life after football

LIFE after sports is rarely rewarded in Fiji.

Some of our sporting personnels were darlings to the public when they were in their prime.

But when they hung their boots, as they say in rugby and football, or retired, their popularity dwindled with time.

Some have other avenues to resort to after sports such as good jobs and a steady income. Others are unfortunate.

It happens in almost all sports, especially here in Fiji. Player’s welfare ends when the athlete stops playing.

These players, whom a lot of people die to meet, get their autographs and photos when they were playing, get the backseat treatment when they retire from the field.

A sad story. There are many in Fiji.

Some are lucky because they move abroad to look for a better life.

They work, get good wages, give good education to their children and even own properties.

Among them is former national football captain, Ratu Josefa Masilagi.

He has been living in Auckland, New Zealand with his family for over a decade.

Masilagi and his wife have good jobs. Two of their daughters are educated in New Zealand while the eldest has been challenged to attain good results in Fiji before getting higher education in NZ.

“If we want to be successful, we have to work hard,” Masilagi said.

His comment echoed the words of American author, Robert Collier who once wrote “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Masilagi represented various districts in Fiji and was a former under-16, U23 and national rep. He also captained the U23 and national side while playing.

“I was lucky to have migrated here,” he said.

He owns a double-storey home which has six bedrooms and all amenities, plus three cars.

“We bought the home six years ago. It was more than $300,000. Now, at New Zealand value, it is worth about $800,000.

“When we came here, my wife and I worked hard every day. Sometimes I pulled double shifts because I wanted my family to have the best. This was my only chance. If I did not work hard, we would still be struggling.

“The children are getting big and we have to give them good education so that they can have good future.

“During my playing days, I did not work hard. Football was primary to me compared with work. I knew I had the talent to be a good footballer, so I followed my dreams.

“But the biggest lesson I learned in sports was a sad one. It broke my heart because when I thought of my friends whom I played with, some of them are not lucky. I am lucky because I came to New Zealand.

“Some of them have no homes, some no jobs and some rely on others to look after them when they retire from playing.

“When I finished playing, my popularity also ended. There was no thank you from fans and from those in charge to thank players for our service to the country.

“If you love football, you should have the pride and passion for it until you die, no matter if you are a player, an official or a fan.

“Football brings unity. It brings together communities and races.

“It is a peaceful sport, so people should learn to be kind and supportive in football.”

Masilagi, now in his mid-40s, is from Nadrau Village in Navosa.

Football career

Masilagi started playing while at school in Vatukoula.

“It was in 1986. I was a student and aged 14 when I was selected to play for Vatukoula. It was my first district game.

“I then joined Tavua and in 1991, I played for Ba and then Nadi. I returned to Tavua later and played until 2000.”

He captained Tavua to its Inter-District Championship win at Churchill Park in Lautoka.

His last district was Suva before migrating to New Zealand in 2003.

He said former Ba and national striker, the late Farouk Janeman, was among those who helped build his football career.

“He was like a father, not to me alone, but most local footballers. He can spot a talented player from a young age and help groom him. The only thing he wanted was for the players he helped to reach the national level or even international level.

“He would not take any reward, but at kava sessions, that’s when Farouk would speak to us like a father.

“It is hard to find people like him now in Fiji. May he rest in peace.

“My advice to young players is to start investing in your future because one day you will no longer play.”

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