When the Manu Samoa team toured Fiji in 1981 players complained about the hotel food.
Aggie Grey’s beef stir fry with apples and ice cream for dessert while in training camp back home in Samoa, had spoiled everyone and they missed them in Suva.
The team management took issue with the Fiji Rugby Union over the menu.
Arrangements were then made for a selected village inside urban Suva to organise the food for the team.
Dinner turned out to be a feast of island dishes with lots of seafood like clams that the players hungrily cleaned up after a hard day’s training.
The highly anticipated international clash between Samoa and Fiji followed a few days later and the hosts squeezed out a small win.
The Fiji media rushed over to the team coach, the late Poloaiga Imo, for a comment on his team’s loss.
The outspoken team leader blamed the test defeat on the food.
“The boys ate too much of the good food in the village they were struggling to keep up, but they’ll be ready for the second test,” a defiant coach Poloaiga promised, to keep the fire burning for the Fijian fans.
There are a few players still around from that national rugby tour 38 years ago but it is quite doubtful they will remember the village name.
All that is permanently etched in memory after all those years, is the great feed and the excellent hospitality.
As players primed to take on the Fijians as the enemy on the rugby paddock, the friendly villagers brought everyone down to the reality of ordinary people living normal lives.
Not the beasts of war, honing their fighting skills for the killing field at the Fiji National Stadium.
The warmth shown by the village hosts was easy for their special dinner guests to relate to as if it was back home.
A feeling of camaraderie took hold soon enough before it became family.
By the time the team ran onto the field against the ‘enemy’, the villagers were cheering for their newly adopted ‘relatives’ and were acknowledged accordingly.
For many of the battle weary management and players on the return home, the lasting lesson is how and when to separate ‘family’ and ‘enemy.’
Outside of the battleground, it is family, inside with the spiked boots, closed fists and hard knees, it is ‘enemy.’
So it was! As they say in sports, ‘the moments are fleeting but the memories are lasting.’
For all those sportsmen and women coming to Samoa for the Pacific Games in July, it is only a very short two or three weeks stay.
In the end they will take back home with them a lifetime of memories. The question is which are memorable enough to still be remembered 38 years from now.”
Encouraging schools and villages to be part of the hospitality red carpet we as the hosts will roll out for our guests in a few weeks time, promises to produce many memorable moments.
A moment that can never be forgotten in the heat of any sporting battle, with the winning balance fiercely fought, is the cheering fans.
Whenever Samoa plays Fiji in a rugby test match at the National Stadium in Suva, Samoan students studying at the Laucala Campus of the USP will group into a spot to cheer.
Out of the booming roar from the sea of screaming fanatical home fans that echoes into the stadium in the heat of battle, the students cry for ‘ Go Samoa! Fa’amalosi!’ could still somehow be heard.
As a player on the paddock, the fire that erupts from a tired and exhausted body by the forlorn cry of encouragement in a hostile environment is beyond logic.
The only explanation that makes sense at the sudden blast of explosive energy that surges through the body, is a primal instinctive reaction to survival.
This is a basic human reaction for athletes competing outside their comfort zone at home, like Samoa playing test rugby against Fiji in Suva.
This burst of fighting emotions in the heat of competition will spur anyone to levels never thought possible.
All it takes to spark this emotional tsunami is a weak cry, pleading from somewhere in a hostile environment of rival supporters with; “Go Fiji! Go New Caledonia! Go Kiribati! Go Tonga!”
This will be the assigned role for schools and villages during the Games, as appointed cheerleaders for their ‘adopted’ country teams.
This is the third regional Games we have hosted. Our hospitality record of the first two is one to be proud of.
By the time the teams marched into the Apia Park Stadium for the official opening ceremony of the 16th Pacific Games, our welcome will already be under scrutiny.
Are we ready? Let’s do it.