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Spare a thought for Chinese footballers

Opinions / Analysis

IT was an era of Fijian footballers of Chinese descent. Who were silky, stoic and winners.

It was also good times for a show of shows, long hair, head bands and short shorts.

It all accentuated during the 60s-to late 80s parade, after all it is said to the best years in the history of the sport.

Their representation made football exciting to watch and their contributions just can’t go unnoticed.

Football Hall of Fame administrator, Bobby Tikaram saw Chinese footballers’ rise to football echelon.

“All district and national representatives were classy footballers”, he recalled.

“They were the occasion, a thrill to watch”.

Bobby said Chinese footballers may have been few in numbers but were very talented.

“Their contribution in the sport had been huge, football may have had the smallest representation but were heartily and honest”.

Bobby said Labasa, Lautoka and Suva was well represented whose footballers transcend the sport.

Labasa had a school of classy footballers, the names continue to ring to this day among the sports know how’s.

The Zoing brothers, Jimmy, Rexy, Maxie, Simon and George, Gordon and David Leewai, David, Milton and Sam John Leewa and others.

These footballers were aplomb and a delight, they were acrobatic no less.

For them fierce competition and bad luck only stood in the way of winning the prestigious football silverware, the Lloyd Farebrother, Inter District championship trophy.

A real close glimpse they had was in 72, 73 and 78 IDC, losing to Rewa 10-9, Lautoka 1-0 and Ba 7-6 in the grand finale.

The 1979 Girmit Soccer tournament on a no contest is the only spoils a handful have to their name.

In the final match Ba played 12 players and the game was abandoned.

On a neutral venue, Ba failed to show up thus Labasa won the inaugural championship.

The Leewai’s and the Zoings’ represented the national team.

Lautoka’s prides were Kee Lum, Samson Fong, Onnie Wong, Vilitate Lee, Jo Gock, Yee Kit Sue and the Lum’s, who were the thorn for the Blues domination in the 60s to mid-70s.

Sue was in the Fiji team for the first South Pacific Games in 1963 that won the Silver medal after losing 8-2 to New Caledonia in Suva.

Lum co-captained with Narayan Sami Sada to lift Lautoka’s 1973 IDC trophy on a Mohammed Janif Lalla’s header against Labasa at Churchill Park.

That was the last year a Chinese represented Lautoka football team.

“Lautoka was represented by amazing footballers who knew how to win the IDC, these footballers contributed tremendously towards the district success”, said Bobby, who is the only football historian in the country.

Jo Gock later joined Nadi for the 74’ IDC, where he starred with Micheal Wong to beat Tailevu Naitasiri 1-0 on a Prem Chand penalty kick at the Prince Charles Park. Roland Marr was the lone footballer to follow the suit in the late 80s.

Suva had their share of Chinese representation in the early years’ with Houng Lee, Jimmy Ah Koy, Maxx Fong, Jackson and Dominic Marr and Victor Koya.

George Zoing, Eddie Rubaha, David Low and Victor Lagi came in the 80s.

Koya, George and David Low went on to help Suva end Ba’s six in a row hiatus in 81, with a well-deserved 2-1 victory at the National Stadium. Jone Ratu’s double strikes send celebration frenzy in the capital City.

Ba and Tailevu /Naitasiri reportedly had single representation, Daniel Lum played goalkeeper for Ba while Basil Yakapo was a midfield. Lum being the only Chinese player from Ba to represent the national team in 1981.

Onnie Wong's move to Rewa with Vilitate from Lautoka in 1971, had them win the 1972 IDC, 10-2 in a shootout against Labasa at the Buckhurst Park in Suva.

The duo represented the national team.

While the 80s saw the best and brightest of the Chinese tenants to grace football in the country with their flare and flamboyance, Jonah Leewai, Gordon Leewai’s son made a rare appearance in the 90s for Labasa, he later went on to coach the home team, Dreketi and Savusavu.

Onnie Wong, Vilitate Lee, Jo Gock also had periods of coaching stints between 70s-80s with Rewa, Lautoka and Nadi.

Years' on the many third generations chose not to follow in their father or the grandfather’s footsteps.

Bobby’s assertion is that new generations looked to the future.

“Migration, in pursuit to greener pastures, the new generation is all about education, work and then there were those who took over the family business”.

Bobby said the Chinese community produced model athletes, whose athleticism, hard work, vision and desires had them become great footballers.

“Very disciplined, dedicated and talented, they gave their all for the districts and national team.

“Football is just one of many sports the Chinese had represented, hockey, cricket, volleyball, table tennis, squash, badminton, table tennis and basketball and they’ve earned a status”.

Whether the footballers who represented won a championship or not, they sure contributed in leaps and bound toward the success of football for which the football fraternity owes them gratitude.

Their representation was an occasion and they etched their names into history.

“These were rare breeds who have left the imprints and legacy on the sport of football”, Bobby added.

“End of an era”.

Some have relocated in overseas and others are in their localities, while a few have passed away.

Let’s spare a thought for Fijian footballers of Chinese descent.

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