Monday, 12 November 2018

FOOTBALL HISTORY: "Samis' love of soccer" (Ba Soccer Association), 12 November 2018.

Samis' Love of Soccer 
(Picture: Tony Kabakoro, Henry Dyer, Julie Sami, 2015 IDC in Ba).

HE comes from a soccer crazy town and family. His dad played for Fiji, so did he and two of his brothers.

Vimal Sami was part of that historic 1-0 win over the Socceroos at Prince Charles Park, Nadi.

He represented Ba from 1984 to 1999 and won all the silverware on offer in local football.

He retired in 1999 after scoring the winning goal in Ba's 1-0 Battle of the Giants triumph over Tavua at Churchill Park in Lautoka.

Now 47, Sami still can't stay away from the game. Yesterday, he was at the Courts Inter District Championship to back his Men in Black.

He was the youngest of five brothers, four of whom played for Ba.

The eldest Narend, Kamal and Julie Sami donned the black jersey.

"Narend started in Rewa and then came to Ba to play striker," Vimal said.

"We all played for Ba except for Sunil."

Julie and Vimal represented the country in the senior side while Kamal played for Fiji youth alongside Abdul Manaan.

Their father Meera Sami was a top Fiji and Ba rep.

Soccer runs in the family blood.

Vimal's son Narendra Rao is playing for Ba Sangam College at this tournament and has already featured for the Ba senior side too.

Julie's son Dennis Rao played for Tavua and Shamil Rao, who featured for Ba and Lautoka, is Sunil's son.

Vimal played with a lot of top players but picks his former team-mate Akuila Rova as the finest player of his time.

"He was a workaholic, a ball-hunter," Vimal recalls.

"He chased down every ball that came his way, even if the pass was going astray.

"Players hardly do that these days. They want the ball to be played straight to them.

"Players need to do overtime like Rova and most of us during our time. By doing that you lift the morale and spirit of the team."

Sami featured in that Fiji team of '88 alongside big names like Nasoni Buli, Ivor Evans, Ravuama Madigi, Lote Delai and others.

He was a champion footballer and looks like his son Narend, who is named after his uncle, will follow suit. Nothing surprising about Ba people; it's all about football for them (Source: Ba Soccer Association Facebook page, 2012).
Nadi and Fiji star Henry Dyer visits Govind Park in Ba for an afternoon match.

Friday, 7 September 2018

ARTICLE: "Meet Malcolm - the biggest Newcastle United fan in Fiji" (Fiji 3, Newcastle United 0).

Nadi and Fiji stars Savenaca Waqa (left) and Henry Dyer in Namotomoto Village Extension, Nadi, 27 August 2015. This day in 1985 Savenaca kept a clean sheet against first-division opposition from England.
ARTICLE (by Mike Kelly, 27 April 2014): It’s a headline that has sadly become common place of late for Newcastle United . . . “3-0. Heroes humble English stars”.

The paper was the Fiji Sun, the date of the match was May 25, 1985, and the heroes who humiliated the Toon were the Fiji national team.

It was especially painful for Malcolm Harrison, one of Fiji’s biggest - and only - Toon fans.

The ex-pat Geordie had waited years for his home team to fly across the globe to his new home on the Pacific island.

But it was disappointment then, and now, almost 30 years later, the 74-year-old faces more heartache at the hands of his beloved team.

He’s travelled almost 10,000 miles back to the North, but he won’t be going any further than St James Park’s gates . . . because he’s so disappointed with their recent form.

“If they can’t be bothered, why should I?” he said.

Malcolm’s journey to Fiji began in 1970 when he worked for the North Shields Co-op and was sent to the company’s college in Loughborough.

There he met a number of Fijian students who he got on so well with they persuaded him to visit their country.

Being a bit adventurous he did. He applied to work there through the Voluntary Service Overseas scheme but at first hated it.

Then he met Olita, the woman who was soon to become his wife.

The couple moved briefly back to the UK in 1972 but now, with Olita, he found he missed Fiji and returned in 1974. The couple have lived there ever since.

They have three daughters, Leba, 38, Nicola, 36, and 34-year-old Olena. A successful career as a businessman followed.

During that time he continued his love of Newcastle United. He drives around his adopted home with his own special number plate, 2NRME.

And although he knows a handful of other ex-pat Geordies in the country - Ron Walsh, 95, and Nick Barnes, in his 40s from Northumberland - Malcolm is surely the Toon’s biggest fan on the other side of the globe.

Malcolm also turned out on the pitch himself in years gone by with an ex-pat football team called ‘The Hasbeens’.

Which takes us back to 1985 and Newcastle United, then managed by Jackie Charlton, arriving in Fiji for their match.

“The game was played in the afternoon and the temperature was about 34C,” recalled Malcolm, who is originally from Whitley Bay in North Tyneside.

“Newcastle had just flown in from New Zealand and, to put it bluntly, looked knackered.”

The team included stars such as Peter Beardsley, Glen Roeder, Gary Megson, George Reilly, John Anderson, Kenny Wharton, Dave McCreery and a teenage Paul Gascoigne.

“The crowd went mad when Fiji won,” said Malcolm.

But he revealed some of the Toon players, a bit aggrieved by the result, did themselves no favours by snubbing the fans.

“I have to say Willie McFaul was very good, as was Neil McDonald and Gary Megson,” he said.

However two days later a return match was played in the capital of Fiji, Suva.

“It kicked off at 7.30pm this time,” said Malcolm. “It was cooler and there had been a bit of rain.”

A long distance John Anderson strike and a Paul Gascoigne solo goal secured a 2-0 win.

To this day, Malcolm has kept the cuttings from the match.

But the last league game he saw at Newcastle was on Boxing Day 1991 when the Toon managed by Ossie Ardiles lost 1-0.

The last time he saw them play in the flesh was the 1999 FA Cup final against Manchester United.

“I told Olita I had to go as I’d never been to Wembley and ended up paying £500 for a ticket.”

The Toon were beaten 2-0 by the Red Devils. Worse still for Malcolm, the only ticket he could get was in the Manchester end.

“I had to stand up when they scored but I didn’t cheer,” he said.

Malcolm is excited by the news Newcastle might be doing a pre-season tour in New Zealand. The last time they did that was 1985 - when they ended up in Fiji.

Surely, this time, they would win all the games if they played there? “You’d like to think so,” said Malcolm, not too convincingly.

Prince Charles Park in Nadi for Fiji FACT 2015.
Nadi and Fiji stars Seremaia Tale, Henry Dyer, Savenaca Waqa.
Ba and Fiji stars Henry Dyer (left) and Semi Tabaiwalu.
Ba and Fiji stars Henry Dyer (left) and Meli Vuilabasa, 2 June 2015.
Henry Dyer (left) supervises kava preparation at Namotomoto Village, Nadi.
Henry Dyer (left) and University of Fiji professor / soccer researcher Kieran James @ Ba Central Club.
Nadi and Fiji champions Henry Dyer (left) and Inosi Tora at Namotomoto Village, Nadi.
One last Fiji Gold long-neck for Henry Dyer at Renee's Hostel, Naviti Street, Lautoka, after Nadi's 2-1 defeat of Ba at Govind Park on Friday, 6 March 2015.
Nadi legends Henry Dyer (left) and Boy Reddy. Boy Reddy played in Nadi's first IDC win in 1969.
SUGAR CITY BLUES: Former Lautoka Blues and Fiji teammates Henry Dyer (left) and Wally Mausio at the Lautoka Club around 2014-15.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

ARTICLE: "The Forgotten Story of ... the Socceroos' defeat to Fiji", Guardian Sport Online, 11 Nov. 2014.

It’s been almost nine years since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation, but history will record now as the most pivotal period in our transition. Half of Sydney is still partying on the inside after Western Sydney Wanderers’ great escape from Riyadh with the AFC Champions League trophy. Shortly after the New Year, the party will resume in public with the start of the 2015 Asian Cup, the biggest football tournament to ever hit these shores. While most fans might not yet be able to tell their J-League from their K-League Classic, the local game is becoming wise to the idiosyncrasies and opportunities of Asia. It’s starting to feel right. 
In the meantime, spare a thought for Oceania. Here we are, all getting ready for the eyes of the world to turn our way at our big coming-of-age bash, while poor little Oceania, our old flame, didn’t even get an invite. Life in the world’s smallest and least relevant confederation isn’t quite the same with New Zealand as the only big fish in the small pond. As we become an integral part of Asian football, it’s worth remembering just how far back our ties run with the islands off our shore. And in the wake of the Socceroos’ embarrassing 1-0 loss to Qatar last month – which sent Ange Postecoglou’s team tumbling down to an all-time low of 94th in the Fifa rankings – there’s no better place to start than Nadi. 
The Socceroos were on fire in 1988. Frank Arok had just steered Australia to two of their most famous victories – first, the 4-1 win against world champions Argentina in the Bicentennial Gold Cup, then a 1-0 triumph over the might of Yugoslavia at the Seoul Olympics. With the likes of skipper Charlie Yankos, Graham Arnold, Frank Farina and Oscar Crino all at or nearing their prime, this was a side with the 1990 World Cup firmly in their sights. The qualification path began in late November with a seemingly innocuous two-legged tie against Fiji.
The first leg was in Nadi, Fiji’s third-largest town, one that isn’t quite sure whether it is a tourist destination, a cultural and religious hub, or a farming town. According to Lonely Planet, “Most travellers go to Nadi twice, whether they like it or not: once on the way in and once on the way out. Its indecently warm air slaps you in the face when you first step from the plane and its airport is the last place to buy sunburn remedies before heading home. For some, two times is twice too often.”
That was the plan for the Socceroos. Get in, win, and get out. Despite having not played for five weeks leading up to the match, Arok’s men were full of confidence. “We weren’t necessarily at the peak of our fitness because the expectation would have been we’re playing Fiji, the minnows… [so] it doesn’t really matter,” Yankos told Guardian Australia. “Not disrespectfully, but we’d come back from the Olympics, you go abroad and you win. It didn’t work out that way.”
For Fiji, this game was everything. The collection of players at coach Billy Singh’s disposal is still considered the best the island nation has ever produced. Singh had his men in camp training full-time for an entire month, winning the Melanesian Cup in the Solomon Islands and surprisingly beating New Zealand in a three–match series during that time. Fiji is better known as a rugby nation, and even though many of their footballers also dabbled in the 15–man code, they were certainly no mugs with the round ball. Three years prior, winger Ivor Evans had wowed crowds in Sydney for the World Youth Championships qualifiers, while midfielder ‘Cheetah’ Vosuga was a star for Brisbane Olympic and Stan Morrell was playing for New Zealand side Gisbourne City. “Our preparation has been the best it has ever been and the players are believing in themselves,” Singh told the Sydney Morning Herald before the match. “Normally they play for fun, but this time it is serious. They have tasted the glory of winning and they like it.”
Fijian players had the added incentive of a $500 bonus per player if they were able to beat Australia. For a cash-strapped association to offer such a prize to a group that was mostly unemployed illustrates how much this match meant. If they needed any further motivation, Singh showed the team footage of an ugly incident involving Socceroos player Garry McDowall, who had stamped on the head of an Israeli opponent in an Olympic qualifier earlier that year. “I have told them this is how dirty they can be, but I have emphasised they must keep their cool,” he said. “Normally, if you hit one of our guys they hit back without even thinking. They don’t care about red cards or anything, they just keep punching and punching until the cops come and drag them off the ground. I don’t want them to do that, and I have told them they must be disciplined at all times.”
The Socceroos were walking into an ambush. The early signs were there – their departure from Sydney was delayed and they arrived in Fiji almost three hours late, which meant they weren’t able to train that day as intended. When they eventually did, it was on a bumpy pitch next to the airport in Nadi, the humidity sapping their energy. At one point when the team drove past the Fiji team hotel, one of their opponents gave a black power salute. There was a feeling of impending doom that accompanied the visitors at every turn, and that uneasiness went up a few notches when they arrived at Prince Charles Park on match day. 
“The first thing I can remember about that was there was at least 200 frogs on the pitch,” Socceroos winger Scott Ollerenshaw told Guardian Australia. “That’s no exaggeration. There were frogs everywhere. You’d be running and you’d hear a squelch, and that would mean you’ve killed a frog. The second thing was that there were thousands of people there, but it wasn’t actually a stadium. There were hundreds of people in these trees, hanging off the trees. It was a very unusual setting with the frogs, and people hanging out of trees.”
As expected, the Australians had the better of the game. But turning that dominance into a lead was another matter, particularly against a Fiji side that had set up purely to frustrate. Despite chance after chance and overwhelming possession, the ball simply wasn’t going in, no matter what. “It was bouncing off [the posts], hitting people in the leg and going out,” Yankos said. “I remember we played with a ball that was very bouncy, very hard to control. I always likened it to one of those balls you buy at the petrol station. It was very muggy, I felt very sluggish. I just didn’t have that sharpness in that particular game. I think it might have been the same for most of us. By the time we hit our straps and realised we were in for a pretty tough afternoon, it was too late to do something about it.”
That the Socceroos were in for a pretty tough afternoon was made clear in the opening minutes to Ollerenshaw, who was 20 years old at the time and had only recently broken into the national team. “I remember very early on in the game I went to make a forward run and this massive Fijian guy – he wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Fiji Sevens, he was absolutely huge,” he said. “He was the centre–back, and he elbowed me in the head. He just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t run. Don’t run.’ So it was intimidating.”
Arok preached a message of calm at the interval, with scores still locked at 0-0, but disaster struck midway through the second half. The Fiji left-back, Lote Delai, surged down the left in the 67th minute, sending in a knee-high cross. His team-mates from the Ba province, Vimal Sami and substitute Ravuama Madigi were waiting. Sami dummied to make room for Madigi, who unleashed a left-foot volley that gave the Socceroos goalkeeper Jeff Olver no chance. Fiji were in front. Nobody could quite believe it.
Try as they might, the Socceroos couldn’t equalise, with a late chance cleared off the line by Shafique Ali. Cue bedlam. Singh was chaired off the field, declaring in jubilation: “The Australians came here too sure of themselves. They thought we were stupid, unprofessional.”
“It was the best moment of my life,” said Abraham Watkins, who was part of a five-man Fijian defence that day. Watkins was later named the Fijian Sportsman of the Year for his role in the victory, the first and only footballer to win the award. He now lives in Griffith, NSW with his two sons, Archie and Sitiveni, who are both Fijian age internationals. “We played with our heart. They knew that we were going to beat them so they couldn’t play good soccer. They just kicked and chased in the second half. It was a big achievement for us, and the country. The whole country was celebrating. The party was big. The government nearly gave us a one-week holiday., but they didn’t.”
“At the end of the day, if you don’t score, there’s no excuses,” said Ollerenshaw, who probably wasted the most chances for Australia. “Fiji played well that day – probably as good as they could, and we probably played as bad as we could. It’s not a nice feeling to be associated with one of the most embarrassing losses the Socceroos have ever had. We wanted to escape as soon as possible. I just remember it was like a morgue to us. There was a massive post-mortem. Massive. [Arok said] in layman’s terms, ‘what the fuck is going on? How could we lose against so-called minnows?’”
The Socceroos couldn’t wallow in their own misery though. With the return leg a week later at Macquarie Field in Newcastle, they had to dust themselves off and go again. “One of the best things about Frank was that he was great in adversity,” Ollerenshaw said. “If you had a bad loss, or if the team played badly or the individual played badly, Frank always believed that the first training session after a loss was the most important one. Our next training session was very positive and vibrant and it got everyone back up again.”
Arok resisted the temptation to tinker with his side, beyond swapping Mike Petersen for Jason Polak. “There was this anxiousness about us,” Yankos said. “I remember when we played in Newcastle, the first 15 to 20 minutes, we were under a fair amount of our own pressure. We knew we had to score early, otherwise if it was still 0-0 at half-time, if someone got sent off or if they scored an early goal, it would have made it a lot harder.” Fortunately, that never happened, despite Fiji bringing the very same physical approach. Australia were switched on from the start, desperate to avoid repeat embarrassment. Yankos scored after just nine minutes, Warren Spink soon added the second, and then deep into the second half, Yankos converted from the penalty spot to make it 3-0.
After another two goals in three minutes from Arnold and Paul Trimboli, it became a 5-0 blowout. But Fiji weren’t going down without a fight –literally. Annoyed that their hopes of progress were destroyed so comprehensively, the Fijians started throwing wild punches. Oscar Crino and Alan Davidson both copped one, but the biggest hit was reserved for Yankos, who had his nose broken by substitute Jone Watsioni. “They weren’t there to play football against us,” Yankos said. “Alan Davidson was in a scuffle with some of the players and I was just being the typical, nice captain, going in to break it all up. I can’t remember how much longer there was to go – only a couple of minutes – but one of the players just came up and hit me from behind, a round-arm. He smashed me – a king hit, from behind, wrapped around the back of my head.” Ollerenshaw was benched by this stage, and was watching the carnage unfold from the sidelines. “It was a bit like a State of Origin game,” he said. “From memory, George Haniotis was outstanding in the brawl. That was one of George’s few appearances for the Socceroos and I remember he was involved. As I was watching it, I really wasn’t that upset about being on the bench.”
Ravuama Madigi, Fiji goalscorer, first game
Watkins laughs when he retells the story, remembering that Watsioni unleashed on Yankos out of pure frustration. “He thought it was a boxing ring,” he said. “We weren’t mentally prepared. When they play dirty, they spit on you in the tunnel and talk like that and everything... we can’t take it. They make us angry. Fiji players, we have short tempers. We used to be big, tall guys. So he just gave him a good shot, and he was down and got a red card.” Yankos somehow played on but was taken to hospital straight after the match. Watsioni saluted the crowd like a champion heavyweight when he was given his marching orders. The Fijians scored a consolation goal with a minute of regulation time remaining, and then went out with the Socceroos for post-game drinks. “It comes back to the chance they had, all that hope, it was lost,” Yankos said. “They got agitated. How many opportunities do you really get to beat someone – you beat them at home, and then all of a sudden it crumbles at the other end? It was a bit of a shame that it ended up that way because they did quite well in the first game. They didn’t do it with dignity at the end, just pure fighting.”
The two sides have met four times since then, with the Socceroos taking the win on each occasion. The last was in 2004, and the next – with Australia now in Asia, who knows when the next will be? Watkins thinks it’s a shame. “When we play overseas teams it’s a big achievement for us – especially the Socceroos,” he Watkins said. “They were in their primetime at that time. Beating the Socceroos was a big achievement for Fiji soccer. It would be good to play them again, we always enjoy it. The whole country does.”
While Australia is now estranged from Oceania, there are still a handful of remaining links. One is the Wellington Phoenix, the manifestation of the agreement FFA made with Fifa to continue to assist Australia’s neighbours in Oceania as a trade-off for smooth passage into Asia. Incidentally, the Phoenix have the only Fijian player in A-League history on their books, Roy Krishna. Another link is Farina, who is now the technical director of Fiji’s under-20s side – they are preparing for next year’s Fifa Under-20s World Cup, the first time a Fijian side will appear in a global tournament at any level. Papua New Guinea-rasied Farina missed the 1988 ties – he was unavailable after signing for Club Brugge – but coached the national team against Fiji and knows the ins and out of Oceania better than most. “I just came back from Fiji, and one of the media guys in Fiji Football asked me, ‘Frank, can you organise for all the games to be videoed?’” he told Guardian Australia. “I said, ‘Yeah, of course. But why’s that?’ He said, ‘Fiji Football don’t have any history of Fiji teams playing. Our greatest moment was when Fiji beat the Socceroos but we don’t have any actual footage of that. I just want to get an archive going.’”
Farina was only too willing to help, but believes there are other ways Australia can – and should – give back to the region. Six years ago, in the thick of the wheeling and dealing of Australia’s ill-fated bid to host the World Cup, Frank Lowy suggested a combined Pacific Islands team would be welcome to enter the A-League. “There are 11 million people in Oceania and if we can attract a team from the islands to play in the A-League we can attract another 10 or 11 million viewers,” he said. “I [have] invited the Oceania Confederation to create a team of all the islands and if they do that, we will be able to accommodate them in the A-League and they certainly seemed very interested in that.” Nothing came of those plans.
Farina doubts a Pacific Islands team will ever happen, but he is an advocate for more Pacific Islands representation in the A-League. “I genuinely believe that we owe something to try and assist and help in whatever way possible,” he said. “You see these players and they’re so talented, but they probably lack the professionalism in the set-up. But I tell you what – give these boys a professional set-up and they can do something. It may be a ridiculous concept but don’t regard them as visa players. Any Oceania player that an A-League club would like to sign because they see potential, why not relax the rules? If you did that – as was the case in the old national league – you look at the striker who played for Wollongong Wolves, Esala Masi, who won two championships. If I was an A-League coach – and I was last year – there may be players I would sign on youth league deals or whatever. I still believe there are grounds we can look at and work out and assist. They’re our neighbours, and we were there for so long.”
Like everyone else, Yankos is looking forward to the AFC Asian Cup with excitement, but like Farina, he’s also looking back at the Oceania years with fondness. “There were a lot of things we did in Oceania that are lost now,” Yankos said. “I go back to the Trans-Tasman Cup between us and New Zealand – there used to be a fair amount of rivalry, we’d play that regularly and it was good, a bit like the Bledisloe Cup. Now we’re in Asia that’s not happening anymore, which is disappointing. It’s just one of those circumstances about progress in football. That’s part of our history.”
Original article link:
Henry Dyer (left) and Lote Delai @ Fiji Football Veterans' Dinner, Nadi, Saturday, 4 October 2014. Henry Dyer was dropped from the Fiji team for the first 1988 game due to an alleged connection with a motor vehicle which was involved in a robbery in Suva. Lote Delai set up the goal in the first game and scored the only Fiji goal in the second game.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

PICTURE GALLERY: Henry Dyer meets Meli Vuilabasa in Lautoka City, 30 July 2017.

One of the great traditional features of Fiji Soccer is that when the tournaments are held in a town or city (FIJI FACT, BOG or IDC) everyone in the soccer community heads to that place and you will never know who you will meet. With the BOG just completed in Lautoka, the city still had some soccer buzz remaining in it on 30 July 2017 when Nadi and Fiji legend Henry Dyer (right) met Ba and Fiji champion Meli Vuilabasa (left) by chance in Yasawa Street, only one street away from Namoli Village where Henry grew up. This picture shows the view looking south down Yasawa Street in the direction of Naviti Street, Leon's Nightclub, and Vitogo Parade.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

NEW INTERVIEW: Our first interview with Julie Sami (Ba / Fiji legend), by Henry Dyer, 1 October 2015.

Interview with Julie Sami (Ba and Fiji Legend)
1 October 2015 @ Julie’s house in Ba
By Henry Dyer (Nadi Legends club) and Kieran James (University of Fiji)

Henry Dyer: Julie, when did you start to play?

Julie Sami: 1975, I was 15-years-old, but I did not go to Labasa to play in the IDC. That time it was a knock-out format.

Henry: Can you remember who was playing with you at that time?

Julie: I was playing with Waisea Mitieli, Bale Raniga, Josateki Kuruvitu, Vimlesh, Semi, my brother Narend, Jone Nakosia, Kini Mocelutu, Farouk Janeman, and many more players I can’t name.

Henry: Who was your coach back then?

Julie: Sashi Mahendra Singh.

Henry: Back then who was the champion team?

Julie: It was that time Ba won six-in-a-row IDC 1975-80. We met Nadi many times in the final with “Bacardi”, Manu Pokar, Mani Naicker, and others. I played against Mani Naicker, he was a GK. My father forced me to play; I was drinking too much; my father played 21 years for Ba.

Henry: Who was the team you admired the most back then?

Julie: Nadi. After the game we would sit down and go to the hotel together, everybody was there. Bacardi [Emasi Koroi] was one of the funniest fellows.

Henry: Bacardi was one of the funniest fellows who made the game more enjoyable.

Julie: He could run naked at the swimming pool but he was a good player. Where is he now?

Henry: Suva. Bacardi was a specialty for on and off the field for the Nadi and Ba teams. He was like the comedian or the clown.

Julie: Yeah.

Henry: Apart from Nadi did you feel close to any other team?

Julie: Lautoka. Suliano Turaga was the GK. I remember scoring against Lautoka from a corner-kick. I curled the ball in without anyone touching. I always will remember that goal. Suliano Turaga was the Fiji GK at that time.

Henry: That was around the time that Save [Savenaca Waqa], Bale [Raniga], and Suliano were in the Fiji team. After Suli dropped out from soccer there were only two main GKs for Fiji.

Kieran James: Where was the game played and was it BOG, IDC or national league?

Julie: The corner-kick was at Churchill Park in the national league.

Henry: Who was the captain of the team then?

Julie: Bale and Vimlesh.

KJ: Do you remember when Joe Tubuna joined the Ba team?

Julie: In 1979, the first IDC we won in Rewa. He was so very close to me. That fellow would come to my house, eat, and go. He could never leave my house. But he was a good player.

Henry: What was your best year for Ba?

Julie: 1980. I scored a 40-yard goal against Lautoka; the GK was Semi Bai. I also scored another 40-yarder against Suva. We beat Suva 4-0 and Lautoka 7-0 In the IDC.

KJ: 7-0 in 60-minutes is very good.

Julie: Yeah, and in the final we beat your team Nadi.

KJ: What do you think of Henry as a player?

Julie: He was a good player, man. His forehead was very dangerous. When he got the ball Bale was afraid. We used to mark him properly but this fellow ran away.

Henry: You say you used to mark me. Why were you afraid of me?

Julie: S.M. Singh taught us that if the player goes to the toilet you go with him; wherever that fellow goes run with him.

Henry: So that was the drill? For the team to mark every player?

Julie: Man-to-man. S.M. Singh did not want any throws against us in our own half or corner-kicks against us. He knew they were dangerous situations. Vimlesh was our master-mind; he could speed the game up, he could slow the game.

Henry: When Joe came in and Waisea retired...

Julie: I took that fellow’s position. I played in the district as left-wing. I took Josateki’s position at left-wing when he retired. People did not know I was a right-footer but it was very hard to get into the team in that position. At Sangam Tournament in Ba S.M. Singh was watching the game. After this Mr Singh played me last-man-down (full-back). I gave left-wing to my brother Vimal Sami in 1984 and then I moved down to the sweeper’s position after that. Then I moved to last-man-down (full-back, sweeper) and Jone Nakosia was moved to the right-back.

KJ: Did you play for Fiji and how many games?

Julie: Yes, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983. In 1984 Lote Delai, Ravuama Madigi, and the younger boys who had played for the Fiji youth team were selected.

KJ: When did you finish playing with Ba? Was it around 1988?

Julie: 1988 was the IDC in Lautoka, we lost it. I played up until 1993.

KJ: Did you enjoy playing for Ba at that time?

Julie: Yes. If I was young now I would play again. We were not paid; now they get money but they have no pride for the district.

Henry: We played for the beer money.

KJ: What do you think of Ba Soccer now?

Julie: I don’t feel like going to watch the game.

KJ: Because it is controlled by the 4R Company?

Julie: Yes. There is no team pride and no district feeling. Before in the town people would call us over and buy us beer. It’s not like that now; now they don’t even know who Ba is playing that day.

Henry: This gang, Fiji Football, they should think about why the sport is not going up but is going down.

Julie: The interest in soccer in Fiji is below par; it is not like before in the 1980s.

Henry: Then you could feel the vibes at the village-level from the public.

KJ: Did you enjoy your time with Vinod Patel as Ba president?

Julie: Yes, he is the best president. In 1993 I pulled out because Rajesh Patel came in as president. He forced me to play one game against Tavua, I played it, and then I went out. Rajesh wanted to control the selection of the team. Vinod was a good fellow.  He was a nice fellow who would look after the players. S.M. Singh was a very disciplined coach. He would tell us to have a beer after the game with the supporters. There would be 10 to 15 cartons of beer with the supporters at the stadium. S.M. Singh would say: “after this don’t go and disturb the officials”. After this Vinod Patel would quietly say: “I will give you some more cartons and you can drink it quietly wherever you want to drink it”. He was a nice president.

KJ: Do you get free tickets for the games now?

Julie: Only for IDCs played at home.

KJ: Who was the best team in your era - Ba or Nadi?

Julie: Both teams. One would win and one would lose; we had to do or die there.

KJ: Do you remember the 1982 IDC Final?

Julie: We drew with them. This man Henry smashed Tubuna’s head. It was after 6pm, no floodlights. Save [Savenaca Waqa] said: “it’s after 6pm”. There was a return match in Lautoka; we were drunk but we went there and we got the trophy.

KJ: Do you know that the Nadi and Ba officials agreed not to play at Churchill Park?

Julie: No, I did not know.

KJ: The officials forced you to turn up?

Julie: Yes, but only seven of us turned up. We wore the uniforms but we were drunk as we went out on to the field.

Henry: We were told not to enter the field.

KJ: But you were there at the ground?

Henry: Yes.

Julie: We played a relegation game, 1984. We beat Tailevu-Naitasari 8-0 in Ba. The president of Tailevu said not to play the second game as eight goals to nil was already enough. This game was after Joe died, in 1984.

Henry: Wasn’t that the game when Inia [Bola] came back and played after the accident?

Julie: No, he wanted to play.

KJ: He wanted to play but he didn’t play?

Julie: Yes. Right from then up until now that fellow cannot smell.

KJ: What do you think of Rudi Gutendorf as national coach?

Julie: Rudi was a good coach. Then there was Mike Everett before him. But the best coach was S.M. Singh. He could teach you six or seven patterns. If you go to his house you can’t see any Indian movies, just soccer. S.M. Singh’s son Vimlesh was playing. S.M. Singh was a disciplinarian, he doesn’t care if it is his son or not; if you are not training well he puts you out – no train, no game. He judges you based on performance and discipline.

Henry: So that’s how Ba was built?

Julie: Yes.

KJ: Why was Rudi a good coach?

Julie: He was also very disciplined. But he gave players time too, not like this new Italian coach Carlos Buzzetti.

Henry: What do you think of the standard of Ba Soccer now?

Julie: Very bad, brother, very bad.

Henry: What are the reasons?

Julie: No development.

Henry: But there is an academy here in Ba...

Julie: But they never take it to the schools or to the village communities or to the clubs. The academy here is like you go there to learn and then you go home. Now they wait for the transport to pick them up and if no-one picks them up they stay home. In our time we would run from here (the FSC line) to Govind Park to train (from the Naidrodo line, Soweri, Talacake, Votua).

KJ: What is your comment about Meli Vuilabasa?

Julie: He was a dangerous player too. In Rewa my brother passed to him and he scored against Save [Savenaca Waqa]. Meli came into the Ba team in 1977.

Henry: How about Bale Raniga as a GK – how do you rate him?

Julie: What he does is he yells from the back to the players: “run here, run there”. If he yells from there you can hear the sound in town. We respect him; he guided us from the back, especially in defence.

KJ: Here is a question we asked the other Ba players: who was better as a GK – Save or Bale?

Julie: Bale was better I tell you. At training both keepers, Bale and Save, were trying to kick from one end to the other. Save kicked to the goal-mouth; Bale kicked right out of the ground. This was at training for the Fiji team at Govind Park.

KJ: Did you do any coaching at all?

Julie: I coached Under-12s and Under-15s. I just started and then I lost hope because there were no plans for development. This was U12s through to U15s for Ba. This was around 1993, after I stopped playing. I said to myself: “no, leave it, look for a job”. I felt that there was no progress in the development of soccer. I thought it was better to look for a job to support my family.

Henry: Farouk Janeman was the development officer for Fiji Football working for the academy. Three or four times we met in Nadi and he asked me to be a development officer in Nadi but nothing eventuated; I don’t know for what reason.

KJ: How did you feel playing in the Ba team with all of the Fijian players? There must have been just three or four Indian players in the first team.

Julie: It was nothing new to me. I was born with those boys in the same community so when playing alongside them we were able to gel together. Day and night I was with the Fijians so my life was like living as a Fijian boy. Back then I was the only Indian mixing with the Fijian boys.

Henry: Only the Sami brothers would mix around with the Fijians. Vimlesh and Farouk were from the business-class families so they were different.

Julie: Vimlesh is looking after the family business, Ba Motor Parts, in Suva and around Fiji.

KJ: Do you think it is harder for the Fijian boys to become coaches than for the Indian boys?

Julie: It is not hard because there is a coaching course now. Fijians have more knowledge than Indians. Semi [Tabaiwalu] was coaching at that time.

Henry: Semi won many tournaments for Ba and then they pushed him out.

Julie: Yes, they pushed him out, man.

Henry: What do you think would be the best solution to raise the level of soccer in Fiji?

Julie: Soccer in Fiji can’t go up, brother.

Henry: Why can’t it go up?

Julie: Now every three months there is a window for players to run here and there. If you give him $100 more he will run to another district. Before you could trust a player; now you can’t trust a player because the player will chase any extra money which is being offered.

Henry: But why does the soccer standard not go up?

Julie: It can’t go up.

Henry: But why can’t it go up?

Julie: Because the players can’t stick to one district and so they don’t know each other’s pattern of play.

Henry: So the districts should raise and nurture their players and not let them go?

Julie: Yes.

Henry: But if they want to go Fiji Soccer can’t stop them.

KJ: Do you think overseas players should be allowed to play here?

Julie: Yes, give them the chance to play for the district and the country.

KJ: Why do you think Fijian players are not coaching the districts today?

Julie: The Fijian boys don’t get to go the coaching clinics because it is not advertised on the TV or in the papers; they only tell their friends; only a handful of people know about it. There is a racial feeling in the game now; it is not good for the sport. I want to go coaching too but they never tell us; it is not in the papers or on the radio.

Henry: That’s no good, man.

Henry: Are you happy that you played soccer and that you made friends?

Julie: Yes, I made friends, I made my name.

Julie’s wife (Sneh Sami, calling from inside the house): You met your wife!

Henry: What is your wife’s name?

Sneh: Sneh Sami. We were neighbours.

Julie: Because of soccer she was after me [all laugh].

Henry: Tell us about the Ba supporters, the Indian fans?

Julie: In our time the supporters used to come to watch the training, 300, 400 or even 1,000 people. There was huge support from the Indian community. If you won the IDC all the taxis were free-of-charge for players. One taxi was free from here to Suva.

Henry: In the 1970s and 1980s life was very humble and cosy as the supporters were very much together with the players.  A taxi-driver would drive all the way to Suva for a day or a night without you paying a cent. Farmers would bring you fruit at the grounds and fishermen would bring fish to the houses.

Julie: At the shops the shopkeepers would let us pack our bags and fill them up with clothes. They gave us cash and everything else. They gave clothes for the children and the family. Now if a player comes they might close the shop. The whole of Ba Town was open to the players.

Henry: They went to choose their favourite shop.

Julie: No, every shop was like that. Motibhai’s used to supply us with duty-free liquor, beer, watches, and valuables.

Sneh Sami: The mothers [players’ wives] would go later and do the shopping for free in addition to what the players had taken. When we walked by taxi-drivers would give us cash. Ba Town was crazy for soccer at that time.  

Julie: Now if you ask someone to go watch the game he will not want to go.

Henry: Do you remember when Joe Tubuna died the Ba officials invited me to come to play for Ba?

Julie: I heard that Henry was coming and Abraham Watkins.

Henry: Do you know why I didn’t come? Because I had just moved from Lautoka to my village in Nadi a few years before. I thought if I went there I would die in Ba. Anand Singh, lawyer and parliamentarian in the Bavadra FLP Labour Government, offered me $2,000 to go to play for Ba to bring the level of soccer up, because Ba had gone down.

Julie: And just avoided relegation.

Henry: I said yes first but I was worried I had just moved from Lautoka to Nadi. I thought I would get sucked into Ba life. I had already been there three years in my village but I was still considered new. I had to establish myself in the village for my family and my children.

Julie: With the standard of soccer in Fiji no-one can slow the game down now.

Henry: They don’t know how to slow it down.

Henry: In that 2015 BOG semi-final [Ba versus Nadi at Govind Park] there were so many Nadi officials on the field at the break, but what were they telling the players?

KJ: They just want to control the sport rather than improve it.

Julie: Yes, they just want to control the sport.

Henry: Not for the development of soccer.

Julie: My son was playing full-time 90-minute games for Tavua but when he came to play for Ba he was given 5-20 minutes on the field.

KJ: Where is your son now?

Julie: I stopped him playing for Ba. That was two to three years back. They called him but they did not give him a chance. Now he is working in Nadi Airport. Now Nadi Soccer is going after him. His name is Dennis Rao. Now Nadi is after him; he will wear the green jersey; watch out.

Henry: That’s good, that’s good. The enjoyment in our time...

Julie: They can’t enjoy it like that now. Bacardi and everyone used to come here to drink beer and Rusi too [Rusiate Waqa]. Now we don’t know who is playing for Ba and who is not. Then in the town they knew who Julie Sami, Henry Dyer, Semi [Tabaiwalu], and Bacardi were...

Henry: So only certain officials really looked after the players both then and today?

Julie: Yes.

KJ: The best was Vinod Patel?

Julie: Yes. He has retired now from the business side of Vinod Patel, he stays at home now.

Julie: I was surprised when you [Henry and Kieran] came to see me today. I was about to go out. I saw the white hand sticking out of the car [laughs] and then I saw Henry. It’s all black guys around here [laughs].

Henry: How many children do you have now?

Julie: Two daughters and two sons. The younger son is in Canada and the elder daughter is married. One son and one daughter are staying with me. Both are working. My daughter [Sherin Kristal Rao] is working as an accounts clerk at Rajendra Prasad Supermarket and my son is working for Nadi Airport. As for me, I’m the son of the late Mira Sami, Fiji and Ba soccer rep. My son [Dennis Rao] works for ATS at Nadi Airport.

Henry: Who were some of the finest soccer players in that era?

Julie: Vula Wate, Bacardi, Aisea Mocelutu, Henry Dyer, Kini Momo, Kini Tubi, Savenaca Waqa, Joe Tubuna, Ernest Doughty, Raphael Tuilawa, Gordon Leewai, and the Zoing brothers from Labasa, and so many more.

KJ: Where were you when Joe died and how did you feel?

Julie: I was at home. We drank together. Those people went to Tavua. I stayed home. I dreamed that those people had an accident. Next morning at 6am, I asked the mill supervisor Esala Masi: “Did something happen because I dreamed it?” The supervisor said: “Yes, something happened; there was an accident; three of them were there; we don’t know who died”. So then I went to Lautoka Hospital and the doctor told me that Joe Tubuna had died. They said that the other two were in a serious condition, Inia and Semi. I can’t forget that fellow Joe Tubuna.

Henry: It was good to be around that fellow.

Julie: He was like Bacardi. He could not go home without eating at my place first day or night.

KJ: Did you play in all six winning IDCs?

Julie: Yes, 1975 to 1980.

KJ: Which was your most special?

Julie: As I told you, 1980, because I scored the goal from 40-yards out. You have written it!

KJ: Yes I know.

KJ: Did your wife support your soccer career?

Julie: Yes.

Henry: How much did your wife support?

Julie: You ask her, you ask her. That time she was after me [wife laughs].

Julie: Suva offered me in the past. I was offered a car, house, and job by Moti Musadial. He was still alive then. For me I wanted to stay in Ba. I said: “if you put house and car into my name I will play”. You must give it in writing but don’t just talk. That’s my future, yes?

Henry: Were you invited to the Fiji FA Veterans’ Dinner last year 2014?

Julie: No.

Henry: Did you know they were inviting Inia Bola?

Julie: Nobody told me.

Henry: They didn’t invite Semi, we asked him about it. They invited the younger-generation players and Inia Bola, it’s a mystery. Maybe they wanted to show the public that they invited Inia Bola because of the car accident.

**********THE END
Henry Dyer with Ba and Nadi fans @ 2015 IDC Final, Ba versus Nadi, Govind Park. The Ba fan is Jolame Ratu, age 12, Class 6, from Ba Sangam School and Verata Village, Tailevu. The Nadi fan is Mr Arun Kumar from Solovi back road, Nadi.
Julie Sami, Henry Dyer, and a young Ba supporter @ IDC Final, Ba versus Nadi 2015, Govind Park. The Ba fan is Jolame Ratu, age 12, Class 6, from Ba Sangam School and Verata Village, Tailevu.
Henry Dyer with Julie's wife Sneh Sami (centre) and family members of Julie Sami.