40 young footballers from the Kingdom of Tonga on a trip of a lifetime

Pau Likiliki Tonga soccer managerOFC: Sept 16, 2014 – Tonga may not be better known for their skills with an oval ball rather than football’s round ball – but that could all change in the near future.

A group of 40 young footballers from the Kingdom of Tonga are in New Zealand for two weeks on a football and cultural exchange.
The national U-13 and U-15 boys’ teams are gearing up to play eight matches between them, as well as gain some insight into what life is like for students and footballers in New Zealand.

Tonga Just Play Project Manager Pau Likiliki is heading up the tour and says it has all come about through a collaboration between the Tonga Government, parents and the Tonga Football Association.

“We sought assistance from the Tonga Government’s Department of Sport two years ago and pursued for this tour to be realised this year,” Likiliki explains.

“Basically the objective is to give these players, who have come through the Just Play Programme, something to work towards and to further develop Grassroots football in Tonga.

“While we have the Centres of Excellence, which is a great initiative, however it focuses on training and there is no competition or incentives for kids, or even parents, to be involved.

“What we decided to do was to have them come to New Zealand and experience a different style of play, a different atmosphere.”

Getting a large group of youth to New Zealand from Tonga is no easy feat, and while they have had the support of the Government the kids were made to take on some of the responsibility themselves.

Likiliki says a lot of fundraising has gone on back home with a Work-a-thon proving one of the most beneficial initiatives. Further funding from Kingdom Travel and Air New Zealand means that football won’t be the sole experience for these youngsters, with Rainbow’s End and Auckland Zoo also on the itinerary.

“The activities we have organised will be a big thrill for these youths.

“We have been invited to King’s College to tour the campus and see what the school conditions are like in New Zealand. We will also spend a day “living like an Aucklander” where we will all take the train from Otahuhu into the city centre, walk around and then share an evening meal.

“These will be all new, and good, experiences for the kids which they will never do in Tonga.”

While new and exciting adventures are on the horizon for the group, football
remains the priority.

“During the last phase of Just Play these kids really embraced the continuous activities that it provided and that built their passion for football,” Likiliki says.

“We decided to have the most motivated kids from the Just Play Programme to keep them in the game. It’s been an uphill battle even keeping the kids who are passionate about the game involved, but we’re happy with the group we have with us.”

With the OFC U-17 Championship looming in January, there is a chance this may be the opportunity some of these players need to break into that squad.

Likiliki says there are certainly a couple of them who could be in with a
chance of breaking into the squad.

“The overall aim is that the U-15 players have been exposed to an overseas style of play which will give Tonga the chance to have a better U-17 rather than players just coming in for the tournament and then disappearing.

“It won’t be all of these players but certainly some of them will return to fight for a spot in the final team.”

Likiliki is hoping his two teams turn out well against their opponents, with their first match against Sacred Heart College this afternoon, but says that the objective remains enjoyment and experience the atmosphere and weather in New Zealand.

“If we win it’s an added bonus but the experience of softer ground and cold, windy weather is going to be an interesting one for the kids.

“They are very keen to get out and start playing.”

The Tonga U-13 and U-15 teams have a full schedule of game lined up during their two-week tour in Auckland, New Zealand.

Match schedule:
Tuesday 16 September
Sacred Heart College

Thursday 18 September
Westlake Boys’ High School

Saturday 20 September
U-13 vs. Eastern Suburbs FC
U-15 vs. Three Kings FC

Wednesday 24 September
Wynrs Wynton Rufer Academy

Friday 26 September
Coerver Academy

Saturday 27 September
King’s College

For more about Tonga football go to www.tongafootball.to

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