Football journey of a village boy
EVERYTHING goes according to plan, whether it is your dream to become somebody or you are being voluntarily chosen to be someone else.
For David Sau Olobeni, 50, his humble journey to become the first Solomon Islands’ FIFA badge Assistant Referee is a tale that he himself does not see it coming.
He told Weekend Magazine that he never dreamt of becoming the first to have a name in the history of refereeing in the country.
This is the story of how he emerged from his little known knowledge in refereeing to become someone in the history books of Solomon Islands.
Hailed from Ferailalo in the Lau lagoon, Sau never thought of being the first referee in the Solomon Islands to get recognition for the game he loved – soccer/football.
Growing up as a village boy, Sau first moved into the city to work at the Ministry of Works, Public Utility in the late 1970s.
“I was once upon a time a government officer, working at the drilling section of the ministry,” he said.
“During those days, I was a soccer player and a crazy soccer fan just like anybody else,” he added.
“I grew up playing football and at the same time a faithful public servant.”
After spending about seven years with the Ministry of Works, he progressed on in his employment journey to join the Ministry of Police and Justice in the mid-1980s.
There, he worked as a driver for four different chief justices.
During those years, he kept on playing football with various top clubs in the city – until he had a problem with his left leg, forcing him to take a break from soccer for some years.
“In 1986, I had an operation on my left leg and quit soccer. However, I decided to take up refereeing as my next career – still within the game I loved!
“My first appearance as a referee was during an Under-16 soccer league held in Honiara, at Rove.
“Afterwards, I was promoted to officiate in some of the major leagues in the capital.
“In 1994, I was appointed by the then Prime Minister late Solomon Mamaloni as the chief referee official for the West Makira games,” the 50-year-old recalled.
He held the post for two years (1994-1996) and later asked the late Mamaloni if he can be sent overseas on a ‘look and learn’ trip.
Solomon Islanders were said to be well known for their quick learning culture through the ‘look and learn’ theory, and Sau may be one of those.
His idea was to travel to any country in the Pacific region to learn more about football refereeing.
“My plan came true, when I was instructed by the late Mamaloni to accompany the national Under-17 squad for the Oceania play-offs in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1997.
“At that particular time, Patrick Miniti was the team coach, Peter Shanel was the Head of Delegation, and the late Allan Boso was the games commissioner,” Satu said.
He recalled then that a referee who was supposed to be officiating in the tournament did not turn up so he was approached as a replacement.
Sau was then called on by the head of OFC referees assessor Ken Wallace and the then OFC president Charles Dempsey – a decision which came as a surprise to him.
But first, he must go through a Cooper test.
This is upon directions from the late Allan Boso, due to his experience in being a referee at the national level during his early days officiating in major leagues in the country.
The Cooper test is a test of physical fitness. It was designed by Kenneth H. Cooper in 1968 for US military use.
Later, he was instructed by Mr Wallace and the OFC president to try the referees Cooper Test.
Unfortunately, he failed the cooper test because he went there unprepared.
“Honestly speaking, I was not ready for the cooper test, so I failed it because I was there for a ‘look and learn’ trip and not as an official,” he said.
“I felt sorry for myself when the late Boso, coach Miniti and HOD Shanel told me during dinner that I failed the Cooper test.
“Even though I failed the test, I was allowed to officiate on the basis that I will be under surveillance by Mr Wallace.
“So I was told to officiate in the first game of the tournament which was between Australia and Samoa,” he told the Weekend Magazine.
The 50-year-old said during the game he was being told that if he was not performing to the required standard, he will be replaced by another assistant referee.
But when half time is over, he was commended by Mr Wallace.
“Son, keep it up?” were the very words that Mr Wallace told him.
“After the Australia and Samoa game, I was allowed to officiate in another match. Then a semi-final match between New Zealand and Fiji.
“After those three matches, I thought that it was over for me not until Mr Wallace called me to see him for a meeting.
“During the meeting, he gave me feedbacks from my performance in the competition – as an assistant referee in the three matches,” Satu said.
Then, the good news for Sau finally came.
He was told by Mr Wallace that OFC now recognises him as a qualified assistant referee.
“He told me to return home, work more on my fitness and ask the country’s national football body (Solomon Islands Football Federation – SIFF) to endorse me with the decision made by OFC.
“In mid August 1997 – I finally passed the Cooper test here at Lawson Tama stadium, witnessed by late Boso, Martin Alufurai and the others in the SIFF administration that year.”
In 1998, Sau flew off to American Samoa for the Under-20 tournament and after he joined the Melanesian Cup at Santo, Vanuatu, also as an official.
Between the years 1998 to 2000, Sau was hard on assignments as an official for some of the top tournaments in the Pacific region.
He travelled mostly during OFC tournaments around the Pacific.
In 2001, Sau received an invitation from the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, to officiate in the 2001 U-20 FIFA World Youth Championship.
The championship took place in Argentina between June 17 and July 8, 2001.
“That was the highest FIFA Championship that I attended since taking up my refereeing career.
“After I returned from the U20 FIFA World Youth Championship, more local referees followed my footstep and most have since received their FIFA badges also.
“It is a proud moment for me to make way for referees in our country, especially for someone like me as a simple boy raised in the village.”
He recalled that his last appearance in the FIFA Championships was in 2004, where he was part of the OFC Nations Cup in Samoa.
Sau was forced to quit refereeing after the injury he once had with his left leg re-emerged.
This was game over for Sau, and he called it quit – no more officiating in any international or national competitions again.
He stopped from entering the soccer pitch for another four year.
However, things changed for him when he was called to return to help out in the running of SIFF.
When Sau resumed work with SIFF, he was employed as a driver and gardener with the country’s football body.
He continued with his job as well as helping out the country’s soccer body with administrative work until he chose to quit through redundancy, just last year.
The game is not yet over for Sau, though.
Still active in sports throughout the country, the man from Ferailalo village has now registered and owned himself a sports consultancy business – the GGJ SPORTS CONSULTANCY SERVICES.
The aim of GGJ SPORTS CONSULTANCY SERVICES is to work with rural communities in promoting sports in the country.
This is being done in collaboration with SIFF and other sporting bodies.
He told Weekend Magazine that he already had two invitations to be the Games Commissioner of two different sporting activities in Malaita – the Ngongorefou Parish 2016 Youth Rally Games and the Northern Youth Games in north Malaita.
With his vast experience, expertise, and professionalism he has in sports, the company he established will surely help him stay on his feet to become one of the best sports man in the country.
By RONALD TOITO’ONA