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That fateful day

Manoj Kumar
Saturday, November 10, 2012

DECEMBER 17, 1963 is a date that still haunts former Fiji strike sensation Zikar Ali.

He strode onto Buckhurst Park in the biggest match of his budding football career — the South Pacific Games gold medal play-off against favourites New Caledonia.

Ali had scored five goals in two previous victories — 3-1 over Papua New Guinea and 5-0 over the Solomon Islands.

Sadly for the Ba striker, he only lasted seven minutes and had to be carried off the field.

"That's when my football career ended," Ali, now 74, revealed.

"It had rained and the ground was soggy. The ball was played in from the sideline and it stopped in a pool of mud. The New Caledonian fullback and I went for it. He was going to get to it first so I tried to toe poke it away from him which I did but his momentum carried him through and he got my shin.

"I tried to stand up and play again but realised that I had fractured my leg. I tried making a comeback after 18 months but couldn't ."

Losing start

Ali started his career with Ba in 1957 and featured in the Inter-District Championship final against Lautoka at Churchill Park.

The Blues hammered them 7-1 in that showdown and two years later smashed them 6-0 in the 1959 IDC final at Govind Park.

"I played in both those finals with players like the late Meera Sami but we could not win. Lautoka was too strong back then because they had the late Augustine Thoman," Ali said.

"He was the best local player I have ever seen and was too good in front of goal.

"I learnt a lot from him when he came to Ba in 1961. He taught me techniques, footwork and movement and helped make me a better player."

Best memory

"He was the first player who switched districts or was bought in the history of Fiji football," Ali said.

Ali was second after moving to Nadi in 1963. But before that he experienced the finest moment of his playing career.

"I will never forget the 1961 IDC final," he shares.

"Ba had never won the IDC and in the final we were up against Nadi in Nadi."

Nad led 1-0 before Ali struck with a well taken goal to make it 1-all.

It wasn't long before he was at it again, this time teeing up a wonderful cross for the high-flying Thoman to head home the winner as Ba lifted the Lloyd Farebrother Trophy for the first time with a 2-1 win.

Ba days

Ba businessman Mahesh Billimoria remembers the good old days when prominent Men in Black reps came to his dad's shoe shop.

"Zikar and a couple others were my dad's customers. They often came to get their boots repaired. I was only 16 then," Billimoria recalls.

"Back then they had six-stud boots only. Four at the front and two at the back. The studs were made of leather and they used to come off so we nailed them in. The boots were high top, round toe with white laces and were made in the United Kingdom."

Billimoria said players then often walked to the ground from the interior.

"We had teams like Black Stone from Votua, Greenfield from Navoli, Blackarrow, a Sisco team made up of Gujeratis, Nailaga and a few others."

Australian tour

Ali toured Australia with the Fiji team in 1961. "We had a very good six-week outing and won 12 out of 17 games. I had a memorable hat-trick in one of those games."

Back then players did not get anything for playing and jobs would pay them around "two pounds and twelve shillings which would be equivalent to about six dollars a week now".

Ali credits former national coach, the late Sashi Mahendra Singh for his rise to the top and believes watching English Premier League and other televised games from abroad is the only way our reps can become bigger and better players.

"I still watch those big games. There is a lot to learn from the Champions League, EPL and other top leagues from around the world but it looks like very few of our players watch them. They need to if they are to improve their game."

Food for thought for our new generation of footballers. Learn from the best.

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