Groundhopping credibility boost for wandering WHU fan…
Welcome to the Lawson Tama Stadium, Honiara, for Solomon Islands versus Vanuatu. The incessant heat has abated and there’s a pleasing drizzle and mud feel to the day. It could almost be Wigan away with beetle-nut instead of burgers.
After lunch at the Lime Lounge (Honiara’s answer to Ken’s Café) we ask at the Coca Cola tent about tickets and are told that they go on sale at two o’clock. Bizarrely you give the money through a mesh fence to a bloke who returns with the tickets. The grandstand costs a fiver, the hill a quid. And there’s no match programme – which would be enough to send Matt into pre-match meltdown.
The Lawson Tama has one Rotherham-style wooden grandstand, six rows deep, and on the other side of the ground a small bank of uncovered seating. The rest of the ground is – literally – a hill. If West Ham were ever to play here it’s the sort of stadium where we’d lose in a cup upset.
Earlier that morning we’ve been inside the Lawson Tama for the 33rd anniversary of SI independence celebrations. All very colonial with parades of police and a brass band playing When The Saints Go Marching In just like at West Ham in the 1970s. In Prime Minister Danny Philip’s speech his mention of SI winning the Oceania futsal tournament gets the biggest cheer of the day. Philip then announces our host, the legendary Mary-Louise O’Callaghan. has been awarded a Solomon Island Medal. We are not worthy indeed.
GO SOLO GO!
We’ve donned “Go Solo Go” bandanas for the match. As the game kicks off. the crowd on the hill shelter beneath umbrellas. There's no chanting, the crowd are pretty quiet early doors and my daughter Lola compares it to the Emirates Stadium. We’re with Jenny Wate, married to SI’s West Ham supporter Arthur. She explains that it’s an atmosphere of respect today, as it’s a friendly international ad a public holiday. Games between the provinces are livelier. A couple of years ago a disallowed goal in a Honiara versus Malaita Eagles match resulted in stones being thrown, the offices of the FA being burned down and a riot in Chinatown.
What gets the crowd going is laughter. There’s mass giggling when Vanuatu miss and then when Solo’s number 11skillfuky creates an opening only to fire over the bar. Jenny uses the all-purpose pidgin exclamation of “Sey!” when Solo’s quick passing game misfires. The number nine Benjamin Totori, has played in Australia and New Zealand, as have several other players, she explains. The ball boys are barefoot and there’s a gap behind the seats, so that if you place your bag too far back it disappears into the void beneath.
On 63 minutes the Solomons take the lead after good work on the right. Joe Luwi boxes clever and scores from close range at the end where the parked cars are. A five-year old ball boy gets a big cheer for some ball juggling and then Solo score again as Benjamin Totori beats keeper Bong. Interestingly Solo substitute Gideon is captain of both the futsal and soccer teams. Late on Vanuatu pull back a deserved goal. So it’s two-one to the Solo Boys. A decent match and a groundhopping expedition completed that surely beats Matt’s trip to the Faroe Islands…
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