|Nadi's Savenaca Waqa & Suva's Jone Ratu, BOG semi-final|
I was very young at this time; I was only 20. So to watch and play against these players in a tournament with the name “South Pacific” was like you were playing for the World Cup; that is true. Getting into this team to represent Fiji was not easy. I had to perform well in the trials to be selected as there were many other seasoned and matured soccer players who had been around for some time, including Emasi Koroi (“Bacardi”) and Marika Ravula. There were a lot of soccer players around but I managed to get in.
To be selected at a training session in Lautoka (Churchill Park) I remember that some of these senior and elder trialists had vomited in the western heat. In fact everybody felt like vomiting. That training session I will never forget because I would have dropped out too. It was just that I was fit enough to take the endurance course and withstand the pressure. This was when my real career started. The 22 of us that had been selected I would say were the best. It would have been better if the other players who had not been selected could have withstood the pressure. There were quite a number of good talented classy players who were dropped.
We managed to beat Solomons 10-0 and Vanuatu 6-0 (Mohit Prasad, Celebrating 70 Years of Football, 1938-2008, Fiji Football Association, Suva, p. 43 and Appendix VII, p. 95), as well as PNG 3-1 [check this] to get into the final against Tahiti. It was a great experience to represent Fiji at the Games being an Ambassador for the country. We all camped at one venue – at the Leififi Teachers’ College in Apia, Samoa. At the camp it was good to mingle with the other South Pacific athletes. It was great to watch them prepare for a match in the school grounds. We used to mingle with the volleyball and rugby players from Fiji. We would listen to how they would prepare their game plan. We supported each other very much especially for the women’s sports. They needed our support and we needed their support. I remember that the other island nations would look up to us. I remember when some Tahitian players came around to our classroom at the camp and quietly asked: “where is Joe Tubuna?” But we didn’t know that these were some of the Tahitian players until we watched them on the field playing and we said: “hey, these players went into the classroom”. So we started teasing Joe Tubuna: “Joe, you had better be careful, you’re gonna get some black magic coming on your back. Maybe you’ll have a pulled muscle”. He said: “You bring that black magic and I will eat it alive”. This was to show that Joe had a lot of guts and a never-say-die attitude.
We would go for a walk in the evenings when given half-an-hour break. We would see the Samoan villagers walking on the street with big stomachs and without shirts. These were really big Samoans looking like the sumo wrestlers. They would be holding the big sugar canes and chewing them. It was really scary to walk past them. It would be like they would just about whack you on your back and everyone were ready to run. They would not say much, not “hey Talofa”. Down the road further we would meet the landowners drinking beers on the side of the road. It was not prohibited. This made it even scarier until we came to get used to it. The beers were sold at every shop and very cheaply whereas in Fiji at that time you could only get beer at the bootlegger and at the supermarket. Today beer is sold at many shops in Fiji just like in Samoa then. So the Samoan beer was tempting for a Fijian sportsman.
Four days before playing New Caledonia in the semi-final we were given a break for two hours and told to be back in camp by 8pm. I joined the older boys, Joe Tubuna, Upendra Choi and Semi Tabaiwalu, and we went for a few beers under a tree close to the camp. The beer got sweeter and sweeter as the hours went by. Then the making up of excuses started. We went on until 10pm. I said to myself: “I’m the youngest one. I will leave it to the older boys to take the blame”. Joe said: “We are all going to give our own excuses”. We said: “No, the captain must take the burden”. We were all joking amongst ourselves thinking that we are really in for trouble now. Little did we know that our manager, Jahir Khan, a Police Inspector, had the police attitude and he was lying (sleeping) across the door so we could not sneak in unnoticed. So we started calling from the door to Mahomed Salim, who was sleeping very close to the door: “Salim, Salim” and then the answer was from Jahir Khan (Manager): “Were you looking for Salim? Salim is waiting for you. Open the door”. As we were drunk we wanted to laugh and every negative thought started to run around in our minds. Tubuna signalled to us to stay still. Then Jahir opened the door. He asked us: “Where have you been?” Tubuna gave an excuse but Jahir said: “Go and have a good sleep and wait for tomorrow”. We did not sleep well that night. Some of the other players were laughing at us because they sneaked in before time. They had consumed beer but they were not caught.
|Abdul Manaan - scored the winner vs New Caledonia|
Semi-final: Fiji 3 New Caledonia 2, Apia Stadium
|Rudi Gutendorf (Fiji coach)|
Final: Tahiti 1 Fiji 0, Apia Stadium, match abandoned due to riot, game and series awarded to Tahiti
On the day before the Tahiti game, our coach Rudi had a meeting with the soccer officials running the games. He told them that we did not want any French [nations’] referees to officiate. We were fighting to get officials from other island nations rather than those from the French countries [i.e. Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti]. We were concerned about favouritism. This favouritism really happened in the finals leading to a disputed final. Rudi tried in vain to have only one French official in the final but they still put two instead. We had no choice but to play our hearts out. In the final the whole of the Melanesian South Pacific island nations (i.e. Solomons and PNG) and Tonga (our island neighbours) were supporting our soccer team. The French countries in the region were against us. They were our main rivals because of the British and French wars which came to influence sporting rivalry even all this time later and even though most of the countries are independent now.
It is like the communities were watching the re-enactment of war on the pitch In Fiji some of that loyalty to the British countries remains. Our coach was German and he brought another aspect to the table. Possibly he brought some of the German animosity towards the French into our attitude. We can’t read his mind and these things are hard to pin down but it is probably true to say that we had this impression. What he thought would happen in terms of double-standard decisions by the referee and officials did come to pass.
|L to R: Cheetah, Epeli Kosa & Henry Dyer @ Fiji training, Suva|
Ten minutes before the game ends there is a tussle between our defenders and their attackers. The goal-mouth was full of both sets of players. Everyone was busy either trying to score or trying to clear in the Fiji goal-mouth. One of our Fiji defenders (it may have been Semi Tabaiwalu or Stan Morrell) cleared the ball but before clearing the linesman indicates to the referee that the ball in midair had crossed the line. There was a big commotion on the field from both sides as we had been warned prior to the match about the likely decisions of the French officials. While complaining to the referee about the linesman’s decision our eyes were on the bench where our officials were sitting. The referee listens to the linesman and allows the disputed goal. We were all flabbergasted and amazed. Anger and frustration have sunk into our heads now. Our team officials are walking on the pitch now.
One of the players got punched by our striker Rusiate Waqa and fell to the ground. Our masseur (Madrai from Suva) starts the chase now from behind the Tahitian goal-mouth; he was chasing the Goal-Keeper around the pitch. By now we were chasing the other Tahitian players around the athletics track at the Apia Stadium. The Samoan police-force, with the blue helmet type of hats, walks on to the pitch to stop further antagonisms. Some of the cool-headed players were helping them too.
Rusiate Waqa and another player were arrested and taken into the Apia Police Station. Luckily we had our Police Inspector Jahir Khan. He went there and he brought him out which he could do because of his status as a Police Inspector. The whole of the Fiji contingent was behind the soccer team. We could not do much. The game was cancelled because of the riot with 10 minutes remaining. The soccer officials held a meeting about the match and they decided that Tahiti should be declared the winners. We were awarded the silver medal as the runners-up. I don’t know if today the same emotions remain as strong for the participants as they were back then. I was very fortunate to participate and witness such an event. The South Pacific Games Closing Ceremony was very colourful to watch.
|Henry Dyer (left) & Emasi Koroi ("Bacardi")|
The Nadi players in the Fiji team then were heroes even though we came second. The fact that the goal was not scored (but allowed anyway) was similar to the decision in the IDC Final between Nadi and Ba in 1982 which was controversial because of floodlights. So the Nadi soccer fans were now used to controversy. The diehard fans had this belief for Nadi – “O Nadi Ko” meaning that: “We are Nadi, This is our Time”. I enjoyed mixing with our soccer supporters back at home in Nadi. Our Indian fans were crazier than the Fijians or the natives. We became well known characters in Nadi town and people would talk to us on the street from all walks of life. This was a new thing for me. I had never come across this in my whole life.
[by the former Fiji national player Henry Dyer, taken from Henry Dyer's interview with Dr Kieran James of University of Fiji @ Nadi, 14 May 2014]
|Apia Park, Apia, Samoa. The athletics track still surrounds the football pitch just as in 1983.|
|Apia Park, Apia, Samoa. The athletics track still surrounds the football pitch just as in 1983.|
|Tony Kabakoro of Suva and Fiji (third from left) pictured here with the Suva team, sometime in the 1980s. Tony Kabakoro scored the two goals in Fiji's 2-0 win over New Zealand in Suva.|