Friday, March 30, 2007

Reverse Angle: Match report from the other hemisphere - offsideintahiti

Sunday, 1:30 pm. I walk up the dirt track that leads to Moorea's answer to Old Trafford: Maharepa's Orova'u stadium, aka the Theatre of Mango Trees. This is my first assignment as Pseuds' Corner's South Pacific correspondent and the three lovely local girls selling tickets at the top of the lane will be the first real test of my brand new accreditation.

- "600 francs, please."*

- "Ia ora na, journalists get in for free, right?"

She shakes her head.

- "But I work for an international sports web site with a global readership."

She holds out her hand expectantly. I turn on the charm.

- "I'm writing a report on today's game, it'll be great for the promotion of Tahitian football."

-"600 francs, please."

Maybe we should print official cards or plastic badges, that always impresses the girls. I hand over my six pieces, she gives me a ticket, a cold can of soda, and a pearly-white smile. When I emerge on the plateau, I am suddenly breathless. Nothing to do with the steepness of the slope, it's the sheer magnificence of the landscape that takes my breath away. Every time.

Moorea's volcanic cliffs tower above the stadium's single stand. Thin wisps of white cloud cling on lazily to the dark pillars of basalt. Everywhere, the lush vegetation sparkles with a fresh polish, bestowed by last night's heavy tropical rain. The pitch also has several shades of green, but in sharp contrast with its surroundings, it is nearly flat and does not have any trees growing on it. The stand can hold a couple of hundred people and is fairly packed. Other spectators are scattered along the touchlines, sitting in the shade of mango trees, or watching from the back of pick-up trucks parked behind the goals. No flags or flares, but plenty of flip-flops and flora, as Tahitian ladies love to wear a crown of flowers on Sundays. If the atmosphere was anymore relaxed, we'd all be sound asleep.

Today, Maharepa host Pihaena in a League of Moorea play-off clash. The real match won't start for a while, but the reserves game is on. The second half is just getting underway as I walk around the pitch, saying my hellos to the spectators and substitutes that I know. Pihaena Va'a is my new rowing club, and I have enjoyed a few kickabout sessions with some of the players here, until I realised chasing 17 year old lads down the wing was absolutely pointless and I decided to switch to rowing for good. I am not much better at it, but at least I get to do it sitting down. And speaking of sitting down, I join my friend Metua behind the goal.

- "Ia ora na, Offside, you've come to see St-Étienne play Toulouse?"

He is referring to the teams' jerseys: the purple of Pihaena and Maharepa's green. Tahitian people love their football. Recently, satellite dishes have brought the international game into many a home and local connoisseurs will eloquently discuss Lyon's lack of an efficient striker or Chelsea's famous midfield diamond formation. Metua informs me that we're up 1-0, but he has barely finished his sentence when Pihaena's goalkeeper does a superb Paul-Robinson-against-Croatia impression to a chorus of laughter from both sets of supporters. All square. As I said, the pitch is nearly flat.

Metua's 17-year-old son, Heiva (yes, the one who's too fast for me), plays centre forward for Pihaena. A sizable section of his dad's fisherman income has gone into a flashy pair of bright-red boots. Heiva repays him by firing a stinging 20-yard free-kick towards the bottom corner. The keeper saves but Bill scores from the rebound. 2-1 to Pihaena and Metua's smile is well worth the price of those boots. The rest of the second half is lost on me as we immerse ourselves in a conversation that meanders in and out of vital topics such as fishing, the weather, and the upcoming canoe race next weekend. Maharepa eventually equalise from a corner kick and the game ends on a logical 2-2 scoreline.

During the interval between the two games, kids invade the pitch and start kicking a ball around like they do all over the world. I make my way to the dugout to say hello to Richard, the Pihaena reserves coach. I ask him for his analysis of the game.

-"I switched them from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 when we got the lead, but we couldn't hold on. We're not very good at defending set pieces. We'll have to work on that in training."

He doesn't care much about the result, since the reserves follow the first team around and play the same fixtures, play-off or play-down, regardless of how well they do themselves. Their league table is fairly meaningless and their position won't get them promoted nor relegated as Moorea only has one level of football. Richard is more concerned about instilling a little discipline in the young lads and getting them to show up for training regularly, and on time, a concept that can be difficult to grasp for some of the local boys. He proudly tells me about how he's dealt with the more troublesome elements in his squad.

-"At least now they don't smoke pakalolo during training and I also make sure they don't have a joint before a game. Otherwise, they spend the second half gazing at the landscape. Not much I can do once the game is over, but that's a start."

As the real game gets underway, I sit with Richard and Mario, old wise head and midfield anchor of the reserves team. I ask them to explain to me how Tahitian football is organised. The league of Moorea has 8 teams, who play each other home and away. After that, the top four go into a play-off (another set of home and away games), the bottom four into a play-down. The champions get to play the following season in the league of Tahiti, the bottom team gets to play the following season with the shame.

There are also two cup competitions. La Coupe de Polynésie is contested by all Polynesian clubs, from 118 islands scattered over a maritime area roughly the size of western Europe. A logistical nightmare, the winner of which gets into the Champions League. No, not that one. The one in which champions from the other countries of Oceania meet: Fiji, Vanuatu, the Salomon Islands, New Zealand, etc. Then, there is la Coupe de Tahiti, whose winner qualifies for an early round of la Coupe de France and gets to travel to France to get knocked out by a fourth division side.

Meanwhile, as we chat, we're missing a good game. Plenty at stake here: if Maharepa win, they could clinch the title with three games to spare. Pihaena must win to they keep their title hopes alive but will still have to rely on kind results elsewhere. Consequently, tackles are flying thick and fast. The technical level isn't great but both teams are producing commendable efforts to keep the ball on the deck, and the fact that the center circle is waterlogged from last night's rain forces some intriguing wing play. There is some gambeta going on but the high grass and uneven surface are not helping. A couple of Zidane roulettes nearly come off and a lovely attempt at a Cruijff turn ends up with both players tangled up on all fours by the corner flag. So, nil-nil at half-time, and we can resume our conversation.

I ask Richard where the next Tahitian football star is to be found. He grimaces and tells me he doesn't see it happening any time soon. Only a couple of local players have ever made it to the top flight in France. The latest being Marama Vahirua, aka the Tahitian Maradona, an attacking midfielder who was scouted by Nantes and is currently helping OGC Nice in their relegation battle. He is famous in France for celebrating every one of his goals by going down on one knee and miming a paddle stroke in tribute to his oceanic homeland.

Richard bemoans the lack of infrastructure, discipline and proper coaching holding back Tahitian football. But above all, he cites the lack of mental toughness as the main reason why so few young players break through. They have it too easy, here. Vahirua left Tahiti and his family for Nantes when he was thirteen. Can you imagine what it's like for a kid from the islands to have to get up at 6 to attend training in Brittany in the heart of winter? And being pitted against kids from the rough suburbs of French cities for whom a successful football career is a ticket out of hell? It takes a special kind of mindset. Richard goes on to tell me about this young lad from Bora Bora who was scouted last year by French Top 14 rugby outfit Toulon. He was offered a contract on a plate but turned it down, and shunned the opportunity to play alongside Tama Umaga because he couldn't bring himself to leave his island paradise. Richard shakes his head.

-"He has amazing potential but he doesn't even know it."

Back on the pitch, the second half starts with a bang. Actually, make that two bangs. Pihaena open the scoring after an intricate move down the right wing is crisply converted by a low drive from the edge of the area. Maharepa immediately equalise through a superb, 25-yard dipping free-kick that leaves the Pihaena goalkeeper motionless. 1-1, and that's the way it finished. Maharepa are now in a great position to win the title. Pihaena have lost all hope for this season but will take some pride from having held the future champions to a draw on their home patch.

I suppose I could have told you more about the details of the game if I hadn't so unprofessionally gotten side-tracked into idle conversation and gobsmacked contemplation of the landscape. I also realise that this is a very inadequate attempt at evaluating the state of Tahitian football at grassroots level. But I will tell you one thing. From the time I got there until the end of the second match, the grass on the pitch had easily grown half an inch.

* One euro is worth 119.33 Pacific Francs. You work it out.


bluedaddy said...

This is scandalous. I was at the game and it was 4-0 to Pihaena. I demand action be taken against such shoddy journalistic fraud.

I also volunteer to cover future games for PseudsCorner. I assure you my expenses will be kept to a minimum (Club class seats, 50 quid a day food costs). But most of all I will bring you the Truth!

MotM said...

Just like watching Marine at College road in '78/'79.

Well worth the wait - we need a youtube clip to rub salt in the wound (I'm looking out on a cold and very miserable South London morning where even the buses look grey).

"I turned on the charm" indeed...

marcela said...

the expression 'watching the grass grow' will never mean the same again...

BlueinBetis said...

Very nice offside,

But I think you should have been commentating upon either of these two matches.

Would some technically minded genius tell me how to put links on an article, and how to put them on here, because this is the angle I have been looking for regarding Ghanaian league football.

But I do need the links! Help me please, I'll throw in a pair of skintight pink trousers and a talking bull.

green Zephirine said...

OK, so now we all hate you. First for writing so bloody well and second for living in such a wonderful place.

Terrible thing, jealousy.

greengrass said...

Dog above, you must be a real journo (touches forelock) coz you know the players personally -just like Marcela.
Any chance of some of them reading their poems for us?


andrewm said...

zeph, wonderful is highly subjective. I bet there's loads of creepy crawlies and you can never sleep because it's too hot.

offside, I may not envy your location but I do envy your writing skills. If Ebren isn't paying you for this, he should be.

Ebren, I'll cover Stirling Albion for the price of a pre and post-match pint.

No? I didn't think so.

pipita said...

MAESTRO orsay!!!!!! Lovely stuff, your essays make me want to take off to Tahiti as soon as posible. Still await your piece on french football in that same sublime literary style of yours. Your St Etienne-Kiev description yesterday made me even more anxious...Just one other thing, what exactly is that pakalolo stuff you mention

MotM said...

With apologies to Offside and Marine (which isn’t like this any more, but it was in ’77)

Saturday, 2:30 pm. I walk up the dirt track that leads to Marine’s answer to Old Trafford: the College Road stadium. This is my first assignment as Pseuds' Corner's Northern non-League correspondent and the three old gits selling tickets at the portakabin will be the first real test of my brand new accreditation.

- “£6"

- "Journalists get in for free, right?"

He shakes his head.

- "But I work for an international sports web site with a global readership."

He holds up two fingers. I turn off the charm.

- "I'm writing a report on today's game, it'll be great for the promotion of Northern non-League football."

-"£6 or fuck off."

I hand over my six pieces, he gives me a ticket and a blast of halitosis. When I emerge on the other side, I am suddenly breathless. Nothing to do with the steepness of the slope, it's the sheer tawdriness of the landscape that takes my breath away. Every time.

Waterloo’s 60’s blocks of flats tower above the stadium's single stand. Thin wisps of white cloud cling on lazily to the dark pillars of pre-stressed concrete. The pitch also has several shades of grey / brown, but in sharp contrast with its surroundings, it is nearly flat and does not have any glass or dog shit on it. The stand can hold a couple of hundred people and is fairly packed. Other spectators are scattered along the touchlines, sitting in the shade of barbed wire fences, or watching from the back of pick-up trucks parked behind the goals. No flags or flares, but plenty of Wagon Wheels and Bovril, as Northern youths love to enhance their acne. If the atmosphere was anymore turgid, we'd all be sound asleep.


mimi said...

Offside: do you paint as well? Even here in my Scottish eyrie which today is cold, grey and I can't see the mountains across the firth, I could feel the healing warmth of your island sun. More musings from your paradise, soon, please.

Ebren said...

Andy (and others) if I had the funds I would gladly pay.

Unfortunately, it the combined and total monies in the Pseuds' Corner account were combined they would not pay for two pints anywhere outside a student bar.

Although, and I might have told you this before (last night is fuzzy) Pseuds was directly responsible for me securing seven drinks in a pub quiz on Wednesday.

The question was "what Dutch sport based similar to basketball is played by teams with equal numbers of each sex"

The answer being provided here:

We won the quiz by half a point, and all got a free drink out of it.

duncan said...

Confession: Lazily I still haven't read your longer piece on canoeing. But must do so having read this very nice one Offs. Damn!

I was so "there" I got sunburned.
Don't Keep Off the Grass...

nesta said...

Rollicking Good Read. Thanks.

guitougoal said...

You are too generous with your words and not enough with your money; 600 frcs for a ticket to a mango-tango football game it's cheap.
Great postcard, no photo and still picture perfect.
You are worthy of a promotion.
The pseudo's board has agreed for your transfert in the Chechen republic to cover the games between Caucasian Athletic and Nokshy f.c.

greengrass said...

Offside -
aren't you lucky? Off to the Caucasus, with Georgia just a couple of armed-to-the-teeth terrorists away and your PC genuine journo id to flash in their beards. I'm sure your Gallic charm will serve you well in their company, and for once you won't look out-of-place in your loincloth.
Georgia has great local wines and men's choirs singing in strange harmonies - did I hear you saying "Just like home"? A bit of bear-wrestling may be on the cards if you can distinguish the bear from the barmaid.
If your melon doesn't swell to
Henry proportions at this well-deserved promotion, you will surely remember to drop by our virtual taproom and have a chin-wag with Ingrid and me on Sunday, non?


mimi said...

gg: are you planning to open on Sunday? I had to leave early last night - up at 7 for a work day limits my consumption even of Offside's absinthe. Not working Monday ....

greengrass said...

mimi -
it's all down to Ingrid and Offside. She (?) is in a rest home for the ravaged, he is all aloof, having wrote yet another masterpiece AND been promoted.
If she (?) opens and he turns up, it's on. I can't have a conversation with myself.
- What?
- I said I can't have a conversation with myself.


offside said...

Hi all,

thanks for dropping by. Since I got approximately one tenth of the commentaries generated by the taproom, I think there is a lesson to be learned: if you want to attract the bloggers, you have to serve them drinks. An article on the sport of cocktail mixing next time, then.


so I tweaked the facts a bit, 1-1, 4-0, what's the difference? Good luck with getting money from Ebren.


watching the grass grow and the volcano erode are the two main sports on Moorea. You can also watch the coral develop but you have to hold your breath.


what do you expect when the reporter is offside to begin with? Good luck with the ghanaian league article, did I tell you about this guy called Abedi?


don't be jealous, it's not all fun and games. Some of the support strings on the hammock have gotten tangled and I have to look into it. I hate DIY.


yeah, I've been networking and now have incredible access to the players, the managers AND the fanbase. Getting them to read poems shouldn't be a problem, in fact I was just thinking that what this site needs is a podcast in tahitian. Will ask Metua to read the shipping report.


thanks and you're welcome in tahiti anytime. French football is a vast subject, any requests?


-"£6 or fuck off." brilliant, I had a good laugh. Where is that place you're talking about?


a taste for absinthe and the islands is really all I have in common with Gauguin.

Ebren, -or rather, about Ebren- it's not just that he doesn't pay me, but when he jets over here on company money, he abuses his position of power as Editor and media magnate and... he makes me do things... unspeakable acts...

Duncan, nesta,

cheers, glad you enjoyed it.


postcard, yes, that was the idea.

gigi, mimi,

see yous in the taproom.

pipita said...


Come on, more info on the pakalolo, can you send us some??? As for my requirements for your French football piece, anything on Nantes, Monaco, Reims or St Ettiene, preferably in the 70's and early 80's will do me fine. You think your up for that??Already sent my complaints to Ebren about quality of the food at taproom......

mimi said...

pipita: if you cared so much about food in the taproom, you shouldn't have colluded in the killing of the haggis!

offside said...


sorry, I missed your comment. The creepy crawlies are not too much of a bother and the temperatures will start cooling down in a few weeks... fancy a change of scenery?

pipita said...


I had nothing to do with em haggis. Lets arrange an asado

pipita said...

Here goes for anyone interested in watching some Marama magic. Some great goals here

offside said...


great clip of Marama. He makes a tricky little duo with Baki Koné, not much height but plenty of gambeta. I hope they help Nice stay up.

Belated thanks to Ebren for proofreading the report and turning it into proper Queen's English (whatever that is).

greengrass said...

thanks for a new word: pakalolo.

I feared that this word might have something to do with immigrants from the Indian sub-continent not of the Hindu faith, and that pakalolo-bashing might occur on your otherwise-peaceful island, and was thus happy to find the true explanation.

I googled it, and it had my linguistic juices flowing free - "paka", apparently a pidgin word for tobacco/bacca/backy/smoke, and "lolo" , which can mean "crazy" or "crazy person".

A reasonable - though colloquial - translation might well be "wacky baccy".

A good example is "Who is the lolo who stole my pakalolo?".
I could really get on with that lingo - it seems far more fun than "Who put the bomp in the bomp a bomp a bomp?"

The renowned linguist, Ziggy Marley, provides the following enlightening example"I lit the pakalolo, and I said Mahalo"

This leaves me with the problem of identifying Mahalo: is he/she the Papuan equivalent of Ingrid?

Yours, etc.,

Professor Piaget Greengrasse

offsidealolo said...

It sure makes you linguistico paralytico.

I've heard it translated as "voleur de cerveau" - brain thief - as in, it robs you of reason. Crazy is more commonly said taravana, and the word for mayor is tavana, you can make a haiku out of that if you set the action in La Havana.

greengrass said...

a haiku would be easy, but I'll go for the limerick instead:

A potty-mouthed Cuban tavana
To Tahiti flew from Havana.
Pakalolo he lit
(Though he called it "shit"),
Then quietly went taravana.

O wau nô me ka mahalo,


offside said...

Do you know, I think Mahalo lives in St Malo...

(just go with the flow, yo, and hey, presto, you get your mojo and you're good to go but take it slow or you'll end up at the whisky-a-go-go)*

* Extract of pakalolo-induced poetry by Mahalo as quoted by Docteur Paul Pétard (1912 - 1980) in his book "Raau Tahiti, Plantes utiles de polynésie", Editions Haere Po No Tahiti.

Yours in science,

Professor Pakamambo

greengrass said...

My Dear Professor Pakamambo,

so Mahalo is a member of the stream-of-consciousless school of poetry. His/her verses certainly pack a punch!

Please bring him/her to the taproom. I hope that he/she can bring some Tahitian herbs along and perform some healing - my hound has a slight problem with his privates.

I tried to hoist Pétard on Amazon, but his book is apparently sold out; perhaps you can feed me a few more excerpts.

Yours in lingobingo,

Professor Piaget Greengrasse

MotM said...

"We all live to support the Great Marine" (to the tune of a well known ditty by a local band you may have heard of) resounded around College Road ground, Crosby, Liverpool every other Saturday. Marine FC were my local non-league team, who were actually very good, but held back by a stadium barely fit for purpose.

In thirty years, much has changed, but this gives a flavour of the experience and why it draws something of a contrast with Offside's local venue.

greengrass said...

Mouth -
nice photo!
I see Marine get to do a fair bit of travelling, to - among other places -
Mossley. I saw Mossley play a few times way back when - my brother played some matches with them.


professorpakamamboffside said...


thanks for the escapism. I particularly enjoyed picture 17 "Nicky waits as the high cross comes in." Looks like it's being played underwater. The captions are hilarious.

At least College Road has character. Next week, I'll take you to Pihaena's or Pao Pao's boringly unoriginal ground, more mango trees, common greenery, jagged peaks, pineapple fields, zippy blue skies, and pakalolo patches, see if you don't get tired of it. *cough*

Mon très cher Piaget,

I wonder if you would help me with a query of the highest importance. The Tahitian word for pineapple is "painapo". We believe the fruit may have been imported. Our team of eminent linguists from the PITL feel they are close to unravelling this most mystifying linguistic mystery. But as you know, Archeolinguistics is a new and tricky field where no mango grows, and so we would appreciate any light you could shed on the origins of the term.


Professor Pakamambo
Head of Quantum Linguistics
Pakalolo Institute of Tropical Languages

guitougoal said...

To Sister Alicia Vanina de Moreia:with her blue coif turned toward the Pacific. Pray for the alcoholics and cure their liver desease.
To Sister Leonie Aubois d'Ashby,pray for the smokers of smelly grass,pakalalo or kokomito.
To the sacristan of the parish of.....pray for-green grass-a devil-who has kept a taste for bad oratories and illicit fornication behind your church.
To Santa Theresa sister of the desesperados pray for the members of shipwrecked, the Tap-room save their soul at all costs and in every manner.
Forgiveness, Forgiveness, forgive Peter Crouch for his hat trick and pray for the fever of Diego and the relegation of Bocca.

guitougoal said...


greengrass said...

Mon plus très cher Pakalamalamadingdong,

I have been waiting for you to ask that very question.

May I be the first to congratulate you on the establishment of your long-awaited Department of Quantum Linguistics - we in the Olde Worlde are expecting great things of all you plucky chappies down there in the polar regions.

Ah, "painapo" - yes, knee-jerking laymen have often asserted, in their customary brash manner, that this is a "corrupted" form of the
English "pineapple". Nothing could
- as I am certain you have suspected all along - be further from the truth.

A letter from my revered ancestor,
Dr. Hulahula Greengrasse, relates the manner in which the first French settlers were assailed by the natives.

Having taught the Papuans the rudiments of French (and, of course, the One True Faith) by bribing them with bread,
the settlers substituted the customary loaves with pineapples imported from the Yukon.

The locals - having found the strange fodder difficult to chew -
began pelting the settlers with the fruit, all the while chanting "Pain
a peu, pain a peu!"

I'm sure you are well able to work out the rest on your own.

Isn't archeolinguistics fun?

Mauruuru till you drop,


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