HE WAS one of the finest creative midfielders of the 70s.
He played alongside some quality players, including a foreigner who turned the northerners into a competitive unit.
I spoke to him yesterday and towards the end of the interview, I wanted to joke to this former Labasa football maestro that maybe the phrase 'third time lucky' should be changed to 'third time unlucky' — as in his case.
Gordon Leewai, who also represented Fiji, featured in three IDC finals and unfortunately for this gentleman, now a retired civil servant, his side came out second best on all three occasions.
In 1972, a mix-up in the penalty shoot-out by the referee meant his first appearance in an IDC final (against Rewa) ended on a sour note.
"We were disappointed because rightfully we should have won that final," Leewai recalls.
"The penalty shoot-out had just been introduced and not many, including the referees and officials, were clearly familiar with the interpretation, especially if the two teams were still tied after five kicks each.
"That's what happened with us. After the first five, both teams were still level so we went into the sixth set of kicks. We scored and Rewa missed and that's where it should have ended because that was sudden-death but the referee told us to take four more kicks each and complete the second set of five shots.
"There was a lot of anger and frustration at the end of it when Rewa won."
Leewai had earlier stunned former Suva goalkeeper, the late John Foster with a right foot curler in the semi-final. Foster was beaten and Labasa won 1-0.
That was at Suva's Buckhurst Park.
"Isa, those two are no more," says Leewai, paying tribute to goalkeepers Foster and the late Nicholas Rounds when I brought up their names.
Leewai represented Fiji at the Oceania Cup in New Zealand in 1973 with Rounds and Foster.
The same year, Leewai travelled with Labasa to Lautoka's Churchill Park.
There they avenged their '72 grand final loss with a 1-0 win over Rewa in the semi-final.
Jimmy Zoing, whose three other younger brothers Maxie, Simon and Rexie, also represented Labasa, scored the winner to take them to a showdown with the home team.
In that same tournament, Labasa stunned a very good Ba side 3-2 with Leewai standing out in that win.
However, it was disappointment again in the final as they lost 0-1 to Lautoka.
Despite that, having never featured in any IDC final since its inception in 1938, Labasa was now making the headlines.
"It was Welshman Mike Jones who turned us into a force to reckon with by his training style, pattern and combination," Leewai remembers.
"We learnt a lot from him." Jones, a Peace Corps teacher, was player/coach for Labasa.
After failing to make an impression the next four years, Leewai and company rose to the IDC final again in 1978.
"That's when Anand Sami came in," Leewai points out.
Previously, Leewai had played with Anand's other brothers Jagannath, a former politician and CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Council of Fiji, Abhilash and the late Gopal Sami.
The showdown at Churchill Park in '78 was between Labasa and Ba. Farook Janeman scored for the Men in Black but Jimmy Zoing equalised and it was penalty kicks heart-break again for Labasa after 18-year-old Robin Simmons missed the decisive spot-kick. Just when it looked that Leewai would end his career without a trophy, a breakthrough.
The 1979 Girmit soccer tournament was played at Govind Park and it was the home team and Labasa in the final.
"We were playing and Ba made a change, or few changes. After that we realised that they were playing with a man extra so the referee decided to abandon the match and a replay was called at a neutral venue," Leewai explains.
Ba protested and did not turn up for the replay and Labasa was handed the trophy.
Leewai giggles, and that slowly bursts into a laughter and I was wondering what he had recalled.
"Sadhu Prasad was our president that year and there was one Shri Ramlu," Leewai shares.
"Sadhu asked Ramlu as to what was happening and why the referee had abandoned the game. Ramlu's reply was really funny. 'Abandon nahin, game aand baand hoye gaye' he told Sadhu. I still can't forget that one. We laughed over that explanation for years."
He may have missed out on the main trophy in Fiji football, but Leewai seems to have had his share of fun playing the game that he loved best.
His son Johan represented Fiji youth, Labasa and Savusavu. Away from the round ball game, Leewai now lives a very relaxed life, helping his daughter run the Nukubati Island Resort on Vanua Levu.