams on the pitch.

Congratulations to Lae as they deserve to be on top and all the best to Vitiaz because they have shown their quality. I’m glad Hekari is still a fighting chance, and it is wonderful that Gulf Komara find themselves in finals contention. None of these felicitations do I offer to any of the rest of the National Hopeless League

The quality of the players is unbalanced and favourable to the top teams. It is true, money does talk. But it is also an opportunity to play alongside good players. I say: if you are not good enough to be in the National Soccer League, do not be there. This tournament must be a private party. An open invitation to those who deserve it, and not a ploy to fill in the spaces available, so that a real National League can be played.

For too long talk has gone on for a revamp; the PNG Football Association’s president John Kapi Natto has always spoken of the need for an expanded competition. And that is still the goal wanted to see fruition by the growing football fraternity.

But expanding the league, with the poor quality of the National Soccer League at present, would be disastrous for football in the country. 

More refereeing courses and up-skilling is needed. So many offside calls are given. Is it just me or has football worldwide changed but not here? Better coaching is required, so our coaches need to have more courses. Perhaps an introduction to certified coaching by an external facilitator. No more coaches being coached by another coach who hasn’t won anything nor has anything new to offer.

Better player development is also needed – and we are not just talking about new skills. So many players in Papua New Guinea seem to have juggling and flick flack skills and step overs that really serve no purpose other than wasting a few seconds of our lives watching at home. Better players for better coaches to work with, in a quality controlled environment (this is where our refs come in), and the National Soccer League might become something I would gladly turn my TV onto on Saturdays.

Admit it, deep down, while reading all this, you know I am right. 


One thought on “Red alert for Papua New Guinean football

  1. Our coaching staff and the management team including players are working tirelessly morning afternoon because they want to bring in the quality.
    This kind of hatred to a team and favouritism by REFEREE have to be stopped, or referees MUST read the Laws of the Game (soccer) continuously and make good quality decision for quality outcome of the Game
    Or else this kind of referees have to be suspended


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