PAUL Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley were world class footballers. Both are English Football Association's Hall of Fame inductees (Gascoigne 2002 and Beardsley 2007).
Beardsley was also inducted into European Football's Hall of Fame.
Midfield dynamo Gascoigne, nicknamed "Gazza", featured 92 times for Newcastle in the English First Division League (now English Premier League) from 1985-'88, scoring 21 goals. He went on to play 57 internationals for England from 1988-1998 and netted 10 times. Gazza was voted English FA's Young Player of the Year in the 1987-88 season joining the likes of other greats on the honours board — Ian Rush (Liverpool, '82-83), Mark Hughes (Man United '84-85) and Tony Adams (Arsenal 86-87).
The following season (87-88), Gazza was voted in the PFA Team of the Year alongside stars like Liverpool's John Barnes, Alan Hansen (now BBC football pundit) and Beardsley (who had then moved to Liverpool). Beardsley (MBE — Order of the British Empire) is a former England skipper. The midfielder played for top flight clubs Newcastle, Liverpool, Everton, Fulham, Bolton and Manchester City and made 59 appearances for England, scoring nine times.
In 1985, these two players toured Fiji with Newcastle United for two matches against Fiji. They were stopping over after playing six games in New Zealand.
That season (84-85) they finished 11th in the top flight of English Football with Everton (champions), Liverpool, Tottenham and Man United taking up the first four places respectively. This was once-in-a-lifetime chance for our reps and fans to face and see a top club in action on home soil.
The first game was scheduled for Sunday, May 26, 1985 at Prince Charles Park Nadi and the second showdown two days later, a night match at the National Stadium in Suva.
Besides Gascoigne, who was only 18 then, and Beardsley, the Magpies also had other notable names.
Goalkeeper Martin Thomas played 115 league games in the top division and also represented Wales.
Jamaican striker Tony Cunningham played over 100 games in England for Newcastle and several other clubs including Man City, Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday.
Scottish footballer George Reilly featured for Watford in the 0-2 FA CUP final loss to Everton the previous season (84).
Defender Jeff Clarke went on to play over 300 first division games for Newcastle, Sunderland and Man City.
Right back Neil McDonald played 270 games for Newcastle and Everton.
This was a huge test for Fiji coach Billy Singh and his men. The late Singh put together a formidable side, the best he could offer at that time.
In goal was Nadi's Savenaca Waqa, Rewa's Stan Morell was sweeper and together with him in defence were Nadroga's Abraham Watkins, Nadi's Henry Dyer, Levuka's Kaverieli Salesi and Rewa's Abdul Mannan.
In midfield were Labasa's Ivor Evans, Ba's Meli Vuilabasa and Lautoka's Kelemedi "Cheetah" Vosuga.
Upfront were Lautoka's Sam Work and Nadi's Rusiate Waqan.
For the visitors, both Gascoigne and Beardsley started.
Over 7000 fans packed Prince Charles Park to catch a glimpse of our heroes against a top flight English club.
The game was only 10 minutes old when the local crowd went into a frenzy.
Vuilabasa took a corner and after a deflection off a Newcastle defender, the ball fell in the path of Vosuga.
He let rip from the edge of the box and his right foot volley sizzled past a beaten Thomas.
The visitors enjoyed possession and territorial advantage but Reilly, Cunningham, Gascoigne and Beardsley struggled to make an impression with Dyer, Salesi and Mannan standing out in defence.
The crowd was in full voice before half-time when the ever reliable Mannan dribbled his way up the middle to set up Waqan for the second goal.
Fiji led 2-0 at the break.
It was 3-0 midway through the second spell when Vuilabasa set up Work who lobbed over Thomas.
A fourth Fiji goal was ruled off-side but the 3-0 win was celebrated in style — one of Fiji's finest result ever.
Newcastle coach Willie McFaul, who replaced England's 1966 World Cup winning squad member Jack Charlton (OBE) as Newcastle manager in 1985, praised the Fijians but said the six games in 16 days in New Zealand took its toll on his players.
"Everything was against us, the heat and the timing," Mc Faul said.
Singh was surprised and overjoyed with the final result.
"I thought they were going to put on some professional touch to the game but it seemed as if we were the professionals," he quipped.
"They were fooling around but we weren't."
Be it the heat or timing, this was an awesome result.
That too against a team featuring Gascoigne and Beardsley. Gazza went on to play for England at the 1990 World Cup and featured in the semi-final when they lost to the West Germans on penalties.
He was, however, voted in the cup's All Stars team for his outstanding performance at Italia 90.
He was England's main man in midfield again at Euro 96 but despite beating Spain, they again went down to Germany in the semi-final. A year after playing Fiji, Beardsley played for England at the 1986 World Cup. He scored a goal in the 3-0 win over Paraguay and the pacey, incisive and skilful player played the full 90 minutes of that controversial "Hand of God goal" 1-2 loss to Argentina in the semi-final. He was one of the five players Maradona dribbled past on his way to scoring the "Goal of the Century".
* Tomorrow: The return match