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Finally, the Lions

Manoj Kumar
Monday, January 28, 2013

THE Labasa football side of 1992 gave the words commitment and sacrifice their real meaning. For two weeks the side stayed back on Viti Levu to chalk its name in the history of Fiji football.

Bad weather, poor lighting and power blackouts forced the 1992 IDC to drag onto a second week at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori.

There were at least five top sides entering the championship, Ba, Lautoka, Labasa, Nasinu and Nadroga. Nadi, Suva and host Rewa were there and thereabouts while Navua and Tavua were the underdogs.

Pool play

Led by Epeli Levaci, Labasa topped its pool in the mud and slush at Nausori with 10 points followed by Ravuama Madigi and Ba on nine. The Lions even edged Ba in a thriller 1-0 with the late Simon Peters heading in the winner.

Labasa also downed Lautoka and Tavua and drew with Nadi. From the other pool, Radike Nawalu and Nadroga looked the top bet and finished with nine points followed by Tagi Vonolagi and Nasinu on 7.

The stage was set for a mouth-watering semi-final showdown between Ba and Nadroga. Both teams had big names but it took a veteran playing left-back to snatch the winner. Charles Work, who scored the winning goal when Nadroga first lifted its IDC title in Suva against Nasinu in the 1988 final, was on target late in the game. He smashed home to beat top goalkeeper Iosefo Vosaboto from close range to send the Coral Coast boys into the final, 1-0.

Lions shine

Labasa stayed back on Viti Levu after the first week of games to perfect their combination and better their fitness. There was a will to win. They were up against Nasinu in the other semi-final.

The game seemed to be wrapped up as early as the first 20 minutes as Labasa led 2-0. Levaci, who later went on to coach his district, netted the opener before former double international Tevita Tukania scored with a brilliant individual effort. He beat former Fiji captain Abdul Mannan and Vonolagi to score with former Tavua rep Ronald Chaudhary reducing the deficit for Nasinu. The fans could not have asked for a better final, the winners of both pools and both teams having several Fiji reps in their sides.

Nadro blow

Nadroga suffered as early as the 10th minute when strike sensation Nawalu was carried off with an injury. He collided with goalkeeper Petero Namoce and came out second best. With him went their hopes as coach Terry Allen stated afterwards: "We failed to respond to the situation. We lacked aggression up front and we failed to match aggression with aggression".

Two goals in the second spell, from Peters and midfield maestro Buli Cama, heralded the rise of another giant in the top flight of Fiji football. Labasa won 2-0. Peters was brought down in the box and scored from the spot while Taniela Tuilevuka helped set up the clincher for Cama. Nadro keeper Vinod Kumar had an outstanding game but not good enough to match Labasa's speed, skills, fitness and innovative play.

"This is the greatest moment of my soccer career, to see Labasa win the IDC while I am still alive," offered coach and former wizard Anand Sami.

President Peter Nand paid tribute to Sami, team director Ratu Tomasi Korovakaturaga and Ratu Ritova Qomate.

Heroes welcome

The following day over 200 fans turned up at the Waiqele Airport to welcome their heroes and catch a first glimpse of the Lloyd Farebrother Trophy on their home turf.

Their players not only beat all opposition but power cuts and other obstacles, including staying away from their loved ones an extra week, to ensure that the northern football fans could finally celebrate an IDC victory. Some of the 1992 heroes were Namoce, Sakiusa Narara, Tuilevuka, Jope Lomu, Nete Francis, Ramendra Dutt, Levaci, Cama, Tukania, boxer Solo Catarogo, Solo Seruiratu, who was sent off in the final with Nadro's Mesulame Titifanua, and soldier Peters.

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