I ONCE asked top former Fiji football rep Taito Bula as to how he juggled his social life and the game. This because I often saw this man from Nailaga Village either tipsy or dead drunk, be it in Ba, Lautoka or Suva.
You could hardly find him sober, like some other Ba reps of the 90s.
He loved his drinks, mostly beer, but come game time Bula was the hardest working player on the field for the Men in Black.
"Beer time is beer time, soccer time is soccer time," he had said with a smile.
Striker Bula was a happy-go-lucky guy with good personality and always available for an interview.
On-field, he was the aggressor, the creator and many times, the destroyer. He stood out for his high workrate like right-back Jope Namawa.
Playing on the right side of defence, Namawa, known for his famous number 14 jumper, was one of the finest overlapping wing backs, as right and left backs are now known in modern football.
He was like Labasa's Taniela Tuilevuka — up and down on the right flank with tons of energy to burn.
Namawa left for England and I believe is still with the British Army while Bula I have been told is like a Suva-Lautoka express making his rounds between Fiji and Australia — the same old charismatic Bula, who loved giving his interviews in Hindi.
Bula and the Ba team of 90s, though not as good as the six-year-in-a-row Class of the 70s, were still a stylish bunch.
There was Seventh-day Adventist and now US-based Akuila Rova, who was visiting friends and families in Fiji recently, power shooter Ravuama Madigi, lefty Meli Delai, the solid Shiu Sami and his set-piece specialist brother Arjun Pillay, the reliable Valerio Nasema, Vimal Sami, stoppers Iosefo Vosaboto, Laisenia Tuba, Isikeli Seva and then Vishwa Nair and Lorima Batirerega joined from Lautoka.
There were seasoned Valerio Nasema, Epeli Rokoqica and Lote Delai who had been there from the mid and late 80s and some young and upcoming talent like Josaia Bukalidi.
Most of these players will be on the stands supporting the home team at Govind Park next week.
Pillay and Sami will be hoping that their nephew Jone Salauneune gets the green light to play. Up until last night, the now Wellington-based marksman still had not been cleared by his New Zealand club and although time is on Ba's side, a Fiji FA source said the chances of the rising star getting the nod was "highly unlikely".
Salauneune and Osea Vakatalesau are a dream pairing upfront, depending on what happens over the next few days.
Ba should not have a problem with fitness as the side has been in camp for some time.
The traditional giants will be fielding a very strong side. Goalkeeper Ratu Jone Gasabalavu was outstanding in the BOG final and with Jone Vesikula, Alvin Singh, Avinesh Waran Swamy, Remeru Takiata and Manueli Kalou, their defence will be tough to breach.
Lautoka's Abbu Zahid has given the coach more options both creative-wise and going forward. With Malakai Tiwa, Kiniviliame Naika, Ronil Kumar and Laisenia Raura the midfield is solid and in Vakatalesau, Tuimasi Manuca, and Jone Salauneune, if he is available, there is a lot of firepower upfront.
Ba's strength is their depth on the bench in players like Meli Codro, Maveliko Nakama, Rinal Prasad, Peter Hughes, Niumaia Tagi, Simeli Naresia and Malakai Kanihewe.
There is no weakness in the team, neither the coaching staff nor the officials. This may sound a little harsh but Ba's biggest weakness, as I have noticed most times when the chips are down, are their own fans.
Ba is a team that loves to play football with style, guile and patience. Even when they're down I like the way they keep their composure and move the ball around at ease, waiting to wear down the opposition or get them out of their comfort zone before striking.
This, however, often gets the better of their fans, who, when faced with such a situation start to panic. In turn, as seen in the Fiji FACT final when Nathan Shivam struck early for Suva, they (the fans) started pressurising their players to push forward at every opportunity. That has an effect on players. No need to rush them, they know what they're doing for all you are doing is putting your players under unnecessary pressure.
Yogendra Dutt. I like interviewing this man. He is just as smart with his words as he is with his on-field mastery. He likes his team to play neat cohesive football and is a good reader of the opposition's strength and weakness. Knows how and when to rest, rotate and use his players. With Arvind Singh, maybe the best manager in the history of Ba football, they make a formidable pair off the field.
If Salauneune plays, this is Ba's tournament. If he doesn't then they face a daunting task in pool play against Rewa, Suva and Nadi. For me, Ba's biggest threat will be Nadi. If they beat Nadi on Friday night, they will make the semis, otherwise, they will be in real trouble.