|Henry Dyer (right) with a former Sweats Soccer Club player who is resident in Namotomoto Village, Nadi, late 2014. The picture was taken at Aanvi's Fast Food (now closed).|
During the 1990s I started Sweats Soccer Club with a few of my close relatives in the village. Fortunately they played for the Nadi Soccer team too such as Rusiate Waqa, Rusiate’s two brothers Dawai and Peni Bubuta, and Sosiceni Kaitani. We started from junior grade in the first year. In the second year we went to the senior grade and in the third year we were playing in the premier-league competition. So, when we formed the club, we knew that the raw talent that was around the village and nearby villages was not being exposed. This was due to the fact that there were no clubs around to play for. There were only clubs in other settlements and clubs which had the backing of companies. The only club that was village-based was the Tanoa Soccer Club which had players from three villages Namotomoto, Navoci, and Nakavu. There was too much youth talent around and they were being left behind. As a result they played other games such as volleyball and cricket. It is a pity that boxing has faded out because the giants or the champs have retired and there is no-one else to restore the sport.
The Sweats club did well in the three years to reach the premier-league club competition and to represent the Nadi district in the fourth year. We named the club Sweats because I had a T-shirt with the word “Sweats” on it. We did not use the name of one of the villages for the club name because we wanted the club to be neutral. However, we asked the late village headman (Inia Namua) for his blessings. We used to train mostly at Kennedy Avenue Park which was too small. It was half of half of a full ground. The matches were played at Prince Charles Park. The players came mainly from our village and from the surrounding settlements. We were registered under Nadi Soccer Association.
When we were playing in the Sweats Soccer Club, the Indian boys from the neighbouring settlements that joined the club felt very pleased to be playing in a village-based team. This showed that they had confidence in us. We are very happy to meet each other today although some have moved to live overseas and some have their own families. The coaches were Rusiate Waqa, Sosi Kaitani, and me. We only ever had one team. We were on the verge of setting up a junior team but then we ran out of finance. The club president was the village headman mentioned earlier.
The club lasted for about five or six years. It was a pity that the main sponsor of our club, Sheik’s Rental Car, closed down and we had difficulty finding a replacement sponsor. We were not aware and were still new in the area of soccer management. We were not prepared for what was to come. Being prepared for the worst and having emergency backing when you are down are vital ingredients for running any club. I am sure that every club has its own internal bickering and differences. However, the bottom line and platform is finance to keep a club on its feet. We did not have that. I sometimes think and feel for the club that we had formed. We would have been one of the strongest clubs in Fiji had we been able to continue. The players mostly switched back to rugby or joined other soccer clubs. There was a club from Namaka that was interested in drafting our players into their club. They approached me and I said it was very hard for me to part with the boys even though we were not a professional club. I thought this club wanted to take the cream away from our hard work. Later on I thought I did the wrong thing. I should have let the players go to play as that would have helped the sport more.
We got a few boys from our club into the Nadi team. However, they did not stay for long or stamp their mark at district level maybe because the club died. Two lessons to be learnt when you are running a club are to be very careful about finances and to always have somebody behind you who is going to move the club on after you die. He may lift it up to another level. You need to look for talent like that to be beside you. You need people with vision who will be faithful to the club. After you depart you need to know that you have someone to carry on the club and you need to be confident that he/she will find someone else to succeed him/her. Without the strong clubs the sport dies and then the talent is not discovered and is left idle. Soccer management is the only area of Fiji life that the government has shown no interest in. In the long run, for Fiji soccer to survive, it needs to attract more native Fijian supporters and players. With so many Fiji-Indians leaving the country how can Fiji soccer stop from declining even further? There should be a few village-based clubs playing in the Nadi club competition. At the moment there are no village-based clubs playing in either the Nadi or Lautoka competitions. This is to strengthen the club competitions and to extract the raw talent. The sugar-cane is harvested and so the local soccer talent should also be harvested.
|L to R: Cheetah, Epeli Kosa & Henry Dyer.|
In the sense of sporting fair play Nadi Soccer Association also did not do much to help. If they were really happy about the Fijian guys forming a club they would have come to see us and worked out ways to help. They waited for us to drown. They did not offer us a hand to escape the deep water. They possibly thought that we were too good for the other clubs and so they began to work for the other clubs. The other village-based club Tanoa had nose-dived too. There are many soccer clubs in Nadi which died for financial reasons including Airport, Union, Young Ones, and a few others. Nadi Soccer Association did not have the insight to give them amnesty periods of two years of no fee payments to keep these clubs alive nor did they give the clubs advice about what they should do. It’s a pity that there have been no village-based teams in the competition from that time up until today. We are trying our best to resurrect a Fijian-based soccer club. This is where the strength of the sport of soccer is.
I believe that financial backing from a corporate body would lift the morale of any village club and be the backbone of the club. It’s not that we were greedy or wanting to take over the Association. It is just that soccer management should be acting in the best interests of the sport instead of serving and protecting vested interests. I believe that is one of the reasons why Fiji soccer has nosedived from the time we were playing until today. Imagine that Fiji was beating Solomons 10-0 in 1983 but now our top clubs cannot beat Vanuatu’s clubs in the Oceania Champions League. It is true that time has changed and the other nearby nations have improved. Fiji is ranked #188 in the world now (as at date of writing this chapter) according to the FIFA World Rankings. I hope that we will not hit the bottom ranking. I am not aiming to speak negatively against Fiji Football Association but just to talk facts. They are thinking about making money by having these tournaments going year in year out. The downfall of our club is symptomatic of the problems of Fiji soccer management. It was right in front of their faces but they couldn’t see it. They had a life-jacket which they could have thrown out. However, FIFA, because they are such a huge organization, would not even be aware of grassroots problems like this.
The soccer body here is not working effectively at all. In Fiji Football there should be people with insight who are trying to develop the sport. The raw material we have here is too much to be left undeveloped sitting around the grog bowls back in the villages rather than making a name all around the world in Uruguay, in Chile, etc. Why is this? The insight is not there. We have not heard of any Fiji players playing in South American or English teams and making a name and a living for themselves in these countries. We are close to 100 years in Fiji soccer now with the first IDC being held as long ago as 1938. How much longer do we need to stamp our mark on the world in soccer terms? Before I die I hope I will hear of Fiji boys making their mark on soccer in South American countries. I believe this is where the depth and strength of soccer is. It would also be good if our players could make it in England or Europe.
|Henry Dyer (far right) with hardcore Nadi fans.|
The former players of Nadi Soccer Association want to form a club using the name of Nadi Legends Football Club. We are now trying to get the name registered with Fiji Football. This is being done by one of the former Fiji players John Grey (a former Fiji goalkeeper). He now works as an architect here in Nadi. It is just that we want to lift the game up while we are still alive and pass it on to the younger generation. If our club gets off the ground and starts running we would like to win our competitions. We would see that whatever I am talking about has come to pass. You can see the club competition in soccer is not very lively here in Nadi, and probably all over Fiji, as compared to 20 or 30 years ago. When you look at the rugby club competitions you can see more supporters and spectators who are more vocal and expressive in their ways of cheering as compared to the soccer district competition. One has to ask why this is. This is something which urgently needs to be addressed. There was a crowd of around 3,000-4,000 at the 2014 Fiji FACT Final in Nausori. You can see the same crowd at the Nadi club rugby knockout competition at Prince Charles Park played among the local village teams. Yet Nadi Soccer has a clubhouse under the pavilion at Prince Charles Park and yet they cannot see or comprehend this. It may be that they are blind or someone has to dream the dream for them. In our time native Fijians used to pack the stadiums for soccer games. There are villages very close to the Nausori Stadium but we did not see many villagers in attendance at the 2014 Fiji FACT competition finals in Nausori. We used to get crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 at the Nadi club competition (or a little less) when the Sweats club was playing (and Tanoa Soccer Club). The crowds have gone down significantly at both club and district soccer levels since the end of the Sweats era.
With Nadi Legends Club we just want to do the same thing again but we have learned some important lessons since the first time around. I said to the boys that we need to get the Nadi Legends Club to actually field a team rather than just being a social club so that we have something to pass on to the younger generation after we die. We will pass it on with some associated wisdom and networks so that it will be easier for the younger generation to continue with the running of the club. It’s just like doing the same thing with and for your family.
[By the former Fiji national team player Henry Dyer, as told to Dr Kieran James of University of Fiji in Nadi, 19 June and 10 July 2014.]