EXCLUSIVE – From the Netherlands with love: Tuvaluan heroes Alopua Petoa and Vaisua Liva speak on their unbelievable European experience
By Christian Rizzitelli
October 5, 2012 was one of the days that Tuvaluan people would have never thought to live. A country with just 10,544 dwellers (according to the last census in July 2011), and extremely isolated from the rest of the world, has little chance of getting noticed in a continent like Europe, especially if we’re talking about football, many of you would think. However that day, this apparently unrealizable thing occurred for real. Two little known boys from the tiny island, Alopua Petoa and Vaisua Liva, managed to fly to the Netherlands for a three-month internship with VV Brabantia, a Dutch club currently playing in the country’s sitxh division, thanks to the superhuman work from the Dutch support Tuvalu, an ambitious foundation whose target is to make Tuvalu a member of the FIFA in a few years.
We asked Frank Westerink, a member of the association’s team, our questions, to discover how things have gone so far for the boys, who couldn’t have answered themselves as their English is still improving.
Describe how things have gone so far for Alopua and Vaisua in the Netherlands.
Both Alopua and Vaisua are very happy so far. They really gained a lot of new experience. They saw sheep for the first time! It’s getting colder and colder in Eindhoven [where they’re currently living] so they both have to get used to that. They even had white smoke coming out of their mouths without smoking! Football also is going good. Alopua and Vaisua are both getting better and better and are really part of VV Brabantia B, they even had the chanse to play with the first team and they made a lot of new friends at the club.
How have they settled down in the Netherlands? Was it easy to adapt to a completely different environment from Tuvalu?
Alopua and Vaisua have adapted to their new enviroment quickly. They gained a lot of new experience but were well looked after by people from the Foundation Dutch support Tuvalu and their football club VV Brabantia. With their personal guides they have all the possibilities to enjoy Eindhoven as much as possible.
What do they miss of their country?
Alopua and Vaisua do miss Tuvaluan fish! In Tuvalu everybody eats fish every day, in Eindhoven they eat a lot of other things. They miss the nice weather as well. It’s too cold in Eindhoven in autumm and winter, and of course Alopua is missing his girlfriend in Tuvalu.
What Tuvaluan people thought when they left for this new extraordinary experience?
In Tuvalu people were very proud and concerned. Proud because they would be the first men to go to the Netherlands to play football, for both of them it’s a huge experience. People were so happy and are hoping many more will follow. The football association, the government and the people of Tuvalu are following almost every step the boys are making.
But also they were concerned as well for the safety of the boys. The football club and the Foundation DsT were able to gain the trust of the people of Tuvalu and then they could eventually come to the Netherlands.
Which is the thing they appreciate most of football in the Netherlands?
The high level and the high speed. In Tuvalu football is at a good level but is played with a slow speed, mostly because of the bad condition of the football field. The field and the accomodation are of a high level as well at VV Brabantia, it’s almost perfect. Their coaches and team mates give them many advice as well, they do appreciate that a lot. Everybody is trying to make them better players.
Which has been their greatest moment since arriving at Brabantia
There have been many great moments. They played against FC Eindhoven, a professional Dutch club of the Eerste Divisie, they have been skiing and went to a match of PSV. The stadium was full with 40,000 people, while Tuvalu only has about 12,000 habitants [they saw more people in just a stadium than in their whole country!]. Of course they have been visiting some bars in Eindhoven as well with their teammates and they spent with them great evenings.
Did they meet some Dutch people who had already heard of Tuvalu? If yes, what do they think about the country?
There are really just a few people in the Netherlands who know about Tuvalu. Everybody of VV Brabantia knows a little bit about Tuvalu but most of them became interested when they knew Alopua and Vaisua were coming to Eindhoven. People at the gym of Vaisua and Alopua knew a little bit as well. Most people do know that Foppe de Haan was head coach of Tuvalu last year for a few weeks. In general this has been hugely new in the Netherlands.
Which is the biggest difference between them and the Dutch players they’ve been playing with?
Of course the biggest difference is the language! The thing that is most in common is the passion for football. Vaisua and Alopua are playing in a team of their own level. They get challenged by some players that are better, of course, but there is not much difference between Dutch players and them. There is one big difference for the clubs: in the Netherlands football clubs have many teams, for youth, women and men, while in Tuvalu most clubs only have two or three teams.
What Tuvalu football should do to improve their game?
Right now the most important thing is a new football field. The Tuvalu stadium has a terrible field, if it has rained a lot the pitch can’t be played at all. The field at VV Brabantia is made of artificial turf and is great to play at. It gives the players the change to play the best possible and it makes the game faster.
Besides that it’s important that the youth of Tuvalu are going to play football, both at school and at clubs. The real skills get developed during the youth and many Tuvalu players haven’t played enough football during while being young.
What needs to be done to spread a football culture in Oceania in their opinion?
There is already a football culture in Oceania but for the smaller countries it’s difficult to set up football as one of their most important sports. For countries like Australia and New Zealand is far easier. However the recent results of Tahiti are fantastic for Oceania, they will play at the Confederations Cup, an amazing result for them and the continent. For the smaller Pacific islands these results are important, as there is a big competitions with other sports like Rugby. However with time the best sport will get the most attention.
What do they do in their spare time in the Netherlands?
Alopua and Vaisua are very often in the gym. They are trying to gain more and more muscles! They do play a lot of football games at the Play-Station as well and they even went skiing, for both it was the first time. They felt like robots with the ski boots on!
If you had the chance, would they come back to Tuvalu of would they stay in Europe? Why?
Both of them would go back to Tuvalu. They would like to visit Europe again but Tuvalu is their home and that’s important in their country and culture. The families of both the boys live there and the girlfriend of Alopua also lives in Tuvalu. Both of them have an important role now as they’re promoting football on the islands.
Check Alopua and Vaisua’s progress and their amazing adventure in this mini TV series, from the Tuvalu National Football Association’s official YouTube channel! http://www.youtube.com/user/footballtuvalu