Still kicking at 67

A former Fiji resident has been bestowed a high sporting honour in New Zealand.

Lawrence Rajalingam was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the New Zealand Christian Football Association (NZCFA) which was formed 26 years ago.

He joined a local Auckland soccer club “Cavaliers” in 1997 which is affiliated to the New Zealand Christian Football Association (NZCFA).

And after playing the first game, the manager of the team asked him to take full responsibility of not only managing the team but continue playing, which Larry, as he is fondly called by his mates, still does and enjoying every bit of it.

“I was inducted into NZCFA’s Hall of Fame of which I am very proud of.

“This was in recognition of my continued active participation, good conduct and the respect which I hold for the NZCFA along with my years of experience and contribution as a player of my age.

“Currently I play in the left strike/wing position which I find very stimulating,” he continued.

“The Cavaliers is in the Super League, one below the Premier Division and whilst playing two years ago, I scored a hat-trick which was a great thriller for me and the team.

“The 3 goals scored resulted in a drawn match against a powerful side called Kiwi Men’s made up of big Polynesian boys.”

Larry was named man of the match after that gruesome encounter.

Last year Cavaliers won the Super League Championship.

“Recently, the team played the 3rd and 4th play-offs, under heavy ground conditions, wet and soggy.

“Both sides had 9 players each to contest the full 90 minutes and at the end of the final whistle, we were locked at 6 goals each,” he said.

In order to decide the winner, they had to revert to the dreadful penalty shoot-out, which ended in favour of the Cavaliers by 5 goals to 3.

Larry, who played the full 90 minutes, took the last kick for his team to put the icing on the cake.

“I scored two goals, the first one was through an indirect free kick about 25 yards away and had no mercy on the goalkeeper and did the same for the penalty shoot- out.”

“My love and passion for soccer began from my tiny-tot days at St. Columba’s Primary School in Toorak in 1953 and I am so proud that I am still able to play at the age of 67 and enjoying every bit of the game to the fullest.

“I am a Soccerholic and not an alcoholic.

“Following the first military coup in 1987 I moved to Auckland with my family for greener pastures and after settling down, I got hold of some Fiji boys and resumed playing in a small way in a new country,” he said.

Back in the days when in Fiji at the St. Columba’s Football Club, he became involved with the Under-14 Junior League competition which was introduced by the late Rev Br Bertrand which affiliated to the Suva Soccer Association.

Hereafter, with an increasing interest in the game he was given the opportunity to play in the Junior grade and later in Intermediate and Reserve grades which he welcomed.

Because of the very stiff and tough competition among the senior players, the chances of him playing in the Senior Division were very slim, so he moved over for a few years, to the Central Tamavua and later the High School soccer clubs.

He played in the Senior Division and eventually returning to play for Marist/St. Columba’s when the merger of the two clubs took place in the early to mid seventies.

“In 1964, at the age of 17, I was selected to play for the Suva Colts.

“I continued in this level which also included the Suva B team.

“At my peak, four years later, my aspirations and expectation to be part of the Suva A team to the IDC in Ba later that year turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment.

“Because of the strong competition among the players, I was not being successful in making it into the first eleven but was included in the squad of 21,” the 67-year-old said.

“Naturally disappointed and to make matters worse, Suva got beaten so badly by Lautoka 7 – 1.

“Suva’s lone goal scored by John Krishna (Chotka), which no doubt kicked us out of the tournament.

“Those named in the team were Mike Joseph, Vijay Mani, John Krishna (Chotka), Pio Cavuilati, Kuar Pal Singh, Farid Khan, George Koi and Krishna Chetty.

“I found consolation however in receiving end with an acknowledgement from coach William Nyholt, who mentioned that I was the most outstanding and disciplined squad member who did not miss a training session,” he said

“This, what qualified me to be an IDC representative squad member for the Suva team.

“My record will never equal the senior veterans like my guru (mentor) Yusuf Ibrahim, Mike Joseph, Vince Lal, John Lal, Shri Ramlu, G Mani, Bala Krishna and a few others, but I am very happy to be where I am and the soccer knowledge that I possess.

“Whilst playing for the St.Columba’s my club with Suva the district team I was playing in, I would like to mention, that I have always admired and appreciated the Lautoka team especially, with players such as Chandra Bhan Singh, Augustine Thoman, Hakim Dean, Babu Krishna, Munsami Chetty and others.

“They played a very high level and standard of soccer.

“All of them have unfortunately passed on,” Rajalingam said.

Larry initiated and was instrumental in organising the first reunion of the St. Columba’s Football Club held in Suva on October 2010.

This event was attended by some of the 40 and about 20 former members of the club from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. The 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee of the Club was celebrated two years later with a similar number attending.