Tuesday, 4 August 2015

NEW INTERVIEW: Our new interview with Semi Tabaiwalu (Ba / Fiji), by Henry Dyer, 20 June 2015.

Left to Right: Henry Dyer (Nadi Legends Club), Semi Tabaiwalu, and Kieran James (University of Fiji) @ Ba Town, 20 June 2015.
Interview with Semi Tabaiwalu (Ba and Fiji Legend) Part I
Saturday, 20 June 2015 @ Ba River and Ba Central Club
By: Henry Dyer (Nadi Legends Club) and Kieran James (University of Fiji)

Henry Dyer and Semi Tabaiwalu, 17 June 2015
Henry Dyer: How did you start soccer?

Semi Tabaiwalu: I started in the primary-school.

Henry: In what year?

Semi: In the 1960s, around 1966 perhaps. I left the primary-school and then I jumped to the club team in adult competition. The soccer club was Soweri Soccer Club. In 1973 I played for Ba Soccer District.

Henry: How old were you then?

Semi: Around 18-years-old in 1973.

Henry: How did you get into Ba Soccer?

Semi: Sashi Mahendra Singh brought me into the Ba team. He was happy with the way I played in the back-line in the club competition.

Henry: He saw the potential.

Henry: Who got into the team at that time?

Semi: Jone Nakosia and I were the youngest players selected into the squad. He passed away.

Henry: Who was in the Ba team at this time?

Semi: Esala Masi Senior; Waisea Naicovu; Ratubaka; Josateki Kurivitu; Bobby Shahadat; Vimlesh Singh; Mitieli Turaganikeli; Semi Nagata; Ramend Arjun; Tualip, Noa, Livai, Sami, and Nemani Waka (who played for Nadi and Nadroga and then came to play for Ba). 

Kieran James: When did Meli Vuilabasa, Inia Bola, and Bale Raniga start playing?

Semi and Henry at Ba Soccer section, Ba Museum
Henry: Did they come at the same time or did Bale come in after Inia?

Semi: Yes, Bale came in after Inia. Bale arrived in 1979. The others arrived in 1975-1976.

KJ: How many winning IDC teams did you play in?

Semi: Six-in-a-row.

Henry: With Joe?

Semi: Joe Tubuna started in 1976. We first won in Labasa in 1975. After that Tubuna played in 1976 and he must have played in five winning IDCs.

Henry: Who are some of the players from the six IDC wins who are still alive?

Semi: Kini Mocelutu, Vimlesh Singh, Bobby Shahadat, and I are still around and Mitieli Turaganikeli and Bale Raniga are now living in Australia.

Henry: What was the best year that you still remember?

Semi: When I scored the winning goal against Nadi, 1980. That year I was drunk. I scored the goal in the final in the IDC in Ba, 1980.

Henry [translating Semi’s words from the Nadroga dialect into English]: He says that after he scored the goal Save [Savenaca Waqa, Nadi goalkeeper] found out that he was still tipsy from the morning of the game.

Interview @ Ba River, 20 June 2015
Semi: We had an argument with Vinod Patel [Ba president] about the wages. During the morning of the final I left the camp. I put down my boots and I went to the Ba Hotel. Many Nadi fans saw me and they asked me: “Will you be playing today?” I said: “No, as we have a problem”. They were all happy. I was in the Hotel when the captain Vimlesh Singh came in with the manager Musa Daud. The coach Mr. S.M. Singh sent them to look for me. That day at 12.30pm they picked me up from the Ba Hotel, picked up my boots, and we then went to the camp. The game was due to start at 3pm.

Henry: You see how these fellows make use of us? We are the true teabags which are picked up and then when we are no use they throw us out. Did you get your wages?

Semi: They gave me the wages. S.M. Singh did not know when I left camp. He gave out the orders to get me wherever I was in Ba and bring me back to the camp at any costs. He did not know about the problem with the president, Mr. Vinod Patel, about the wages.

KJ: How did you score the goal?

Semi: From the cross-ball from Meli Vuilabasa coming from the right-flank. The kick came from the Xavier side and I scored at the town side (where the scoreboard is).

KJ: Do you remember the 1982 IDC Final versus Nadi in Nadi?

Semi: It was a tied game, yes?

Henry: Yes.

Semi: Then only the players from Ba and Nadi districts had a very close bond. The deciding kick was by Jone Junior. I went to his funeral just the other day. We said to him: “If this goes in we will win”.

Henry: Joe Tubuna got injured and was replaced.

KJ: Did you score with your kick?

Semi: Yes, I scored.

KJ: What did you think of having the final replayed in Lautoka?

Semi: We won by default.

Henry: Do you know why you won by default?

Semi: Yes, what? [Semi cups his ear pretending not to be able to hear clearly.]

[All laugh.]

Semi: They were afraid to turn up!

Henry: Did the officials tell you to turn up and play? What is your answer?

Semi: Yes, because we wanted the trophy back. [KJ Note: Suva won in 1981 to end Ba’s six-in-a-row streak which started in 1975.] It belonged to us. We thought if Nadi don’t turn up it’s their problem.

Henry: Do you know there was an agreement between the officials not to play the game?

Semi: No.

Henry: No, the Ba players did not know about it. It was an agreement between Sri V. Chetty [Nadi President] and Vinod Patel [Ba President] not to turn up.

Henry: During that match did you find that game tiring and difficult?

Semi: Yes, it was a tight game.

KJ: What players from the Nadi team did you respect the most?

Semi: Manu Pokar, Mani Naicker, Joe Lutumailagi, Marika Vuniyawayawa, Rasool, and Varo (elder brother of Savenaca Waqa).

KJ: How about from the 1982 Nadi team?

Semi: Savenaca Waqa, Rusiate Waqa, Henry Dyer, Inosi Tora, Sosiceni Kaitani, Tela Qoro, Savenaca Taga, Lepa Toro, and Bacardi (Emasi Koroi). 

Henry: Which team did you respect most in the 1982 IDC?

Semi: Only Nadi.

KJ: Who was the best team that year, Ba or Nadi?

Semi: Ba.

[All laugh.]

Henry: Do you think he will say “Nadi” regardless of whether I am here or not?

KJ: Meli said they were the same.

Henry: Who was the best goalkeeper – Bale Raniga or Savenaca Waqa?

Semi: Of those there was no difference between them. They were the class goalkeepers of Fiji then and way ahead of the others. Bale can yell from a large distance. The difference between Bale and Save was that Bale was always talking from the back and he awoke the defence. Save had the skills too but he would only wake up when the attack was at its final stages. 

KJ: How do you view the late Jone Nakosia as a stopper-back?

Semi: When the late Jone Nakosia was behind us in defence we felt secure. Just the presence of him and Bale behind us made us feel secure. 

Henry: What was one of Jone’s main tactical plays from defence?

Semi: Jone used to set play up from behind and on a 50-50 ball you would have to be careful as he could hurt you. He was massive; he was a big guy. The forwards of the opponents were afraid of coming close to Jone. This was one of the big advantages for the defence. When there was a penalty awarded we never forgot that we would place the ball on the spot and he would yell “that is my kick” and run from the back and slam it in. He was a very powerful kicker. Sometimes the goalie would yell out and say “Jone, just kick it slowly” (in Hindi). The goalkeepers would yell this as they knew that this is what the Ba team does. 

Henry: What do you think of your left-back Nemani Waka?

Semi: He was a reliable defender. He had the skills to overlap and to be the extra attacker.

Henry: Who was the centre-back?

Semi: I played centre-back.

Henry: Can you say some of the things that made the team click when you were the centre-back?

Semi: The combination of the backs, the midfielders, and me in the centre-back made the core of the Ba team successful in attack and in defence.

KJ: Similar to Alvin Singh today?

Semi: Yes, he is the type of player we want.

Henry: Who were the strikers then?

Semi: Akuila Rova was there; he had just left Xavier School. He started after Inia Bola in the team. Inia came in first then Akuila Rova left (for the USA). Inia Bola was the Number One striker. 

Henry: So the Ba team was very fortunate to have a talented combination then and mostly locals?

Semi: The talent was impressive because when someone left there was someone there to replace him.

Henry: I remember playing against Akuila Rova. After Farouk Janeman came in, Inia Bola was next. These are all big names in soccer in Fiji. Meli started before Akuila started but they played together. Straight after that Rova made a name for himself and then disappeared for the USA. The main point is that Ba was very fortunate to have an abundance of talent in that era. 

Semi: Yes, I agree.

Henry: Going back to 1985, when you had the car accident when you guys went to Tavua for a dance, on your way back you were in the back?

Semi: Yes, I was in the back with one police officer. His name was Tora.

Henry: Where was he from?

Semi: Tavualevu Village. He was stationed at Ba Police Station.

Henry: Was he drinking with you at the dance?

Semi: Yes, and he wanted a lift back with us.

Henry: On your way back from Tavua that night what happened?

Semi: Our manager was the Ba Hotel owner Ram Padarath Junior. After the drive he advised the three of us to stop back at the Tavua Hotel. Joe and I said: “No, we will go back to Ba”.

Henry: Where did you have the accident?

Semi: There is a shop at the Varavu Stretch. There is a tramline there. The driver of this cane-truck parked to buy cigarettes. He did not put his park-lights on. Before the driver got back in to start the truck he heard the sound of the utility van (with tarpaulin in the back) slamming into the tray of the cane-truck.

Henry: Then what happened at the accident?

Semi: I was conscious but I could not move for a long time. Finally I was able to get up.

[Semi: Here is the place on Ba River where we used to drink when we won. All the Nadi team would sit here.

Semi: Did you drink?

Henry: Yes, I drank.

Semi: See, these people head the ball too much!]

Semi: When I was getting myself together then the next vehicle arrive full of my Ba mates. The Ba mates took me (only Semi) to Nailaga Hospital at Nailaga Village (just coming out of Ba towards Lautoka). I told the people in the vehicle to check out Inia and Joe. Inia was taken to Lautoka Hospital.

KJ: What happened after that?

Ba River, location for interview
Semi: I was later transferred to Lautoka Hospital. Joe was taken to the mortuary directly as he had died instantly on the spot. It was painful to hear about Joe’s death. They only let me know in the hospital after the funeral. 

Henry: The funeral was a few days after the accident. We came and buried Joe at Soweri Village Cemetery.

Semi: When you [Henry and James] went up to see Inia [Tuesday 17 June 2015] there was a shop. The cemetery is up behind the shop.

Henry: When we buried Joe at the funeral I can remember that the Fiji squad that went to the South Pacific Games buried Joe, we were the pallbearers. I remember Joe’s father from Naitasari (but was living in Lautoka) was crying his heart out. He was saying: “Joe, my idol; Joe, my boy; Joe, you made me feel proud”.

Semi: When I was in hospital Joe’s father came in to visit me and Inia. 

Henry [translating Semi’s words from the Nadroga dialect into English]: He thanked them [Inia and Semi] for bringing up Joe in the Ba team. He said that without them Joe’s latent talent would not have been able to shine to the fullest. In other words, they were the core of the Ba team. Inia and Semi and the players ahead of them (the older ones) were a family by blood so these boys saw the potential in Joe and they made it happen for Joe to shine. This is what Joe’s father was trying to thank them for. He said to them: “Joe has gone his way, he has taken the lead. I plead to you two to look after your lives as there is a lot to come ahead of you”. 

Henry: You have to recommend me as a reporter!

[All laugh.] 

Semi: The Indians always pay my fare to go to New Zealand every year to coach the Ba team in the IDC there. Even my son is in NZ now. For eight years he has lived in NZ. Here in Ba the Indian people are soccer crazy.

Henry: It’s true.

Semi: Not like the Ba team now, they buy their own beers. In our time no, it was not like that. We would be sitting here at Ba River and 12 cartons would come and we do not know where they come from. In fact often it would be more than 12 cartons plus some hot stuff. 

Henry: How do you bring that spirit back? [Pause] ... Semi, I think if the old guys from your time, from the 1980s to 1990s, were in the Ba management you would bring back the spirit. That is what I can see; you guys can do it, just by sitting around the ground; just by your appearance. If one of you took up as coach then - wow. First you get there. After that everything is: Ba Toh Ba Hai. I hope that that will happen. It is for the love of soccer. We should give something back to soccer. The officials should think of a way to give the former players a chance to have a say with the structure of the game.

Semi: From 2007-2010 (four years) I was coach of Ba team and I scooped all the titles [KJ note: Ba won the Fiji FACT in 2007 and 2010, BOG each year from 2007-2009, IDC in 2007, and the national league title in 2008 and 2010.].

Henry: So that would have been one of your best soccer achievements in management.

Henry: Why did you pull out of Ba Soccer as a coach?

Semi: Because of the management.

Semi and Henry with Semi's son Apenisa Lanivia (centre)
Henry: Did they drop you as a coach?

Semi: Yes, they said my term is over. I knew already because every time I go against them I always talk straight to them about how things should go.

Henry: Who was the manager then?

Semi: David. I set the team during my time. Now the president sets the team. I said to the president: “What I want you must give to me”. Now the president sets the team not the coach. The only way they can run it that way is to replace the coach. When they asked me to come back (after my four years were over) I asked for more money. They rang me up before the Oceania Cup semi-final involving Ba in Suva. I said: “Only if a new president arrives will I come”. Now 4R Electrical has complete control over Ba Football. Rishi Kumar is the owner of 4R and the president of Ba. If Ba Football Association runs Ba again all of the business houses will come back to support. .. I wanted one thousand dollars upfront first to coach for the rest of the Oceania Champions League tournament. If I had received that I would have started talking.

Henry: They took the offer too lightly. He [Semi] was giving them a cheap deal for him to come to coach Ba but they were not able to read it.

Henry: Today I see our old friends from those days. It’s not like before. They just treat us like another person in the village, street, town, or park. But before that was not the case. You either make it or you sit back and talk about what should have been done.

KJ: What is your comment about the fact that indigenous Fijian players seem to find it harder to become coaches and officials than Fiji Indian players do?

Semi: Because us Fijian boys we are very good at heart. We work straight, we talk straight; we don’t know all these things about the economic and monetary side of playing dirty. This always enabled the Indians to run the show and we let them run the show. A good example is about our former friend and player George Koi. He was the first Fijian (apart from the Indians) to become a Vice-President of Fiji Football. This may have been in the late-1990s to the 2000s, I cannot remember exactly. In his first year he started to find about how Fiji Football was working. He found out certain detailed facts about the Association and they were worried about this guy. He was removed after three months in office [check this].

KJ: Why do we see so few indigenous Fijians at district games these days?

Semi: That is true.

Henry: Why?

Semi: Because the soccer standard is finished. They say: “We do not enjoy watching soccer anymore because it is not like in your guys’ time”. Fijians and Indians are all saying this. Everybody is always saying this. 

Henry: Why do you think people are saying this now?

Semi: Maybe because in those years back then there was togetherness with the fans, both the Indians and the Fijians. Whenever our team won we would get together and have a celebration together, the team and the fans. We would sit down here beside the Ba River. Everyone would put in a contribution to make the day happen. Those days were the highlights of my playing career. The people from all walks of life were together as one because of soccer. Today the players don’t have the interaction with the community.

Semi: The officials of soccer today are mostly in their positions for mileage or for their promotion. In the modern world that is bound to happen. But they have forgotten about what used to happen in our time when we mingled with the community and the grassroots level. And this community interaction boosted our performance.

Henry: That is the truth, man, I can feel it.

Henry: What year did you first play for Fiji?

Semi: 1975, the first World Cup qualifiers played in Fiji, versus Taiwan and Australia at Govind Park. Those were the playoffs.

KJ: Did you play against other teams?

Semi: Mexico in Suva and three games against NZ; we beat them in Suva first and then Noumea. We drew in Nadi. In 1977 Ba played against NZ Kiwis, two tests in Auckland. The first game was drawn; the second we lost 1-0. In 1978 Ba played two more tests in Auckland. The first was drawn 1-1 and the second was won by NZ 3-0.

At Ba Bus Terminal, 20 June 2015
Semi: From 1972 to the late-1970s there were challenge matches for district versus district. For example, Ba versus Rewa was for the Kavaia Trophy; Naitasari versus Ba was for the Seiko Trophy; Suva versus Ba was for the Kounda Reddy Trophy; Lautoka versus Ba was for the Edward Trophy; and Lautoka versus Nadi was for the Jimmy Ram Pratap Trophy. These were to boost the sport in Fiji before the national league and the major tournaments (except for IDC which already existed). In one year there would just be one of each of the challenge games. Most of the players now do not know about these trophies. Today all of these trophies are held by Ba except of course for the Jimmy Ram Pratap Trophy.

Henry: Do you regret anything from your time in soccer? Do you think you could have achieved anything else?

Semi: I had plenty of offers from overseas but I did not want to go. I wanted to play for Ba for all of my life. I felt good staying at home.

Henry: Do you regret not going?

Semi: No, I’m happy here at home in Ba. I did whatever was supposed to be done to gain achievements for my family and I sent my son overseas to play football and to make a future. Everything is OK for me at home looking after my grandchildren. I have been overseas and seen the life there; it is not like here at home. When I go to New Zealand the Fiji Indians say: “Stay back, we will give you everything” but I say: “No, I have to go back, life in Fiji is good”. I always tell them in NZ, James: “If you are still in Fiji you will still survive. If you can’t eat you can go to visit another house”. Cheetah married my sister. They are in Australia now. They always tell me to stay. In Fiji you can go here and there to eat and take grog. If I go to a Nadi village I can walk around there and sleep there. My life is here. When you go overseas you can’t just go and eat at any place. I say: “No, I have done my part; you go”.

Henry: What player did you respect most in your playing time?

Semi: Suva, Nadi, Ba, Lautoka and Labasa, I respected all those teams.

At Central Club, Ba, 20 June 2015
Henry: Which players?

Semi: I respected most Aisea Mocelutu; he was a classic, cool, and sensible striker.

KJ: What is your comment about Henry Dyer?

Semi: He was the best link, inside player but a dirty and rugged player. He was a sensible player. At SPG in Samoa, we had Rudi Gutendorf as the coach. Only two players had to be selected as striker and inside-striker. In that team Rudi called on me, Abdul Manaan, Savenaca Waqa, and Bale Raniga to discuss which of the two players should be dropped – Henry or Robin Simmons from Labasa. We had a meeting. Inia Bola was already in the team. Henry got the nod. This was for the final squad of 18. Rudi said to us: “You people are experienced players; who should be dropped from the team out of these two?” We decided to keep Henry because he is rugged and experienced and can distribute the ball properly and can control the game.

Henry: You can see from this decision that the Ba and Nadi players were very close on and off the field.

Semi: Yesterday I was driving past Nakavu Village; I stopped to put in petrol, and I told my wife and grandchildren: “This is Henry Dyer’s village. I used to live here; this was my area before”. I used to tell my grandchildren: “Your grandma used to get wild because I would spend a lot of time here in my playing days”; we would be caring for each other. 

Semi: When I came back from NZ in 1977, Bobby Tikaram invited me to join Nadi. It was in the Fiji Sun. S.M. Singh, the Ba coach, rang me up and said: “If you go to Nadi I will ban you for life”. Everyone in Ba got shocked by the Fiji Sun article which said: “Semi Tabaiwalu is transferring to Nadi”. Bobby from Nadi offered to look for a job for me at the airport. Ba Soccer would not release me.

Henry: You know why James? Because from what I see of Bobby Tikaram he can read and foresee a talented player. That is why he picked Semi and offered him a job even though he [Bobby] was just working at the airport. In his heart Bobby felt that this guy could fill a post in the Nadi team and make Nadi a winning combination. Semi would have been a very valuable rookie for Nadi. S.M. Singh would never release him. During his playing days, when he was with the Nadi players, he would spend time in the villages.

Semi: I lived in Namotomoto Village for three years.

KJ: Did you know Boy Reddy? 

Semi: I know him but I did not play with him as he was ahead of me. He was a former great for Nadi.

Semi: You know you Nadi guys have a lot of power from the ancestral gods. But don’t put it.

Henry: Yes, put it, James, this is the truth; the real life.
Semi Tabaiwalu (first on left) and Henry Dyer (third from left) offer a drink of Fiji Gold to the barman @ Central Club, Ba, 20 June 2015
The Central Club barman accepts the drink of Fiji Gold offered to him by Semi Tabaiwalu and Henry Dyer @ Central Club, Ba, 20 June 2015

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