I first met the Samoans at the 1999 Arafura Games in Darwin. They were a great bunch of blokes and invited me to visit Samoa after the Games. I was more than happy to do so!
This report is based on my trip to Samoa from 19-22 November 1999.
There are those in Australia who believe that footy in Samoa (and the Pacific generally) is great novelty value and represents no more than goalposts made from palm trees and coconut juice at half time.
This report firmly dispels such notions.
The potential to develop footy in Samoa is huge and the Samoa Australian Rules Football Association (SARFA) is just scraping the tip of the iceberg of what can be achieved.
Indeed, so successful has SARFA been in such a short space of time that it is recommended that Samoa be used as a model when considering efforts to further expand footy in the Pacific region.
Other codes of football are currently investing large amounts in the Pacific and are getting return for their dollar. There is no reason why Australian football cannot do the same.
Yours in Footy,
FRIDAY - 19 NOVEMBER 1999
I was dropped off at Coolangatta airport on the Gold Coast by Greg Everett, former General Manager of the British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL) and now residing in Toronto, Canada.
Got into Sydney at 12.30pm. To transfer to the international terminal, catch the green and gold (or yellow if you prefer) bus for $2.50. Had some time to kill as my Polynesian Airlines flight didn’t leave until 4.45pm. I hate sitting around airports.
The flight was pleasant enough and there was a brief stopover in Auckland. There was an article on Samoan Rugby in Polynesia, the inflight magazine of Polynesian Airlines. It would be great exposure for Samoan footy to have an article in there as well. I was also interested to learn that on November 12-13 the Samoan Sevens Rugby Tournament was held in Apia. Apparently 24 teams from around the Pacific competed.
I was surprised to run into Misa Sofara on the plane. Misa was the Team Manager of the Bulldogs in Darwin and did such a good job he was named Team Manager of the World Team. I thought he was meeting me at the airport so I was surprised when he woke me.
Also on the plane was the Prime Minister of Samoa, who also happens to be the Patron of the Samoa Australian Rules Football Association (SARFA).
Samoa is situated across the International Dateline. It consists of seven islands, the two main ones being Upolu and Savai’i. The total population is 170,000, with 50,000 living in the capital, Apia.
The plane touched down at Faleolo International Airport in Apia at the ungodly hour of 3.30am. There to meet us was Doug Trappett, Deputy High Commissioner of the Australian High Commission and younger brother of Greg Trappett, General Manager of the Northern Territory Football League. Doug used to play for the Queanbeyan Tigers in the ACTAFL and also coached their reserve grade side.
I didn’t expect Doug to be there and it was very good of him to be there so early.
We started talking footy immediately and dropped Misa off at his place before heading back to the High Commission compound, complete with gates and a security guard. Decided to stay up and kept talking footy and learnt a lot of interesting info.
Doug had to go to work so I watched some video footage of TV coverage of Samoan football, both in Australia (Channel 9, who visited in December 1998) and Samoa (TV Samoa). The exposure they have received has been fantastic.
Misa picked me up at 9am and we went to the Pacific Commercial Bank to change my Aussie dollars into Samoan Tala. The exchange rate is very good at 2:1 and prices are very cheap here.
Misa is a well known figure in Samoa and is the Managing Director of Danviselle Travel, an import/export company. His father was a Member of Parliament for 30 years and the Speaker of the House for 6.
Speaking of family, Misa’s younger brother Ata Sofara, 26, is captain of the Tanugamanono Demons.
Misa has 4 kids and he told me that’s a small family in Samoa. The average is about 6.
Misa was keen on brekkie so went to JT’s Sports Bar & Cafe in Fugalei, which is named after Junior Tonu’u, a Samoan who used to play for the All Blacks. There are lots of footy pictures hanging on the walls here, including posters of Chris Grant and Mark Bickley, as well as a St. Kilda jersey. Pride of place is reserved for the framed Western Bulldogs jersey, which sits just above a team photo of the Samoan Bulldogs.
Ape Misa Sofara is very passionate about his footy. On his answering machine you will get the following message: “Talofa (hello). You have reached the Samoan Bulldogs kennel. Woof woof.”
There are 2 types of chief in Samoa, Ape and Misa. Ape is an orator or speaking chief and Misa is a decision making or high chief. So Misa has two titles and these are in two different villages.
Misa’s main village is Fasito’o-uta, which has 2 footy teams - the Tigers and the Lions. They are the only village in SARFA to have 2 teams. They had 60 people turn up to training this year and the ground where they train is only half a rugby field. As numbers were so great Misa formed a second team, the Lions.
Like many Samoans Misa was a great athlete, representing Samoa as a prop in the colts against New Zealand and Australia (who were captained by Phil Kearns) in 1984. Unfortunately a car accident ended his rugby career.
I asked Misa how he got involved in the world’s greatest game. He had seen the game on TV and had laughed at it because he didn’t understand the rules. He played soccer with Scott Reid (the founder of SARFA) every weekend and Scott approached him in February 1998 for his help in starting footy in Samoa. Scott, Doug and John Fitzgerald had already discussed starting footy in Samoa and realised they needed local input if they were going to take it further. Misa went to a meeting and was the only local to turn up.
By the time of the inaugural meeting of SARFA in June 1998 there were a few locals, including a few business people. It was decided to stage an exhibition match in September 1998 as part of the Teuila Festival, which is a cultural and sporting festival designed to promote tourism in Samoa.
The next step was to find two teams. History repeated itself as the first ever game of footy was played between two schools in Melbourne, Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. Similarly, in Samoa it was Robert Louis Stevenson Secondary School and Leifiifi College that would compete in the first ever game.
“The Principal of Leifiifi College felt honoured that we had approached him to play in the first ever game in Samoa. Indeed, after the game he went on TV and said his school would rather play footy than rugby.”
Doug, Scott and John started training them and teaching them the basics. After two weeks of training the match was played at Apia Park (the venue for Samoan Rugby Test matches) before a crowd of 5,000. Misa commentated the game in Samoan (he had learned the rules by then) and the crowd was laughing and having a great time.
It was very successful and they had a big party at JT’s afterwards. So SARFA started approaching sponsors and secured a major sponsor in Vailima Beer ($T5000).
SARFA also initially wrote to rugby clubs to attract potential players but this doesn’t work in Samoa as you have to deal face to face. After directly approaching the clubs the response was much more enthusiastic.
The first team formed was the Fasito’o-uta Tigers, followed by the Vaiala Cats, Maagiagi Lupe (a lupe is a bird), Line Up Magpies, Apia Barracudas and SARFA Swans.
Unemployment is very high in Samoa (about 70-80%) so setting up a team was very difficult. They used Scott’s and Doug’s contacts to get jerseys and balls from Australia. As most of the players are poor SARFA’s strategy was to get jerseys and footys and tell the rugby players all they needed was the desire to play.
The inaugural Six Shooters Championship was held over 6 weeks from November 1998, with the grand final being held on the second week of December. The Cats were Premiers having only lost one game, to the Tigers.
Misa told me that the unregulated nature of the game, compared with the more technical rugby codes, was something that had won the players over. “Rugby and rugby league are more technical games where you can’t knock on and be offside, whereas with this game our boys have really been given a chance to show their flair. Most of them would prefer to play Aussie Rules now.”
Australian football has a big future in Samoa. Soccer has been played there for a while and is raising its profile here but Samoans love physical contact sports.
Rugby League was introduced into Samoa a few years ago but has had trouble surviving. Super League came and threw a lot of money around, but because of the way in which it was done Misa believes rugby league will never be heard of again.
Rugby union is No. 1 but the average Samoan is very disillusioned with the Samoan national team, Manu Samoa. At the recent World Cup only one locally based player was selected in the 30 man squad, the rest being all overseas based. As a result, when Misa talks to players he uses the angle that you have a far greater chance of representing your country playing footy than rugby.
Samoans love their sport and they also love to travel. “Within the first few weeks of starting the competition they were asking ‘when are we going on tour?’ We knew we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t go to Darwin for the Arafura Games as we had to give the players something to aspire to. And since we have been to Darwin the interest has been even greater.”
The story of the Samoa Bulldogs visit to Darwin is a great one. They had the initial meeting in June 1998 and went to Darwin in May 1999, in less than 12 months!
SARFA wrote to the Western Bulldogs in July 1998 and asked for their support, including playing uniforms as Samoa’s national colours are red, white and blue. They concentrated on the fact that they admired the way the Bulldogs had embraced the ethnic diversity of their region. The Bulldogs wrote back to SARFA in August 1998 and said they appreciated their comments, providing SARFA with jumpers, shorts, socks and footys.
They also invited them to send two players to conduct coaching clinics in Samoa. Brad Johnson and Steve Kretiuk visited in January 1999.
David Smorgon (Bulldogs President) and Paul Armstrong (General Manager, Football Operations) in particular have been very supportive.
In May 1999 the Samoan Bulldogs flew to Melbourne (5 days) where they did some fundraising amongst the local Samoan community (there are 50,000 Samoans in Australia). They also watched two AFL games (Western Bulldogs v Melbourne and Essendon v St. Kilda) and trained with the Bulldogs. Next stop was Canberra (2 days) via a bus, where they did some more fundraising and trained with the Queanbeyan Tigers. Another bus trip to Sydney (3 days), where they did some more fundraising and trained on the SCG by themselves. They also watched the Swans train and performed a good luck dance in the goalsquare for Plugger to break the goalkicking record.
They flew to Darwin (at one stage they had considered bussing it from Melbourne to Darwin!) and slept on the floor in the Wanderers club rooms (Wanderers, the Eagles, are one of the seven NTFL clubs). They felt right at home as Darwin is just like Samoa.
The playing squad was 24, 22 from Samoa and 2 from Australia - Murray Silva (Subiaco) and Penaia Te’o (Derby).
I’ll never forget their first ever game, which was against New Zealand. Half way through the Haka the Samoans challenged them with their own war dance, the Siva Tau. I had never seen anything like it and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I simply couldn’t wait for the umpire to bounce the ball and anyone who believes international footy has no future would have changed their tune after watching this game. It was simply sensational.
The media interest in the Bulldogs in Australia was huge. And during the Arafura Games Misa was being interviewed daily by Magic 98 FM in Samoa.
The Bulldogs were happy with the bronze medal. They felt they deserved silver or gold but winning the bronze on their first visit was brilliant. The response from the Samoan people was also terrific. They arrived home at 3am and TV Samoa was there. The only other team they do that for is Samoa’s national rugby team. And there were people everywhere. The players did the Siva Tau at the airport and did not get home until 7am.
Further, the Bulldogs were formally congratulated by the government.
Polynesian Airlines were the major sponsor of the trip and Fosters also provided substantial sponsorship. Invaluable assistance was also provided by Ken Reid and by the Bulldogs Australian based representative, Muliagatele Fa’atau, President of the Samoan Advisory Council in Melbourne.
In February 1999 eight schools contested a Lightning Carnival. The winners, Samoa College, were presented with the Australian High Commission trophy.
In June 1999 SARFA arranged a conference call with AFL International Co-ordinator Roger Berryman. He indicated that they only fund junior competition so SARFA decided to organise one immediately. Doug Trappett was appointed Junior Coordinator and Misa was appointed Training Coordinator.
Misa appointed 6 National Trainers, all of them Bulldogs i.e. national representatives. Misa told me that “going to Darwin changed them. Most were unemployed. Representing their country gave them self-confidence in every sense of the word. When they walk down the street they are recognised and are role models to the younger kids.”
This is a great concept. Smokefree agreed to sponsor the trainers visits to secondary schools to teach school children all about Samoa Aussie Rules and speak about the benefits of non-smoking. The trainers also talked about their visit to Australia, and some of the opportunities that might be available to promising young Samoan players if they play the game.
In Samoa the Secondary Schools Principals Association (SSPA) decide if a particular sport is played in school. Handball and volleyball had both been rejected. Misa went to a meeting and bought them a few drinks. They asked about jumpers and Misa told them they could use the rugby jumpers. Once again, the question was ‘is there a tour?’. Yes, the Jim Stynes Cup.
A committee is going to be formed, combining both people from SARFA and the SSPA to send a team to the Jim Stynes Cup in Canberra in July 2000. The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture will be approached for funding.
In August 1999 an 8 team secondary school competition kicked off, the Pepsi Schools Samoa Australian Rules Championship, with teams from Samoa College, St. Josephs College, Avele College, Leifiifi College, Maluafou College, Vaisigano Senior Secondary, Chanel College, and Robert Louis Stevenson Secondary School. There were two pools of four teams and the competition ran for 5 weeks. It was an after school competition, starting at 2pm and finishing at approximately 5pm.
Prizemoney ($T2000) and products were provided by the main sponsor, Pepsi.
It was a great success, with Samoa College defeating St. Joseph College in the Grand Final, which was well attended. The match was played as a curtain raiser to a Samoa v Tonga international schoolboys match (Rugby). Because of the crowd they thought that most of the crowd had come to watch the rugby, but after the grand final more than half of the people went home.
In September 1999 SARFA staged a well attended AFL grand final function at JT’s, which was sponsored by Vailima Beer, Telecom Cellular Samoa and Apia Quality Meats.
The 1999 senior comp kicked off with 6 teams: Fasito’o-uta Tigers (black and yellow), Fasito’o-uta Lions (yellow and black), Tanugamanono Demons (red and blue), Town Area Hawks (brown and gold), Maagiagi Lupe (green and white) and the Vaimoso Giants (red and black). There were some changes from 1998, with the SARFA Swans folding. Both the Apia Barracudas and Vaiala Cats did not enter teams as they are rugby clubs. Further, the Line Up Magpies changed their name to the Town Area Hawks.
The major sponsor, Vailima, contributes $T5000.
Prizemoney is $T1000 for the Premiers, followed by $T500 (2nd), $T400 (3rd) and $T300 (4th). Teams finishing 5th and 6th receive $T200 each.
After breakfast Misa and I we went for a drive along the main drag, Beach Road. Made a quick visit to Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, one of Samoa’s main tourist attractions. I’ll talk more about this later.
Also drove out to the 380 acre Tuana’imato Sports Complex, currently under construction and Samoa’s version of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). At a cost of $T45 million it’s going to be a very impressive facility. SARFA have been given a dedicated oval to use for Australian football, which they will share with the local cricket association.
We went back to Misa’s shop and continued talking footy. At 1pm I was interviewed by TV Samoa in their studio. They were very keen to know more about the 2002 World Cup.
Doug arrived soon after and we all went back to his place for lunch. After lunch Doug and I went to Papasee’a Sliding Rock for a much needed swim. The $T2 entry fee is quite reasonable. There’s a steep descent down some stairs to the rock itself but it’s worth it. The rock has been worn smooth over the eons and the plunge into the pool below is great fun. There’s also a lot of shade and it’s quite cool. Doug lost a necklace Robyn had given him a while ago and wore the look of a man who was about to be read his death sentence. I’d brought a pair of goggles but unfortunately we could not find it.
We sat in the water and talked footy again before I started to freeze. I had been in the water so long that going up those stairs made me feel like an old man. It was good to get back into the sun.
Doug arranged to meet some people for dinner and drinks at Le Sina’s. This is a great spot, where you can relax on a balcony overlooking Apia. When it came to my shout I was surprised (and overjoyed) to discover that beer in Samoa is extremely cheap. A stubbie of Vailima beer is $T3, which is $1.50 Aussie dollars. You’ve got to be happy with that.
Vailima beer is “brewed and bottled under German management”, although Vailima has recently been acquired by Fosters. I love the government warning on the label: “Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.” Manuia (cheers).
We all ended up having a dance and it was a great night. The bars here close at midnight and as we were leaving it was time for some quick karaoke. I had a go at singing ‘Vincent’ while Misa absolutely murdered ‘Killing me softly’. Sorry big fella but it was dog howling stuff. My ears were SARFAing.
It would be amiss of me here not to mention the fa’afafine, which roughly translates as “50/50”. Fa’afafine are basically men who have been brought up as women. They are quite accepted as part of everyday life, but if you plan on visiting Samoa and having a few beers, be careful. I don’t endorse the Paul Hogan gender test but keep your wits about you as they have been known to pray on palagi and other foreigners. Having said that, they’re not all like that, and one of them, Sandra, even plays footy.
SATURDAY - 20 NOVEMBER 1999
I got up at 8am and went down to the Flea Market with Doug and Robyn. If you’re hungry and broke you’re laughing. You can buy a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables here and it’s ridiculously cheap. It’s also not a bad place to pick up a souvenir.
I was dropped off at Vailima, the house which was built by Robert Louis Stevenson. You may remember RLS from such novels as Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From Scotland, he moved to Samoa because of ill health. He was much loved and respected by the locals, who called him “Tusitala” or “Teller of Tales”. After his death in 1894 he was buried on nearby Mt. Vaea and you can visit his grave.
The house is huge and very impressive. There’s a pretty good $T12 tour which offers an interesting insight into the last years of Stevenson’s life. It’s been open to the public as a museum since December 1994. Prior to that it was used as the official residence of the head of state.
Just as the tour finished it started to pour down. There’s nothing like a torrential downpour in the tropics! I sat on a chair on the upstairs verandah, Ganga Jang style, and tried to imagine what life must have been like in Samoa 100 years ago. No footy - I couldn’t have taken it.
Apart from a bit of rain a sensational day for footy. There were 3 games, Lions v. Tigers, Bombers v Hawks and Demons v Cats, all played at St. Josephs College in Alafua.
The field consists of two rugby fields and there is shade and shelter for spectators provided by an imposing fale, or Samoan house, which is perched above the field. All in all it’s quite a good set up.
At the outset I should mention that footy is known in Samoa as Samoa Rules. And the rules have been modified to suit Samoan conditions. Amended rules for the Samoan game were necessary as the grounds available are somewhat smaller than those in Australia. For a start, Samoa Rules teams comprise 15 players rather than 18 - 5 forwards, 5 backs and 5 “on-ballers”. A centre line is marked on the pitch and the forwards can only operate in their attacking half, the backs in their defensive half. The 5 on-ballers can go anywhere on the field. Five other players sit on the interchange bench. To encourage the kicking game, players are permitted to bounce the ball only once while running.
Fasito’o-uta Tigers 2.5 5.7 (37)
Fasito’o-uta Lions 1.4 4.4 (28)
This was an upset as the Lions had been undefeated and the Shield holders. Indeed, both teams are from the same village and there was some talk of throwing the match.
The Telecom Cellular Samoa Shield is an interesting concept. At the start of the 1999 season the Shield was awarded to the 1998 Premiers. Each week any team who plays the holder of the Shield challenges for it, and if the challenger wins they get $T60 and become the Shield holder. It doesn’t matter if you are bottom of the ladder. The loser of the Shield gets $T40. Whoever wins the Shield in the last game of the 1999 season will keep it over the off season, whether Premier or wooden spooner.
The sponsorship deal with Telecom Cellular Samoa is worth $T700, which consists of $T100 per week over seven rounds.
Spoke to Koroseta Lemalu, who had represented the Bulldogs in Darwin. I asked him about the Arafura Games and he told me that all the Bulldogs are looking forward to a rematch with New Zealand. Indeed, they regard it as similar to the rivalry between Manu Samoa and the All Blacks.
Koroseta is also the captain/coach of the Lupe O Le Soaga Saints (Maagiagi Lupe). A former rugby player, he really enjoys his footy. “Although there is less physical contact you have to be fitter to play Aussie rules. In Samoa we play all sports, which is different from Australia where you play league or footy. Most of the guys play rugby, soccer, footy and volleyball. However, people are becoming far more aware of the game.”
An interested onlooker was Bob Bell, who is based in Melbourne and looks after the Treasuries for the ANZ Bank in the Pacific. Bob actually organised a game of footy in Singapore in 1982. He came down to watch the Samoans and ended up doing some timekeeping and goal umpiring. “It’s sensational, they are as keen as mustard.”
One of Bob’s mates, Gary Ayre, is with the ANZ Bank in Tonga and is a footy fanatic. I gave Bob an extra card as it would be great to see footy expand to other nearby countries such as Tonga and Fiji. Indeed, footy has huge potential in the Pacific.
Bob was invited by Mark Burns, who is with the ANZ Bank in Samoa. He has been in Samoa for 5 and a half years all up, having worked there from 1992-1996 and returning as a local in June 1998. Mark has been involved in SARFA from the beginning and is currently the Treasurer (having someone who works at a bank as your Treasurer is pretty handy). He is from Sydney and had no involvement with footy prior to Samoa. “Being involved in footy has been great. The juniors especially has been very rewarding. And I’ve met Dermot Brereton, Brad Johnson and Steve Kretiuk - I wouldn’t get to do that back in Australia”.
I discovered yet another ANZ person involved in Samoan footy - SARFA’s very own female goal umpire, Etita. A local, I asked her about her thoughts on footy. “Australian football is new and unusual but it’s good. It looks tough. Compared to rugby there are no rules. It’s good for kids that don’t have a chance to play rugby. It’s virtually impossible for locals to play for Manu Samoa, whereas all the boys out there today are local.”
Mila Solomona is a SARFA committee member and has been involved in footy for seven months. Raised in New Zealand, he moved to Samoa at the age of 25 and has been there for 18 years. His sporting background is rugby and rugby league - his nephew, David Solomona plays for the Sydney City Roosters.
Mila and Mark Burns were involved in rugby league in Samoa and weren’t too happy with the administration. “League is not as popular as rugby and is on the decline, as a lot of people are disillusioned with their administration. Super League’s intentions were good but the accountability side of things left a lot to be desired. Super League Samoa receives $T500,000 annually, including assistance to get them to the Rugby League World Cup in 2000. The emphasis has not really been in Apia but more in the villages. Yet the talent is in Apia.
The minimum pay here is $T1.20 per hour. So for a lot of kids the only outlet is through sport. In 1998 there were more rugby than academic scholarships in Samoa. However, apart from Manua Samoa (rugby) and Tao Samoa (rugby league) there’s nothing really to aspire to. A lot of the kids are unemployed and restless and are looking for things to do. There is no dole system so there are no unemployment benefits. If you have no money you have to rely on your family.”
The second match was between the Vaimoso Giants, playing in the Essendon strip and the Town Area Hawks. A passionate Hawthorn supporter, I could not resist wagering a beer on the result with Bob, an ardent Essendon fan. It was very warm and one of the Hawks was wearing a long sleeved jumper! Maybe he’s a Michael Tuck fan.
During the match a shot for goal ended up in the ball being stuck in a coconut tree. An official time out was called while one of the PVC point posts was removed to knock the ball down! Only in Samoa.
Vaimoso Giants 2.5 2.6 (18)
Town Area Hawks 0.1 1.8 (14)
Chris Hagarty is a podiatrist from Melbourne and has been in Samoa for 4 months on a 2 year contract. Apart from boundary umpiring he has been helping out the Demons with knowledge of the rules and strategy. “Having Dermot Brereton here was great. He took the Demons for a training session and joined in as well. The blokes loved it.”
Garth Parry is based in Noumea in New Caledonia. He has been in Samoa on and off for 4 years. He has seen a few games, including the first ever at Apia Park in 1998. I asked him about his thoughts on the potential of footy in New Caledonia. “Soccer is No.1 and the locals are very poor. There is little interaction between the locals and the expat community. Most sport is done very informally and at the village level. When France won the soccer World Cup they drove around non-stop for 2 days tooting their horns. It was maddening.”
The third and final game was between the Demons and Lupe.
Tanugamanono Demons 3.2 6.5 (41)
Maagiagi Lupe 1.0 3.2 (20)
There was controversy in the second half, when a head count was called for, invoking memories of the 1999 Arafura Games (head count called for by New Zealand against the Central Desert Eagles). It was discovered the Demons had an extra player i.e. 16 in total. I was informed that as all 3 matches were preliminary finals, if Lupe protest and it is upheld the Demons will be out of the finals.
I had a really enjoyable day at the footy. The boys have yet to come to grips with many of the basic skills, especially kicking drop punts as opposed to torpedoes and kicking too close to the man on the mark. Yet their sheer enthusiasm was incredible and they will be a force in years to come. An example of how keen some of these blokes are is provided by Misimoa Fatu, who represented Samoa in Darwin. He played in the first match, goal umpired in the second match and ran the boundary in the third! Great stuff.
Umpiring duties are normally performed by members of the committee and is voluntary i.e. unpaid.
Their uniforms look very sharp and professional and are supplied by Andrew Smith from Smith Systems Computer Consultants. In return for $T2500 the Smith Systems logo is proudly displayed on the umpires polo shirts, shorts and even the goal umpire’s flags! Very impressive.
After the matches we all went to JT’s for some much needed refreshment. Had an interesting and enjoyable conversation with Roger ‘Bewick’ Lee, also known as ‘Dodgy’, who had umpired all 3 games that day. Roger Lee is a converted Kiwi from Rotorua and has been in Samoa for 7 years. He is the Manager and part-owner of A1 Refrigeration and originally came to Samoa on a 2 year contract.
He got involved with footy through his friendship with Scott Reid. “Five years ago we used to go to the premises of TV Samoa, who would take the AFL off the satellite and put it on a monitor for a group of us. We’d have a few beers and watch the footy. In 1995 we arranged to put the Carlton v Geelong grand final live to air, although it was delayed. TV Samoa charged us $T2000, which we raised through sponsorship. We did the same in 1996.
Australia TV arrived here 2 years ago and we found out that footy was going to be televised. We received the Fosters Aussie Rules highlights package hosted by Gerard Healy, which was great.
We called a public meeting to see if people were interested in forming a club to watch footy. But we got such a strong response from people who wanted to play that it just snowballed. Before we knew it we were organising a senior competition.
Scott loves his footy and was tireless in his efforts. If it wasn’t for him we would still be sitting in a bar watching the footy. Since his departure we’ve had to split up his duties amongst 3-4 people.
This year there has been no carrot in the form of an overseas trip but interest has still been high and the skill level has picked up.”
Roger also told me that a third of the All Blacks are of Samoan descent. The 100,000 Samoans living in New Zealand constitute that country’s third largest population. “New Zealanders have realised for many years that Samoans are very, very good at rugby. Why can’t they be very, very good at footy?
If you lined up a bunch of Samoans and said take your shirts off you’d think they had been working out at a gym. Yet none of them can afford to go to a gym.”
This report would not be complete without mentioning Scott Reid, the founder of footy in Samoa. It is widely acknowledged that, if not for his efforts, there would be no Australian football competition in Samoa.
Scott spent 5 years as a commercial lawyer in Samoa, the first 4 as Legal Manager at the Development Bank of Samoa and 1 year in private practise.
Scott is now in Papua New Guinea, where he has already made an impact on PNG footy. He was the coach of the Koboni Bulldogs, which recently won the National Championships in Kimbe in West New Britain. He has also been appointed Assistant Coach of the national team, which will take on New Zealand as a curtain raiser to the Western Bulldogs v Hawthorn match in Wellington on January 29, 2000.
At JT’s I was offered some sashimi, which is raw tuna (yellow fin or big eye). Bob told me that to enjoy it fully the practise is to smother it in wasabe sauce, which is Japanese horse radish mixed with soy sauce. This was a trick and I almost choked. Perhaps it was a reminder I still hadn’t bought him the beer I owed him on the Giants v Hawks match.
A big group of us went to Giordano’s restaurant for pizza, followed by a traditional show at the Hotel Kitano Tusitala. The dancing was fantastic, as were the two previous Miss South Pacifics performing in the show. Afterwards Mark, Bob and myself proceeded to the Beggars Bar, the first stop on our nightlife tour. The dancefloor here is packed, but as soon as a song is over every single person gets off. When the next song starts they all get back on again. Only in Samoa.
Otto’s Reef was a lot of fun although a lot more crowded. Kicked out at closing time (midnight) it was time to go home. After dropping Bob off at Aggie Grey’s, Mark was still thirsty and we ran into the Beach Bar for another beer. Mark’s a great bloke and I could not stop laughing at some of the stories he told me. A great night.
SUNDAY - 21 NOVEMBER 1999
Got up at 8am and drove to Palolo Deep with Doug. On the way we picked up a copy of the Samoa Observer, Samoa’s national daily. There were 2 articles on footy, which was great.
Palolo Deep is a well known tourist attraction and is a must see. It also won’t break the budget at $T2. While you’ve got the wallet out grab a pair of reef shoes ($T2) and flippers ($T4). You’ll also need a mask and snorkel, although we already had these.
The Deep is a decent walk from the shore although you can swim out if it is high tide. On this occasion however it was low tide and the shoes came in very handy. The seabed is covered with rocks and there is no way you could do it with bare feet.
The entrance to the Deep is marked by a signpost amidst a pile or rocks, where you can change into your flippers if it is low tide.
Entering the Deep is incredible. The seabed drops away to reveal another world of solitude and colour. Due to watching Jaws too many times I haven’t done much snorkeling (and seemed to have developed a liking for the taste of seawater) but it was a superb experience.
Drove back to Doug’s place via Aggie Grey’s Hotel and the Insel Fehmarn Hotel (checking out accommodation for future visits by Australian teams) to change and pick up Robyn as we were going to have a late breakfast. Ate at Le Moana, which does a good brekkie and you can purchase a copy of the current The Weekend Australian.
After brekkie we picked up Chris and drove to Lalomanu beach. A BBQ had been organised and it was an absolutely sensational day. If you’re looking for paradise you’ve found it - a sandy white beach, with turquoise blue water overlooked by the stunning backdrop of Nu’utele island.
There’s a long row of fales here, which are good to relax in and cool down. Essentially the fales are beach huts with straw mats. There are no walls so you can enjoy the cool see breeze.
They also make great accommodation. For $T30 you can spend the night, including breakfast. They provide a mattress, pillow, sheets and a mosquito net. An absolute bargain and I’m disappointed I didn’t get to spend a night here. An afternoon swim, followed by sitting around a fire on the beach, a few beers and an early morning swim before breakfast the next morning. Next time.
I spent a lot of time in the water, whether swimming, snorkeling, throwing a tennis ball or throwing a foam footy. Ended up playing a bit of touch rugby (using a Sherrin) with the locals.
The BBQ was great and I tried some traditional Samoan food such as breadfruit, taro and palusami. Breadfruit (ulu) is a bit bland on its own and is normally eaten with palusami, which consists of taro leaves and coconut cream wrapped in banana and breadfruit leaves.
Got back to Apia absolutely buggered and in need of a quiet night. We ordered some pasta and watched a video.
I stayed up and worked on this report before boarding my flight at 6am. Had a 30 minute stopover in Tonga on the way home, which was unfortunately not long enough to introduce footy there.
The media coverage during the week was excellent. I was interviewed by TV Samoa and the story they ran showed footage of the interview along with Dermot Brereton taking one of the teams for a coaching session.
Coverage in the Samoa Observer was also excellent, with four articles being run. A big thanks to Tuifaasisina Peter Rees, the Sports Editor. The articles were:
Aussie legend pays a visit
SARFA prepares for vice president Brian Clarke
Aussie rules official impressed
It was a great week for footy in Samoa as Dermott Brereton was in town. Although on a surfing holiday (Tony Modra had been in town for the same reason a week earlier) he was kind enough to conduct a training session of the Tanugamanono Demons.
Brereton already had some knowledge of Samoan footy, having interviewed Misa on his radio show in Melbourne in February 1999.
From Ireland to island
By Jason Frenkel
Friday, November 19, 1999
Fresh from his first stint as coach of Australia in the international rules series against Ireland, Dermott Brereton added to his global football resume by helping a Samoan club with training this week.
Brereton spent more than two hours putting the Tanuagamanono Demons through their paces during a week-long visit to the South Pacific island.
The Demons are third on the Samoan Australian Rules Football Association ladder, and certain to benefit from a session with the man tipped by many to have the best coaching credentials in the game.
“The balls were flat as tacks, there was an uncovered cricket pitch, and even a tomb in the middle of the ground,” according to Doug Trappett, vice-president of the SARFA and a secretary with the Australian High Commission in Samoa.
“There’s not a lot of space and I dare say that if he had launched into a drop punt he would have kicked it the length of the training track,” Trappett said.
Brereton made news this week after leaving Channel Nine and The Footy Show to join rival Channel Seven and a new program called The Game.
Few personalities in football can match the public profile of Brereton, but it seems Dermie was smart enough to plan his trip to coincide with the fuss caused by his defection. Not that he was able to escape attention.
Local media got word of his visit and newspaper reporters and television crews were dispatched to cover the “Aussie rules legend in town”.
The five-time premiership player opted for a surfing holiday in Samoa this year after ruling out favored destination, Bali, because of the unrest surrounding East Timor.
The Demons trained enthusiastically under the former Hawk and listened to him talk about the globalisation of the game.
Samoa sent a national team to Darwin this year for the Arafura Games and finished third. The small island has a thriving football competition and junior programs to assist in the development of the game. An under-16 team will fly to Canberra in July to take part in the Jim Stynes International Youth Championships.
You have to be aware of cultural differences in Samoa. Having people such as Misa involved has been invaluable. Indeed, without local input the sport would probably not have got off the ground.
An example of this is a story Doug told me. An official at a church school advised that the school would not be teaching Australian football, just rugby and a few other sports. When Misa was told this he said ‘this is not good. I will talk to this man.’ Apparently Misa is a deacon of this church and his father is an archdeacon. Needless to say footy was added to the curriculum.
The SARFA executive consists of 10 people, 6 expats and 4 locals. They are Uifagasa Dr. Aisoli Vaai (President), Doug Trappett (Vice President), Rod Creed (Secretary), Mark Burns (Treasurer), John Fitzgerald, Mila Somona, Misa Sofara, Roger Lee and Tamasone Esera.
SPORT IN SAMOA
Sport forms a vital part of everyday life in Samoa, in every village in the land.
Before the recent World Cup Samoa’s national rugby team was ranked 5th in the world and many Samoans regularly make up the famous ‘All Blacks’. Samoans sportspeople are at the pinnacle of their sport in boxing (David Tua), athletics (Beatrice Faamuina - world champion, discus) and American football (Jesse Sapolu and Junior Seau).
The sporting prowess of Samoans is a fact not lost on other sports.
FIFA have put up $500,000 over the next 3 years to develop the game in Samoa. They have a full time office, a paid Development Officer, two vehicles etc. Further, they host fully funded Regional Competitions in Samoa.
Over the past 4 years more than $400,00 from the International Rugby League Federation has been spent in the development of the game in Samoa, including a fully funded trip to the World Cup in the UK.
$300,00 in 1999 alone was spent on the development of the sport in Samoa and on attendance at the World Cup and lead up competitions, all funded by the International Body. It is worth noting that rugby, as popular in Samoa as it is, does not have a junior development program.
A new sport to Samoa. In 1998 Samoan hockey received a grant via the International Olympic Committee of $100,000 for equipment and development.
I fully concur with comments made by Scott Reid. “If the AFL are serious about developing our game internationally they must be aware of what other sports do to win hearts and minds. With a $92 million revenue base, the AFL must be able to come up with better than a couple of dozen footballs. If not, local players will participate in sports where the parent body truly supports development.”
Unfortunately, and like many other developing nations, sports administration in Samoa is marred by nepotism, cronyism and corruption. As a result SARFA has had difficulties in its dealings with the Samoa Sports Federation (SSF). Indeed, it is rumoured that the SSF is bankrupt and on the verge of collapse. How this will impact on SARFA is not clear at this stage.
The Prime Minister of Samoa, The Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is the Patron of SARFA. At the opening of the Vailima Sixshooters Championship on 21 November 1998, he said: “Samoa Rules is Samoa’s own version of Australian Rules Football. Samoa Rules is therefore a creation from the cooperation and sharing of culture and ideas between Samoa and Australia. The sport could be seen as a bridge between our two nations and cultures. A bridge which will lead to a road of opportunity for strengthened sporting and cultural links between Samoa and Australia.”
In a letter of support for SARFA’s bid to take a team to the Arafura Games, the Prime Minister stated: “Unfortunately opportunities for this small island nation’s very talented sportsmen and sportswomen have been limited. My Government and I are pleased to support any initiative that would help expand those opportunities. I am of the view that the exciting and increasingly popular sport of Australian Rules Football could provide yet another career opportunity for our young sportspeople.”
Despite this the Samoan government did not give SARFA one cent towards Arafura, despite a long standing government policy of providing financial assistance to any national team that departs Samoa.
Indeed it was only recently that SARFA received $T2000. The Samoa Soccer Association received $T5000.
SARFA is a member of the Samoa Sports Federation and has been invited by the Samoa National Olympic Committee to nominate a representative in the Olympic Torch Relay.
The Western Bulldogs, Collingwood, Geelong, Richmond, Queanbeyan (ACT) and Brighton (SA) clubs have all provided jumpers. The North Ballarat Roosters have also provided assistance.
North Ballarat and Queanbeyan have also shown interest in recruiting Samoan players. Obviously having international players playing in Australia is a great way to lift the standard of the local competition. Players from Papua New Guinea have been playing in the Cairns competition for many years and the Danish Australian Football League (DAFL) have a scholarship program in place with Powerhouse in the VAFA. On returning to their respective countries the Danish and PNG players have been able to play at a higher standard. More importantly, however, they have been able to pass on their knowledge and experience to others.
It would be great for Samoan footy if they could arrange a scholarship scheme with an Australian club, similar to DAFL’s arrangement with Powerhouse. Indeed, it is recommended that all countries, utilising their contacts with Australian clubs, adopt the DAFL scholarship program.
Further, it is submitted that serious consideration be given to including international players on AFL team lists. As Australia’s High Commissioner to Samoa, Paul O’Callaghan, has stated: “The introduction of Australian Rules will result over time in opportunities for Samoan players to enter Australia’s lucrative professional game.”
As I understand it, currently two players can be included on an AFL team’s playing list without affecting the salary cap, but they have to go into the draft and be included on the rookie list. It is proposed that the AFL investigate the feasibility of allowing AFL teams to add an extra player to their roster, such player to be designated an “international player”.
To qualify, international players must have played their first footy outside Australia and hold citizenship other than Australian.
Having 16 international players in the competition would be invaluable promotion for the AFL. Further, it would give such players, especially those from poor countries, a real incentive, as exists with other sports. For example, many Samoans have represented the All Blacks.
To detractors of this concept Irishman Jim Stynes has won the AFL’s highest accolade, the Brownlow Medal, and American Dwayne Armstrong played for Essendon (reserves) in 1997. And Kinnear Beatson and Shane O’Sullivan, Recruiting Managers from Brisbane and Carlton respectively, were interested onlookers at the Arafura Games.
Finally, it is submitted that another invaluable promotional opportunity exists in the near future, with the Western Bulldogs playing Hawthorn in Wellington, New Zealand, on January 29 2000. Having two Samoan players train with the Bulldogs in Wellington would not only be great publicity, it would be a huge boost to the code in Samoa.
The AFL initially provided 6 footballs, followed by 20 footballs, coaching manuals and rule books. In 1999 they sent over 5 sets of senior jerseys (each set containing 25 jerseys): Tigers, Bombers, Hawks, Demons and Blues and 10 footballs.
SARFA put in a funding submission to the AFL in July for $58,000. Three separate areas were addressed: Junior development, Senior Competition and Promotions.
Wages for national trainers: A team of 8 Samoa Bulldogs players to visit primary and secondary schools. Wage of $4 per hour at 3 hrs per day 5 days per week.
8 x 4 x 3 x 5 x 48 weeks = $23,040
‘Prizemoney’ for schools championships plus lightning carnival:
Lightning carnival - February 2000 $ 2,000
Schools competition $ 5,000
Administration - including transport for trainers, phones, faxes, stationary etc. $ 3,000
Jumpers - all 8 teams are presently playing in school rugby tops (one school pulled out of our competition because it didn’t even have them). We would dearly like to supply Aussie Rules jumpers for them. $ 5,000
Prizemoney: SARFA has already obtained the (in-principle) agreement of a local sponsor to provide $2,000 toward the competition. $7,500
Administration: (including umpire wages, ground maintenance, phone and fax charges, stationary). $5,000
Advertising on print and electronic media. $4,000
They have been advised by Roger Berryman that he has recommended a grant of $15,000. Based on what I have observed it is recommended that, at the very least, this grant should be approved.
My time is Samoa was all too short and I’ll definitely be back. It’s a great country and well worth visiting.
Many thanks to Polynesian Airlines for providing the airfare, especially Richard Gates, Jamie Strickland and Mozelle. A big thank you also to Doug and Robyn Trappett for putting me up at the Australian High Commission. Fa’afetai (thank you) also to Misa Sofara, Roger Lee, Mark Burns and to everybody else I met in Samoa.
Everyone involved with SARFA is to be congratulated on their achievements to date. Superbly organised, SARFA is the Denmark of the Pacific. I have no doubts whatsoever that they will continue to go from strength to strength.
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