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Saved by the fans

Rashneel Kumar
Saturday, March 01, 2014

SALESH Sami 'Bula' is a living testament of the phrase "size doesn't matter".

This nippy former Lautoka and Fiji striker had many brilliant moments in his football career during the 90s and the early part of this millennium.

But many don't know while some might remember, he also fled for his life twice because of his "cheeky" play.

1997 IDC

Sami and his Lautoka side were riding high after a 1-0 win over pre-tournament favourites Labasa in their second pool play at Govind Park in Ba.

The Sugar City side played Nadroga in its third pool match which was crucial for both teams to determine their fate in the tournament.

It was during that match when Sami had to make the dash for his life.

The incident

The incident took place in the second spell.

Both teams needing a win to stay in contention for the semi-final berth and were all out at each other to clinch the three points.

Nadroga was captained by Allen Jason and had players such as Mosese Jese and William Work while the Westerners had the likes of then 20-year-old Sami, Maika Waqa, Tevita Waqabaca, defenders Kartik Ravinesh and Albert Pickering.

Sami as usual was a thorn in the Stallions defence, proving time and again too hot to handle.

Tough defender Kaminieli Tuilawaki marked Sami closely and according to the latter, fouled him couple of times.

"Tuilawaki was playing the centre back for Nadroga and he had been playing rough with me for some time," he said.

"So when I had my chance, I also fouled him."

But what Sami didn't expect was the retaliation from Tuilawaki and some of the Nadroga players including those on the reserve bench.

The refuge

The Nadroga players chased him and Sami ran as fast as his legs could carry him, jumped the fence and went to the pavilion and sat among the fans.

The Nadroga players were furious.

The match was stopped for 10 minutes and the scuffle ended when the Fiji FA officials, security and veteran Nadroga player Waisea Naiova stepped in.

Referee Balram Nair gave Sami and Tuilawaki the marching orders following which the then Lautoka coach, the late Nicholas Rounds called his players off the field in protest against the referee's decision.

The then Nadroga boss Jahir Khan and prominent Lautoka businessmen pleaded with Rounds to allow the players onto the field.

The match ended in 2-2 and Lautoka qualified for the semis where they badly missed the services of Sami and eventually lost to Nadi 1-2.

Ba through cousins Esala and Manoa Masi's goals at each half was crowned the champions after the Men in Black overcame Nadi 2-0.

Nair who is now the Fiji Football Referees Association general secretary said Sami "hit the testicles" of Tuilawaki, which made the latter angry.

Both players became friends after the match and are still in touch.

Second time

This time Sami "punched" Ba's Meli Delai in the 1999 IDC at Prince Charles Park in Nadi.

"I was again being victimised by my opponent and I couldn't take it anymore. He was a tall man so I had to one side him.

"Isikeli Seva was the Ba goalkeeper that time. He and the other Ba players saw it and chased me. I did the same thing, jumped the fence and went and sat among the crowd.

"Ba had players like Ravuama Madigi and Lorima Batirerega and I was lucky to have players like Pita Dau and others, who came to my rescue."

Now 37, Sami continuous to create ripple in the domestic competition with premier giants Rakiraki.

"During those days, the off the ball incidents were very common. We had to stand toe-to-toe with our opponents to last the match."

Food for thought

In 1997, the price of number 12 chicken was $4.55 and McDonald's infamous soft serve was only 30 cents.

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