Monday, 29 September 2014

FOOTBALL HISTORY: Nadi 1, Labasa 0, in Labasa (late-1980s or early-1990s), Henry Dyer remembers

Henry Dyer (left) & Emasi Koroi ("Bacardi") in recent years
Henry Dyer remembers
Playing away in Labasa
By Henry Dyer
Playing in Labasa was always something to look forward to. It was good to get out of Viti Levu and go and set foot on the Vanua Levu soil. This had been a dream always from childhood to get to Vanua Levu as if it was going to New Zealand or Australia. So going to play for the district at premier level it showed that you had gained what you set out to achieve in life and in soccer. Any team from Viti Levu would have this same kind of relaxed attitude. The same applies vice-versa when Labasa comes to Viti Levu.
I can’t remember which exact year. However, I think this match was in the late-1980s or early-1990s. On the eve of the match against Labasa we were going for a walk from the house we were staying down to the town-centre. This was about a ten-minute walk. Meeting people from Labasa, walking the streets we had not walked before, and listening to the Vanua Levu dialect was interesting and joyful for us to experience. This would have been my tenth time to play in Labasa. While walking the streets of Labasa some of the Labasa supporters noticed some of our senior players (such as Rusiate Waqa and Savenaca Taga) and invited them for the night out to show them around. The players wanted to go out for the night with the Labasa supporters. However, we were hesitant when we thought of the game on the next day so we were double-minded. A deal was stuck that we could not go out with them but they could buy us some beers for us to drink outside our camp. However, we did not realize that these supporters and officials wanted us to get drunk and to be incapable and out-of-form on the next day. We were thankful that the Labasa supporters came to visit us in the Vanua Levu custom and spirit. They wanted to warmly welcome us as the visitors but possibly they had two purposes. We cannot say that they wanted to get us drunk as it was a welcome. The responsibility was on us to think carefully and be smart. As the hours rolled on during the night until the early hours of the morning we had consumed around four or five cartons of beer. There was only around seven of us. It was not the whole team but I was there.
Our coach, Mani Naicker, was the national coach. He gathered his luggage and told the captain that he had nothing to do with the team now and that everything to do with the team from then until the game at 1pm the next day was totally out of his hands and not his responsibility. However, Mani came in a professional manner and spoke in a professional manner to the boys. He realized that nothing could be done now and only the players could redeem the situation out on the field. The boys felt for the coach because of how he faced the situation and how he talked to the boys. He did not panic or show anger. He kept all of his emotions to himself in a professional manner.
We had some food before going to sleep in the early hours of the morning. At about 11.30am on the next morning we were awoken to have breakfast and shower to freshen up. When we woke up to have breakfast and shower we had realized that everything was like a bad dream which had now disappeared only to be replaced by reality. After freshening up I realized that I had made a major mistake and it would not be easy to overcome. I was not sure about how the other players would perform in the Labasa heat. I think the other players would have been feeling the same way not knowing how the others would perform. However, amongst ourselves, we were encouraging each other to be strong at heart and to do whatever it took to perform well and not to give in easily. We were known for these characteristics during this era. As mentioned previously, I think this match was in the late-1980s or early-1990s. While walking around our camp, gathering our sports gear getting ready to go down to the park, I could feel that I was not as fit and mentally prepared as I usually would be. Half of my strength had disappeared from the long night and the consumption of beer. While walking down to Subrail Park, which is about 500 metres away from our camp, I could feel the tiredness creeping into my body. I was wondering to myself what I would be able to do now to get through the match and not disgrace the team and the Nadi Soccer Association. Only we players, the coach, and the Lord above knew what thoughts were running around inside our heads. While walking down to the park we were still encouraging each other to perform how we usually would. We were reminding ourselves to face tight situations in the manner in which we had done in the past. There were still some of us who were tipsy or under the influence. The players who had not joined us the night before gelled in with us and did not blame us because we were the core of the team. I’m sure this event gave those innocent boys a scare as they were newcomers. They were not familiar with facing such situations unlike the senior core of experienced players.
Subrail Park Labasa
While entering Subrail Park we could feel the warm welcome from the fans as we were one of the champion soccer teams of this era. We could hear the fans and supporters mentioning the names of the Nadi players in respectful tones. They were very impressed to see the star players of Nadi and Fiji there in the flesh in their own home stadium. However, little did they know that we were still suffering the adverse effects from the previous night’s alcohol consumption. We were trying to recover our brains after coming down to earth again. The crowd was around 1,000 to 1,500 people. Subrail Park at that time just had ropes around the playing arena. The distance between the ropes and the sidelines of the pitch was only about two steps. We could almost hear whatever they were saying behind us or in front of us. We were playing with so many things on our minds, not only the cheering but we could hear every individual comment which was made in the crowd. Hearing these things made us snap out of our relaxed mood. It was like psyching up a player to perform. When a person is provoked he snaps back at you.
While warming up before the game, towards the river-side end of the park, there was this gentleman from Namotomoto Village in Nadi. We all called him Wadi Tom. He was Inosi Tora’s (our centre-back) dad. He just happened to appear at the 11th hour of our walking on to the field because he was visiting his wife’s family in Labasa. He had not travelled with the team. This gentleman had played for the Nadi rugby team and he had experience of playing away from home. He gave us some words of encouragement. He asked us if he could have a word with the boys after we had finished warming up and the boys agreed. We did not want him to smell the liquor on us. We all had realized that here was a true Nadi man here with us. We respected him for being at the ground. After warming up he said: “Wherever you are from, maybe from Tailevu or Nadroga or Indian or Vanua Levu, today is an important day because you are the ambassadors for Nadi here in Labasa. You are ambassadors for your family and for your supporters and fans and when you leave from the shores of Vanua Levu you will be the victors and you will go back with victory”. Just his presence and his belief in us gave the boys a boost in spirit. So quietly we told each other that we had to prove ourselves today and not let our supporters and fans down as well as that old man who was there that day at the park.
At the beginning of the game Labasa tried in vain to penetrate our defence. We could hear them saying that it won’t be long before we give in because of the heat. However, to their surprise, we scored in the last quarter of the first-half. This really created doubt amongst the Labasa team as they had given their all in the first three-quarters of the first-half.
Subrail Park Labasa
In the second-half, we controlled much of the play and at times it was clear that the Labasa team had become discouraged and frustrated. It was our experience as a team that took us through to the last quarter of the game. By then we had taken control of the game. They had thought that we would not play well because we were drunk. They had been told about the previous night’s events by the supporters and officials. While playing their minds were not fully on the game. They had been surprised that our playing performance was not consistent with what the supporters had told them. On the way to the Labasa Airport the Labasa soccer fans followed us down to the airport and bought us some beers. They mentioned in a joking manner: “We bought you some beers, you beat us and we are still buying you beers? How can this work?” We said to them: “No, this is what you want”.
In this match, the relaxed and professional attitude of the coach Mani Naicker (with no panic but trust) assisted us in maintaining a positive mutual approach to the game. Secondly, the old man from Namotomoto Wadi Tom’s words of encouragement acted as a strong motivator for the boys and boosted our performance. Therefore, in sports, a lot of small things can work together to influence the result and the performance of each individual and team. The drinking incident clearly should not have happened. I ask our fans and supporters to forgive us for the events of that trip. This should never happen again.
Labasa town
A team should arrive a day before the match in order to get accustomed to the new environment and to get a full day’s rest. On that occasion we arrived in Labasa about 6pm on the eve of the match. Word got back to Nadi because of our performance. There was a big welcome for us at the Nadi Airport. We were greeted as if we had won the South Pacific Games. We were greeted with garlands by the President of Nadi Soccer Association, Sri V. Chetty, and his family and fans. Because we had won that game we were the winners of the national league title.
The players of tomorrow should keep away from these types of temptations and always have strong willpower to make decisions. The opportunities to succeed in soccer overseas are greater now than they were then. One of the major downfalls of a sportsman in Fiji is the consumption of beer. This can be because of the customary ties and the traditional expectations. When you meet up with your family after a long time you cannot pull out of a celebration even though you have a training session scheduled for the next day. Another reason these events continue is that we are not professionally paid yet. However, some athletes have the willpower to keep away from late nights and the consumption of liquor and luckily they may secure a professional contract. All in all, liquor and long nights with less sleep are not good for an athlete’s body and would not allow you to attain and retain maximum physical condition.
L to R: Cheetah, Epeli Kosa & Henry Dyer @ Fiji training, Suva
It is always important to be very simple and down-to-earth, with a good and humble attitude, if you have become a well-known athlete in the public eye. It is very easy to think you are someone extra special without realizing that you can crush down to earth in a very short space of time. My advice is if you are training and you have made a living through any sport it is wise to always remember how you climbed the ladder to reach what you have achieved. Do not forget that training is the main determinant of your performance. Do not be surprised that your achievement may slip out of your hands if you do not remember the importance of training and a professional attitude and a humble state of mind. One of the necessary qualities is to listen to and to respect what you have been told so that you can achieve your goals as an athlete. I believe that any sportsman who keeps these qualities and values would benefit and agree that he has made the right decision in rejecting temptations and hindrances. One of the personal training points is to train on your own so as to test your own endurance. You should push the yards when your body tells you that you cannot take it but your mind presses you to go on. This makes you a stronger athlete. When I’m saying to push the yards, I mean to push your body until your soul or your spirit says that you cannot take it anymore. Now you would be mentally satisfied that you have personally achieved without a trainer behind you or someone pushing you other than your own spirit or soul. I believe that Mike Tyson and Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) had the same attitude, before getting professional trainers and these attitudes allowed them to become world champions. I learned over the years while training in a team that every individual has a strength and weakness. It was always good to have strengths in all the areas I have already mentioned.
Some mates of mine were very talented in many cases. A lot of my friends could not make it because it seems that they did not do their personal individual training (mentally, spiritually, and physically). I wish that my friends had done this training. This would have made life much better for them in sports. As I mentioned, other factors were that we were not professionals and there were always customary and traditional ties and obligations. I was unfortunate not to strike up a contract with an overseas club. That was an era when communications were not so rapid or global as they are today and opportunities were fewer.

[By the former Fiji national team player Henry Dyer, as told to Dr Kieran James of University of Fiji in Nadi, 19 September 2014.]
Emasi Koroi "Bacardi" (left) and Peter Dean at the Nadi Soccer Alumni's 2013 Sportsone Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nadi. Photo: ASUAD ALI

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