DARKNESS has descended over Ba and Fiji football. One of our finest footballers of the 70s and early 80s is no longer with us.
I got a call from the 'voice of soccer' Raymond Stoddart just after 6pm on Friday informing me of the untimely death of former Ba and Fiji strike sensation Farouk Janeman.
It came as a shock considering just six days ago, Stoddart and I had met and chatted with Janeman during the Coca-Cola-sponsored FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour at Churchill Park, Lautoka.
He stood there at the front entrance of the main stand and I joked to him whether he had taken on the ticket usher's job!
"Saab bagal maango raho (have to be everywhere)," he replied with a grin.
He was his normal jovial self, chatting to just about anyone he met or knew. I soon overheard him teasing someone.
"Bahut deri hoye gai. Aab aye ke konchi karega, dui goal pil gae (You are late, what will you do now, two goals have been scored already?)," he quipped referring to the East team's 2-0 lead over West.
Some half an hour later, he stood next to me and the FFA CEO Bob Kumar with a carton of Coca-Cola.
"Who's that for," I queried. "For the ball boys," he nodded.
He held on to the carton until Kumar and I convinced him that he could put it on the stadium stairs and that no one would touch it.
"Areh ladkan ke liye hein, herae nahin mange (It's for the kids and should not go missing)," was his reply.
That was Janeman. His passion and love for the game and the young ones stood out.
After the East-West game, he pointed out Rewa's 17-year-old Iosefo Verevou and told me how this talented lad had grown as a footballer.
"I took him to France with the Fiji under-12 team (in 2008 for the Danone Cup where Fiji finished 24th our of 40 countries), look at him now. He keeps getting better and better," Janeman said. Verevou had scored with a brilliant individual effort in East's 2-0 win. That was the last I heard from him. Some 20 minutes later, I saw him join some other football officials and coaches, including Lautoka mentor Ravinesh Kumar and president Shalendra Prasad for a photo with the 18-carat solid gold and $F18.5million worth original FIFA World Cup Trophy. He was in the last group of 50-odd people to do that. He didn't know he had only a few days left to live but there was no way he was going to let that opportunity pass by.
The 'Cunning Fox'
Just a year ago, I wrote a page on Janeman in our popular "Blast from the Past' column.
The following day, he called me and was so thankful for the piece. His words still linger in my ears.
"Konchi likh diya ladka, overseas seh bhi call aye laga? (what have you written boy, I even got calls from overseas)," he told me.
But he was very thankful saying that in all his years of service as a footballer for Ba and Fiji he did not get a piece as such in the local media.
Janeman made his district debut at 17 in 1970 and five years later it was his touch of class that set Ba on the road to being a class apart in Fiji football.
He was slightly-built but a handful for the opposition defence. He lacked height and aggression but was nippy, breezed past defenders in a flash and his artistry and wizardry with the ball was second to none. He was a tormentor and real nemesis for goalkeepers and back line players.
It's no wonder Farouk Janeman was named the 'Cunning Fox'. On-field, he was smart, slick and at times shrewd. If he could not get things going his way with skill, vision and team combination then he would resort to 'other' tactics and often got away with it as players and fans from his era will tell you.
Six in a row
There are so many things one could write about Ba's unprecedented six-in-a-row IDC triumph from 1975 to 1980. So much has already been written and said about a record that even neutrals like me look back at in awe and feel that it could forever remain untouched.
It started in 1975. After winning the IDC three on the trot from 1966-'68 and in 1970, Ba looked out of sorts from 1971-'74. So it was a relief for Janeman and the 'golden generation' of Ba players to find themselves in their first final in four years.
Having scored once in the 5-0 semi-final mauling of Nadi, striker Janeman followed it up with the winner against Suva in the grand final. That goal at Subrail Park in Labasa was special, special because that signalled the dawn of a new era in Fiji football. The Men in Black would go on to keep the coveted Lloyd Farebrother Trophy for another five years and that tiny wizard would feature in all those tournaments and finals.
"That was a special moment (the 1975 winning goal) and the six-in-a-row team had a bunch of special players," Janeman, the Fiji FA technical director, said last September.
"All those players represented Fiji at one time or another, so there was a lot of quality and experience."
Janeman, who also represented the country, was just as special.
In the six years from 1975 to 1980, he scored five goals and had three assists in the IDC semi-finals and finals - that's a very decent contribution in finals football where games are normally tight and goals and assists are hard to come by.
I first met Janeman when he coached the Navua Muslim team at the 1995 Fiji Muslim IDC in Nadi.
We had heard a lot about this man and as young players were honored to meet him.
Just before the final with Sabeto, he spoke at length to the players. He was much more than just a top former player. He was a good coach, a grand speaker an even greater motivator.
Many of those young Navua Muslim players were so pumped up. The way in which Janeman had psyched them up some had tears welling in their eyes.
Navua had never won the Muslim title for 50 years, but that day they did, thanks mainly to that bearded man from Yalalevu, Ba.
Janeman's loss is not only Ba's loss. He was a champion for every district and the country. I may not be an ardent Ba football fan, but I respect their status as traditional champions of the game locally and when it comes to writing about their greats like Waisea Naicovu, Jone Nakosia, Esala Masi Senior, Jo Kurivitu, Janeman and others, the ink of my pen will never run dry! May Allah grant Janeman Jannatul Firdous!
Note: For Janeman's Blast from the past go online to http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=211500