Mangere Sports Stadium was once again at the centre of another international fixture when the Canadian Fiji U17 team visited New Zealand for a two-match tour against a Mangere United NZ Fiji Selection and the Kahukura U17, a new initiative of the Maori football community.
The Canadians, under the guidance of Jack Reddy, accepted an offer from Rajesh Singh to tour New Zealand en-route to Fiji, with the assistance of the NZ Fiji football community.
‘Friendship Tour,’ as it was called, was not all about football. It was also about the cultural experience for the Canadians who had never travelled to New Zealand previously.
During their stay, they were guests of the Kahukura Group, which helped the Canadians experience Maori food and culture, including a visit to the marae and a Maori pouwhiri (welcome ceremony).
James Cook School students entertained them at an event.
The Canadian team were largely children of former Fiji residents living in Canada. They were trained by former Fiji greats Ivor Evans and Ronald Choudhary.
The team is part of an academy established in Canada by Mr Reddy.
During their opening match on August 6, the Canadians, who are coming off their summer, felt the Centre Park chill and took a while to adjust.
The Mangere United NZ Fiji Selection, who had little preparation, put up a great fight in an even contest to end the match in a goalless draw.
The Kahukura match was also a thriller to watch with both teams locked at 1-1, until Kahukura team scored the winning goal, with a few minutes remaining.
The Kahukura team was made up largely of Maori players in the Coerver Football Academy run by Phillip Parker.
The Canadians were guests at a farewell dinner on August 9. They were very proud of what they saw with the NZ Fiji football achievements in New Zealand.
They could not get over the new stadium and were envious that they did not have such a venue in Canada.
Gifts and memorabilia were exchanged as the Canadian left our shores.
They have offered the same friendship tour to the New Zealand teams and were positive of making a comeback tour in the future.
Mr Reddy said, “I was touched by the generosity of the both NZ Fijians and the Maori and want to pay this back in Canada.”
The tri-games Friendship tour will end on September 4, when the NZ Fiji Selection plays the Kahukura team at Centre Park as part of the Multicultural Eid Festival.