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), 1/10/2015, by Henry Dyer,K.James

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 one 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