31 years of Fiji FACT
The first round of the Digicel Fiji FACT kicks off this Sunday at the ANZ Stadium in Suva before the tournament proper starts at Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka a week later after 21 years, we take you down memory lane bringing the fond FACT memories dating back to the inception of the tournament in 1991.
In 1991, the inaugural Fiji FACT then sponsored by BBC/Wonderchick was held at Ba’s Govind Park and Ba won the first FACT title on home soil edging out Labasa 1-0 in the final.
Labasa’s form in the tournament had cast a shadow of doubt even among the Ba faithful on the chance of their team.
Ba seemed to be able to do just enough to scrape through pool play and then in the semi-final against Nasinu.
Labasa on the other hand had put up a series of dazzling performances, culminating in a 3-0 victory over Lautoka in the semi-final.
In the final, they were cut down to size in the first minute telling drive by their attacking defender cum midfielder, Lote Delai and the score remained at 1-0 till the final whistle.
Labasa bounced back in 1992 and claimed the title in their home ground edging out the in-form Nadroga side 1-0 in the grand final watched by a jam packed Subrail Park crowd comprising of mostly Labasa fans.
The tournament under new sponsors Vinod Patel and Fiji Forest Industries had an increase in the prize money which also lifted the spirits of the districts to give in their best.
Stocky Labasa striker Solomone Catarogo also a well-known boxer had scored the winner in the final to send the Labasa fans into a frenzy. Nadroga born and raised Ramendra Dutt played a key role for the northerners from the midfield and also captained the Babasiga Lions in the tournament.
Nadroga after finishing off as the runners up in 1992 took the 1993 Fiji FACT title in Nadi edging out a relatively unknown Tavua outfit 2-0 in the final.
Defending champions Labasa had a nightmare in the tournament and bowed out after finishing off at the bottom of the table after its pool matches.
Nadroga captain Anirudh Singh broke the deadlock in the fifth minute of the second spell after the two teams went to the breather scoreless. Five minutes later, sensational Nadroga striker Radike Nawalu add the second for the Stallions at Prince Charles Park after fully utilising a Tavua goalie Alfred Arapio blunder.
The trend of the past year’s runner-up bagging the title in the current year continued in 1994 with Tavua surprising all to bag the title edging hot favorites Suva 1-0 in the final.
The semi-finals saw Tavua overcome Rewa with the unlikely 4-1 scoreline in penalty kicks at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori. Suva in the other semi-final outclassed Lautoka 2-0 in extra time.
Gold Mineworker Amir Ahmed scored the winner just two minutes from full time to hand Tavua its first victory in the super premier division. The goal was also the first one scored against Suva which was coached by the late Billy Singh.
Suva maintained the trend in 1995 and thumped tournament hosts Labasa 4-0 in a dramatic final at Subrail Park.
The 95 tournament was the first-ever tournament in Fiji soccer history involving 12 teams at the top level with an increased $20000 sponsorship.
Nadi broke the past four years trend in 1996 when its players also laid their hands on the FACT trophy after outclassing a hapless Lautoka outfit in the grand final 4-0.
Ramendra Dutt who had switched from Nadroga in the 1996 season was the toast of the side as he scored some brilliant goals for the Jetsetters in the tourney alongside goal-scoring duo of Emosi Baleinuku and Alipate Driu.
Labasa and Ba met in 1997 final with a win to either leading to their first multiple winners of the Fiji FACT crown.
A tense, if the dour game ended in a nill- all tie. The then national striker Livai Duguca had the best chances in the final but his scoring boots were not on target.
The two teams decided to share the prize money after their agreement based on their decision that national commitments were approaching and players needed to spend more time in the national camp.
Ba was too strong in the 1998 Fiji Bitter FACT and outclassed all its opponents in the tournament before accounting for Nadi in a one way final 3-0. Midfielder Lorima Batirerega got a double while Manoa Masi and Keni Doidoi got a goal each in the victory at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori.
1999 FACT hosts Labasa ensured that the FACT title remained in the northern division and displayed brilliant football unleashing their new talents in the likes of Thomas Vulivuli and Pita Bolaitoga.
The Babasiga Lions piped Lautoka in extra time after the two teams were locked 1-1 at halftime.
Lautoka reigned supreme in the 2000 FACT which was hosted in Nadi. The Sugar City boys accounted for Nadroga in an all exciting final 2-0 to claim the title.
Nadroga brought back the past trend of the tournament in 2001 when it finished as victors on its home soil after losing the final in the previous season.
The Stallions beat a spirited Labasa outfit marshalled by Simon Peters and goalkeeper Shamal Kumar in the penalty shoot-out in the final 7-6.
Olosara brothers Atunesh and Nitesh Prasad were stars of the Stallions pack with players like goalkeeper Luke Tavuyara, Kameli Tuilawai, Bineshwar Singh, Petaia and Masi Natisiwai, Harish Bali to name a few.
2002 FACT hosts Lautoka performed above expectations in the tournament and sent big guns packing to make the final which it eventually won 3-2 in the penalty shoot-out over another surprise finalist, Nasinu who entered the tournament as underdogs.
A young and determined Navua outfit that no one gave any chance entering into the 2003 FACT won the tournament to shock the football fraternity in Fiji. The Rice Farm town boys outclassed big guns in their pool games and also beat Ba in the semis to book a date with tournament hosts Rewa in the final.
Nippy striker Esala Ali rose to the occasion in the final to score the lone and winning goal of the final. His strike partner Valerio Nawatu also hit headlines with his brilliant performances in the tourney.
From 2004-2007 it has been only a way traffic in the FACT as the traditional football champs of Fiji football, the Men In Black Ba scooped the title for the four consecutive years.
In 2004, Ba beat Suva 2-0 in the final in Nadi to grab the title which was evaded by the district for some time.
Once again in Nadi, the Men In Black beat the hosts Nadi in the final of Fiji Bitter FACT 2005.
Ba met its all-time rival, Labasa in the finals of the 2006 and 2007 FACT and reigned supreme on both occasions.
In the 2006 final, Ba white washed Labasa 3-0 in the final with youngster Tuimasi Manuca and Osea Vakatalesau shining in the victory and in the 2007 final a Malakai Tiwa goal was all Ba needed to keep the cup in their cabinet for the fourth consecutive year.
Navua ended its 5-year wait in 2008 and hoisted the Fiji FACT trophy at Prince Charles Park after beating Labasa in a pulsating final. The final also for the very first time in FACT history saw a player representing two districts in a tournament.
Striker Epeli Saukuru who scored the winner for Navua in the final featured for Nadroga in pool matches and only became eligible for the southerners on the final day as the new player transfer window which was introduced in Fiji came into effect on that very day.
Labasa’s Pita Bolaitoga and Maciu Dundamu were also alleged by their team officials of taking bribery before the final and this created a lot of fuss and debate around the soccer fraternity with the two dejected players leaving Labasa and joining Ba in the new window.
The Gurjeet Singh-coached Navua retained its title again in 2009 at the tfl National Stadium and this season the stars shining in their success were their Solomon Islands imports of James Naka and Joe Luwi. The duo scored goals in the semifinal against Suva and Naka again sealed Navua’s fate by scoring the winning goal against Lautoka in the final which ended with a 2-1 score-line.
In 2010, Navua gunned for three times in a row and went very close by qualifying for the final at Churchill Park after ousting hosts Lautoka 2-1 in the semifinal while Ba beat Labasa in the other semifinal 1-0. The final was evenly contested but Avinesh Warran Swamy’s 25th-minute drive from the right-hand edge of the box made all the defence as the Men In Black clinched the FACT title after a lapse of two years.
The 2011 Rewa ended its 21-year drought via Solomon Island import James Naka goal in the 50th minute against Labasa at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
The Delta Tigers defeated Nadi 1-0 while Labasa overcame Lautoka in the semi-finals. The Delta Tigers topped Group A while Labasa was the runner-up from the pool. Nadi booked the semi-final as leader of Group B while Lautoka was the runner-up.
Current head coach Marika Rodu was coach/player for the Delta Tigers and had the services of players like Simione Tamanisau,, Betsy Ali, Joshua Wilson,Iosefo Verevou, Usaia Tadu, Archie Watkins, Ratu Veresa Toma, Joeli Ranitu, Carsten Wise, Kelepi Qaqa, James Naka, Epeli Saukuru, Niumaia Tagi, Goerge Lui, Posiano Kalisito, Mohammed Sameer, Jone Gukilau, Alfraz Zoheb (GK) Uliasi Tamanisau (GK)
Suva ended its 16-year scarcity in 2012 under the guidance of coach Gurjit Singh at Govind Park in Ba. Ba won the first semi-final against Lautoka 1-0 with a Simeli Naresia goal late in the match with six minutes of regulations time left. In the second semi-final, Suva defeated Labasa 2-0. They broke the Labasa spirit with an early seventh-minute lead through a Naithan Shivam penalty kick. Labasa made a few attempts at an equaliser, but Suva on the counterattack sealed the victory with a measured finish by defender Simione Maikali.
In 2013 for the first time Fiji FACT was played at two venues, the first round of matches were played at the ANZ Stadium in Suva and the rest at Prince Charles Park in Nadi.
Nadi showed its class in the final beating Ba 3-1. Rusiate Materenga scored twice while Malakai Rakula scored the final goal. Avinesh Waran Swamy scored the goal for the Men-in-Black.
Nadi retained its title beating Suva 1-0 in the final at Ratu Cakobau in 2014, Amani Makoe’s long-range attempt in the first spell of extra time was enough for Nadi to retain the silverware and win the first major championship of the 2014 season. Nadi goalkeeper Benaminio Mateinaqara who was later announced the player of the tournament was the thorn for the Suva side as his numerous saves denied Suva. Suva headed into the final being the only undefeated side in the two-weekend competition and was hot favorites to upset Nadi. The capital side missed the services of Fiji U20 rep Nickel Chand who played a vital role on the road to the final was suspended after being sent off in the semifinal clash against Labasa. Suva had beaten Labasa 2-1 and Nadi upset Ba 2-0 in the semifinal stage. After a normal time, both sides were locked 0-0, and referee Ravitesh Behari signaled for extra time. Nadi looked strong in the opening spell and Makoe nailed the match-winning goal.
Labasa defeated Rewa 2-0 in the 2015 Fiji FACT final at the Prince Charles Park in Nadi.
The ‘Babasiga Lions’ fans were in a jubilant mood after the side displayed exciting football.
The game started with both strikers of the teams testing the goalkeepers. Rewa goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau copped the most and was not able to defend his fort well. Ravinesh Karan Singh drew first blood from a header in the first quarter. Rewa applied pressure but unfortunately, defender Simione Maikali was red-carded after he fouled Edwin Shahayam.
Labasa led 1-0 at halftime.
In the second half, Labasa continued the match with the same momentum which resulted in Taione Kerevanua striking from close range inside the box to score the second goal.
Star turn: Kerevanua was the star player for Labasa. The team was coached by Bal Sanju Reddy.
After failing to make it three-in-a-row in 2015, Nadi came backfiring and defeated Suva 3-0 in penalty kicks in the final at the Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori in 2016.
Nadi successfully found the net in three penalty attempts while Suva missed the three attempts.
Napolioni Qasevakatini, Antonio Tuivuna and Mataiasi Toma all scored for Nadi.
Suva captain Pita Rabo’s and Waisake Navunigasau’s attempts was saved by Nadi goalkeeper Vereti Dickson while Madhwan Gounder was way off the mark.
Joseph Nitya Nand was the coach for Nadi while Gurjit Singh guided Suva.
Rewa defeated defending champion Nadi 1-0 to win the 2017 Fiji FACT title at Ratu Cakobau Park today.
Defender Samuela Kautoga was the hero for the Delta Tigers after he headed in the winner in the 32nd minute after connecting well with a Madhavan Goundar free-kick.
Kautoga also won the Player of Day 4 and Player of the Tournament awards while goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau won the Golden Glove award.
In 2018 Rewa made it back-to-back Fiji FACT win at home beating Labasa 5-3 on penalty kicks. Rewa goalkeeper Benito Waqavou was the hero for the Delta.
Waqavou was injured when he was fouled by Labasa striker Christopher Wasasala during the second spell of extra time and he refused to leave the field.
Both teams started strongly in front of more than 10,000 spectators.
The slippery ground saw players struggling to adapt to the surface and maintain possession.
Labasa captain Taniela Waqa led by example as he marshalled his players well and made several attempts that were unsuccessful.
The visitors did not back down and their attacking moves had the Rewa fans on their toes. Rewa missed a sitter in the 66th minute when an Epeli Saukuru strike missed by inches.
Labasa came back but the Rewa defence led by Peniame Drova and Josateki Tamudu stood the test.
Rewa’s scorers were Captain Amani Makoe, Setareki Hughes, Savenaca Baleidrokadroka, Lorima Dau and Josateki Tamudu. While Labasa’s Ilisoni Lolaivalu, Antonio Tuivuna, Pita Levaci (Bolaitoga) scored while Wasasala missed.
NADI were the champions of the 2019 Fiji FACT after beating Suva 2-1 in the final at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
Suva had taken a 1-0 advantage against Nadi at the halftime break with a goal from Filipe Baravilala in the 11th minute of play.
Rusiate Matererega equalised for Nadi in the 47th minute of play, 1-1.
Jeshnal Kumar then put Nadi into 2-1 lead in the second half which was the final score.
The 30th edition of the Fiji FACT in 2020 concluded at the Subrail Park in Labasa. The first round of matches was played at ANZ Stadium in Suva and Churchill Park in Lautoka before the tournament properly started at Subrail Park in Labasa.
For the first time, the tournament was played in November due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, the tournament ended in three weeks due to unplayable ground conditions under a heavy downpour in Labasa.
The first semi-final match between Rewa and Nadi was called off on Saturday because of poor ground conditions at Subrail Park, Labasa.
Defending champions Nadi were leading 1-0 in the first half with a 5th minute from Vuniuci Tikomaimereke before the match was called off at halftime and Fiji FA decided to restart the match the next day but did not eventuate as the ground conditions did not improve with the semi-finals being moved to next weekend.
The first semi-final between Rewa and Nadi resumed from the second half where it was abandoned.
Midfielder Gabrieli Matanisiqa found the equailiser for the Delta Tigers in the 72nd minute on a muddy Subrail Park but it was cut short in the 89th minute after Ame Votaniu in the 89th minute sealed the victory for the Jetsetters with a powerful drive.
In the other semi-final, Suva outclassed host Labasa 3-1. Christopher Wasasala, Sairusi Nalaubu and Shahil Dave scored for the Capital City while Ilisoni Tuinawaivuvu scored the lone goal for the Babasiqa Lions.
In the final Suva played Nadi and were lucky to clinch the title.
No goal may have been scored in the first spell but it took only four minutes in the second half when Suva was up on the scoreboard through an own goal due to some poor communication in defense by Afraz Ali and Serevi Waqa.
Ali headed the ball into his own goal from a Shahil Dave cross which left Nadi goalkeeper Dickson bewildered and disappointed.
The capital city side’s defensive line was tighter after that goal with Filipe Baravilala, Joeli Ranitu, Simione Nabenu and Remueru Tekiate standing tall.
Sahil Dave was named the player of the tournament while Suva goalkeeper Beniamino Mateinaqara won the Golden Glove Award, and Sairusi Nalaubu won the Golden Boot award.
Last year the tournament was not held due to the restrictions imposed by the authorities after the Corona Virus took its toll on the country.
The 2022 Digicel Fiji FACT promises to be more interesting and exciting as Group A which has been classed as the pool of death has the likes of, Rewa, Labasa, Navua, Navua and Lautoka and only the two best from the pool will be able to progress to the eliminations.
The tournament also will be different from previous seasons as a fresh team in the form of Tailevu Naitasiri will be part of the competition. The southerners are grouped with host Nadroga, Suva, Ba, and Nasinu.
With so much hype and expectations, the winner will only be known when the dust settles at Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka on Sunday, June 5.