OVER the years many talented footballers have warmed the hearts of fans.
One such player in the 80s was Ivor Evans — a wing-wizard and cunning midfielder with exceptional dribbling skills that enabled him to beat four-five players with ease.
He grew up in Nacula, Labasa and was the lone overseas-based player in the 1988 national team that stunned Australian Socceroos 1-0 during a World Cup qualifier in Nadi.
Earlier the national team had beaten New Zealand in a friendly series.
"It was a hot day. But the players that were on the field that day were really pumped up to beat Australia. The players had the heart and the will to win. But the same team went to Australia for the return leg and we got thumped," he recalled during a recent visit to Fiji.
Evans first came into the limelight when he made the Fiji Under-20 team for the World Youth Championship in 1984 playing alongside Ravuama Madigi, Akuila Rova and Epeli Rokoqica.
He played for Labasa before making the switch to Ba helping the westerners win the 1986 IDC in Nausori.
A year later, he was in Canada playing professional football with the Vancouver 86ers club.
After serving the club for 10 consecutive seasons, Evans was given an honorary retirement.
"My life in Canada is great. I can't complain. Coming from a farm in Labasa to where I am right now, I'm really happy with myself," he said.
I'm glad I left and sometimes I miss Fiji. For me to come back and people to still remember me, it's always nice. Imagine if I stayed for 10 years to see what would have happened, maybe soccer would have been better, I would have helped out."
The 1984 team was late national team coach Billy Singh's baby.
The squad became a part of the Ba businessman's family and years of investment, and hard work paid off with the memorable win over the Socceroos.
Evans joined Ba in 1986.
"I was always home and every time me and Epeli (Rokoqica) were out in town. One day my mum got feedback and said I didn't do anything at home. I said okay mum if that's the case with you? I picked up the phone, called Billy and said do you want me to come to Ba. He said yes. I told my mum I'm going and she started crying again. I said stop complaining now that I'm leaving to make money.
"I think that was the best thing that ever happened to me? going to Ba, playing for them, getting the chance to go overseas and trying out with the teams."
A local businessman Pradeep Singh promised to take Evans to Canada, USA and Mexico if he helped Ba win the 86 IDC.
"We won and he did," Evans said.
"I had scored in the semi-final against Lautoka and Madigi scored in the final against Nadroga. Before the 1987 coup I was out of Fiji. It was a totally different experience in Canada. I went there in April and it was freezing. I didn't click at the first practice match but the following week there was a tournament. I played two games and Vancouver 86ers signed me before any other team could. I was the best player of the tournament. It was great club and I had the time of my life there." The skills and footwork that made him so famous was a result of sheer hard work and passion for the game.
"It just came because of me going to the soccer field everyday," he said.
"I was always in the ground playing with the older guys. This is when Anand Sami and Zoing brothers were playing. I started when I was 10-12 and when I knew I could be something, I started running every single day.
"This is my advice to kids? if you can run everyday because soccer is fitness. I had the talent but when you got tired, I beat you because I was fit. People didn't realise it. I always tell the kids, if you're fit and fitter than the next guy, you can go by him 20 times because you're fit and the other guy is tired already. I didn't put myself as that good but I think I was fitter than everybody else."
The challenges he faced in Canada apart from the cold was the switch to becoming a team player and complete footballer.
"Here I could do things on my own, beat three-four guys. I could do the same there but I had to learn to sometimes dish out passes quickly. Eventually they made me a complete player."
In 1990, Evans played for Canadian All Stars against Italian giants AC Milan which had famous players like Frank Rijkard, Marco Van Basten, Franco Baresi and Walter Zenga.
"You will be surprised with the fitness levels they had. If I was fit they were fitter. When you look on TV, it seems easy but when you play against them, you feel the difference."
In 1991, he came for a holiday and had a six-month spell with Nadi.
Anand Sami (Labasa), Billy and Vimlesh (Billay's brother) were the coaches that guided him.
"Billy is like a dad. Anything you want he will give you but he will expect you to try hard for it. He treated players like his sons. He gave players money not from Fiji FA but from his own pocket. Dinner and drinks were always at his house. He never let us spend money from our own pocket and we miss that part.
"He was like a father. You want your kids to do well in life and same was with him."
Evans hopes to coach the national team in future and feels player development in Fiji should start early.
He said Fiji FA need to target players aged 15-16.
"I think Dr Sahu Khan should clean up the house. If he wants to be there, I don't have a problem but he should bring in new people for new ideas. As a coach, all you want is a committed and well developed set of players. You can't expect a national team coach to be developing players.
"I have been talking to people, seen DVDs of our tournaments and we need to first get the development aspect right. Teach our players about ball possession, the need to keep the ball and not kick it away."
So I think we should really shuffle something up and go to the grassroots and start all over again before it's too late," He said.