YOU talk about the giants of Fiji football now, the colour black comes to mind.
That wasn't the case though back in the early 70s. The brightest colour in the round ball game back then was blue.
Lautoka was the team setting the pace in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.
The Blues had many fine footballers in those days but the brightest star was Augustine Thoman, perhaps the finest local player of all-time.
Late Thoman, a feared marksman, helped Lautoka win nine Inter-district Championship titles between 1949 and 1965.
He was not only an icon for Lautoka fans but was also the man who almost single-handedly lifted Ba onto the winning podium.
It took a Lautoka man to kick-start Ba's success.
The Men in Black had never won a title while Suva had nine, the Blues had eight and Rewa had six IDC titles to their names.
Then after helping Lautoka win a hat-trick of IDC crowns from 1957-59, Thoman switched to Ba in 1961.
He only played for them one season and made it count. Thoman starred as skipper Mira Sami walked up the winning podium to hold aloft Ba's first IDC crown that year (2-1 in the final against Nadi).
The following year, Thoman returned to the Blues and helped them whip Ba 7-0 in the 1962 IDC final and 6-1 in the 1964 final. That's how good the guy was.
Thoman and Lautoka also won in 1965 (2-1 over Suva) before the stylish striker, who also played for Fiji at the 1963 South Pacific Games, hanged his boots.
End of an era
The end of an era marked the fall of the Blues. For the next seven years, Lautoka won nothing and could only make two finals, losing both to Ba in 1967 and '68.
Enter the 70s and with players such as the late Esala Masi Sr, Ba was starting to make an impression having won the championship in 1966, '67, '68 and '70.
The Blues still ranked highest with 11 IDC titles, Suva nine, Rewa seven, Ba six and Nadi two when the 1973 IDC came around in Lautoka.
The home team were in rampant form on the opening day, ripping apart Rakiraki 10-2.
Rewa's Sylvester Joseph beat the late Suva goalkeeper John Foster to ensure the Delta Tigers, winners in 1972, stayed on track to retain their title with a 1-0 win.
Ba blew a two-goal lead to lose 2-3 to Labasa. The Babasiga Lions making an amazing comeback after being down to goals from Josateki Kurivitu and Farouk Janeman with goalkeeper Brian Simmons standing out in defence. In the other match, Nadi beat Sigatoka 3-1. Into the semi-finals, it was Labasa versus Rewa and Lautoka versus Nadi.
Labasa scored the biggest upset of the tournament by playing its way into the grand final by dethroning Rewa 1-0. With Welshman Mike Jones bothered by an ankle injury, up stepped the likes of Anand Sami, Jimmy Zoing, Gordon Leewai, Shabban Shah to rattle the opposition. With the formidable figure of late Rakiraki man Nicholas Rounds in goal for Rewa, it was always going to be hard for the northerners to score, but they did. Zoing fired home after being set up by Sam Lee. The Lions beat Vilitati Lee and his mates 1-0.
In the other semi-final, Lautoka displayed some eye-catchy football to pip Nadi 2-1. Moahmmed Jannif Lalla gave the Blues the lead from a cross by Ratu Kaliappan. Nadi hit back from Joe Gock to make it 1-1 at half-time. Solomon Islander Tosswell, who worked for Fiji Pine Limited and drafted in by coach Junior Pratap, smashed home a 30-yarder to sink Nadi.
Fans braved the drizzle and at times heavy downpour to watch the final. Labasa was favoured to win but suffered a setback when coach/player Jones could not take the field because of injury.
Labasa was denied by the woodwork in the first half as Lautoka played with 10 players for 10 minutes after Tosswell was sent out for treatment after a collision. It was 0-0 at half-time.
Rain started in the second spell and Tosswell missed two good chances, both headers. Simmons, in goal for Labasa, was keeping his side in the game with some good saves.
Leewai came close to scoring but was thwarted by Lautoka keeper Mosese Nawalu. It was scoreless at full-time.
The enthralling encounter went into sudden-death extra time. Kaliappan, a veteran at that time, found Lalla, who now resides in Australia, with a cross from the right-flank like he had done in the semi-final.
Lalla rose high to head home the winner at the hospital end of Churchill Park, sending about 15,000 mainly home fans into a frenzy. That was the final play. The golden goal. Lautoka won 1-0, a record 12th IDC title. Those were the days of the Blues reign.
Some other members of that Lautoka side were the late Gopal Krishna, now Australia-based Kee Lum, who was vice captain, Narendra Rama, the late Jo Tubuna, Narayan Sami Naidu, Paras Ram, now US-based Ramesh Condaiya, Pramesh Chand, the late Vilikesa Raivoka, Vinod Chand, Mohammed Kutty and Mayan Chinappa.
* Special credit to Lautoka's Kishore "Aana" for additional information.