Football | SPORTS

Fijian Bula Boys: Masi To Krishna

Wellington: Wellington Phoenix’s exciting Fijian striker has shown the Hyundai A-League what a “Bula Boy” can offer professional football ranks in this part of the world. But Roy Krishna wasn’t
24 Feb 2015 12:05
Fijian Bula Boys: Masi  To Krishna

Wellington: Wellington Phoenix’s exciting Fijian striker has shown the Hyundai A-League what a “Bula Boy” can offer professional football ranks in this part of the world.

But Roy Krishna wasn’t the first Fijian star to grace our national league. Esala Masi was the first.

An National Soccer League Grand Final winner in 2000 with the Wollongong Wolves, the powerful central striker was the first ever player from Fiji to make his mark on club football in Australia.

Signed in 1994 following a Fijian Under-23 tour of Australia, Harry Bingham brought the unknown 20-year-old to Morwell Falcons. And he’s been in Australia ever since.

Masi racked up over 40 appearances for his beloved national team during his golden era with the Bula Boys, who competes in the Oceania Confederation, and is still going strong in Brisbane’s local leagues, living in Caboolture with his wife and daughter and turning out for local league side Mitchelton FC.

He’ll see how his 42-year-old bones feel before deciding if he goes around again this year.

A Roar fan, Masi won’t miss a chance to watch his countryman Krishna in the Hyundai A-League, and feels a sense of pride that Fiji now has a second star on the national club stage.

“He’s got a good attitude, because it’s a hard thing coming here from Fiji and trying to make it,” Masi said.

“I follow him [Krishna] whenever they come to Suncorp to support him. And a lot of the Fijian community support him when he comes to town with Wellington.”

Should the Phoenix end up in this season’s Grand Final, Masi might have some sage advice to Krishna after his own – quite remarkable – experience at the turn of the new millennium with Wollongong Wolves.

In one of the greatest comebacks – and games – in Australian club history, the part-timers who played a gorgeous brand of football took on the then-behemoth of the NSL, Perth Glory.

Over 43,000 at Subiaco witnessed a sublime first half as the home side raced to a 3-0 lead –the Championship was coming to Perth for the first time. Or was it.

It all changed in 45 dramatic second half minutes.

Three goals dragged the contest and momentum back in Wolves’ favour, sucking the life out of a deflated Glory who went on to lose on penalties after a pulsating 3-3 draw.

Wolves’ triumph was a huge story – the media loved it and so did Masi. “It was the first time I’d played in front of 43,000 fans,” he said ,still savoring the memory.

It was also the game that featured a memorable half-time speech from Wolves coach Nick Theo.

“He didn’t say anything at all. Walked up and down, up and down with his hands behind his back,” Masi said.

“The fourth official walked in to say we had to go back out and just before everyone stood up he turned to us and said: ‘If Perth can score three goals in the first half, you can score four in the second half and win the grand final.

“And credit to the boys, as soon as we got the first goal the morale lifted and everything changed. Perth’s body language dropped. And we believed we could do this. And after the third goal we knew we’d win after penalty kicks. For those who were there, it’ll stick in the mind of everyone.”

The return to Wollongong was even more special. After a red-eye flight back to Sydney, an insatiable media was waiting for the team. Mayhem ensued.

On the drive down to the ‘Gong, the team bus was welcomed by police cars at Bulli Pass who escorted them into town before the Fire Brigade welcomed their local heroes with a burst of their water cannons.

The fans were waiting at the Fraternity Club for a celebration with the players that remains one of the most joyous nights in local football history.

Masi remains the only Fijian to date to have won a national league grand final. But that was to be his only Grand Final medal. By the following year Masi had left the Brandon Park club and, as a result, missed out on the club going back to back at Parramatta Stadium (defeating South Melbourne 2-1 in the grand final).

He’d moved to Newcastle by then, under coach Lee Sterrey and later Ian Crook. But it wasn’t the same as his joyous four years on the South Coast, though his two goals in a 2002 second leg major semifinal win over Glory was a highlight.

As for his present-day football career and Masi’s wife isn’t quite as enamoured with the Brisbane local leagues. In fact she’s never seen her husband play.

“She says it’s too slow. She says, ‘When I met you, you were in the NSL and it was so much faster!”

At least the Masi family can relive their golden era whenever the new Fijian hero Roy Krishna comes to town with his Phoenix teammates.

 

 

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