The Pacific Nations Cup

From Apia With Love

“Get your coat, Watson.” Kate reared up, her eyes bright, her face shiny, her hair distraught. “The game’s afoot.”

“What are you on about?” I stared back at her. My name wasn’t Watson. Nor were we in nineteenth century London. But a hot stuffy appartment in Apia.

She’d been up half the night ingesting an unholy concoction of dark chocolate and almond nuts – as she does sometimes when bored, unable to sleep, or grappling a particularly difficult mathematical problem.  Like how to share out a bar of Peanut slab between eight nieces. Or a bottle of wine between six uncles.  Worse, she had a brother-in-law who thought Samoa was located a few fishing boat lengths from Tonga.

“No time to lose. It’s at two o’clock. Here, check it out!” She threw a newspaper across the room. The local rag, What’s On in Apia. Everything that was happening over the weekend.

“I’m not getting a coat,” I said.

“Why not?” Her eyes narrowed.

“It’s too hot.”

“No shit Sherlock.”

She grabbed the car keys and we left. Destination Apia Park Stadium on the other side of town. The game was rugby, Samoa versus Fiji. Not just any old game, but the Pacific Nations Cup.

Everyone in blue – to start with.

We found a parking space easily, only moments from the entrance. Only fifty Tala each for our tickets, except the lady at the gate punched a hole through the row letter and no-one knew where we were supposed to be sitting. They parked us temporarily in row H while a messenger was despatched back to the ticket-office to find out.

Meanwhile we admired the stadium in front of us and sipped at the four Tala beer. A well-maintained pitch surrounded by a running track and the blue seats of the terraces. In the distance, mist rising over the bush, towering grey clouds. A small plane flew overhead, only a couple of hundred metres above our heads. It banked and descended to the town airport. This was nothing like Westpac, nothing like Wellington.

The gate lady rushed back and relocated us to row P. The seats around us were filling up, a mixture of Samoans, Flying Fiji fans, and a contingent of ex-pats (Kiwis, Aussies, Americans) enjoying their Saturday afternoon.

Police band march on.

A police band marched in, overtaken by three police cars and a stately black limo flying the Samoan flag. Attendants rushed out to open the doors and a grey-haired man and his wife scuttled out. The limo drove away and the police band began to play.

Both teams ran out and formed a straight line. National anthems sung – Fijian, Samoan. Then hakas – the Fijians exuberant, the Samoans tightly packed.

The match began. From the beginning, the Fijians looked stronger – more attempts at tries, better possession of the ball, a sturdy defence. We cheered the Samoans and politely clapped at Fijian tries. Everyone in a good mood, enjoying themselves.  A burst of Boy George, YMCA, then Gloria.

Second half.

At some point, I noticed a black spot in the main video screen – a failed patch of LEDs – as if somebody had punched the screen like a ticket. I wondered what happened if the black patch coincided with the ball – during a penalty or conversion – would they have to send someone to the ticket office to check?

The siren went for final time. Fiji 31, Samoa 16. No reappearance of the police band. The limo drove back in, and the grey-haired man and his wife scuttled inside underneath umbrellas. It was grey by now and raining, a lot more like a test match in Wellington.

Fans leaving in the rain.

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