‘Cheetah’ stands tall

August 18, 2012

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Kelemedi ‘Cheetah’ Vosuga (left) with a friend in Brisbane, Australia.

Photo: Courtesy of SUSANA TABAIWALU

By ASUAD ALI in Vancouver, Canada

Over the decades Lautoka has produced a number of great footballers but none greater than the skilful and sublime Kelemedi ‘Cheetah’ Vosuga.
A prodigy with world class exemplary vision, body movement and uncanny ball skills,
‘Cheetah’ helped the Blues win the 1984 National League and the Inter-District Championship. In 1985, he led Lautoka to its first ever Battle of the Giants crown and that was followed by the memorable IDC title defence on enemy territory – Ba’s Govind Park.
Based on district loyalty, dexterity and the number of titles won by a player, midfield ace ‘Cheetah’ has to be Lautoka’s all-time best, if not the greatest.
He was a regular in the Fiji team from 1979-1985. Top coaches Mike Thoman, Mani Naicker, Sashi Mahendra Singh and Rudi Gutendorf were influential in guiding him to the top. One of his career highlights included two classic goals at Nadi’s Prince Charles Park in 1985 when Fiji upset English Premier League side Newcastle United 3-0. That day his mettle made former England international Peter Beardsley look pretty ordinary.
“We met after the game and Peter was very impressed. He offered to arrange everything for me if I wanted to try out for Newcastle United. I was double-minded and didn’t think about it seriously,” the 55-year-old recalled during a telephone interview from his Brisbane home last week.
‘Cheetah’ played for a number of clubs in Australia and New Zealand. These included Brisbane Lions, Brisbane City, Olympic United and Manurewa FC. His most memorable moment in football was an opportunity of a lifetime to play alongside former England captain and Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan, who had just retired from playing at the top level in Europe.
“We played for a selection team against the New Zealand All Whites. The selection team was made up of top players from different clubs and Keegan was our guest player. Keegan was a great striker,” he said.
The nickname ‘Cheetah’ came about in primary school courtesy of his family for being an athletics champion. Later he played for Fiji Youth in 1978 alongside great players like Abdul Manaan, Tony Kabakoro, Henry Dyer, Epeli Kosa, David Leewai, Mohammed Salim, Gajen Naidu and Meli Vuilabasa to name a few. At club level, he featured for Service Football Club.
In 1984, ‘Cheetah’ signed for Manurewa FC but home sickness got the better of him. He decided to come back.
“I was in my prime then and nothing mattered more than giving it all for Lautoka. The love for the district got me back. I’m thankful to Manurewa FC for giving me the professional break. It’s something I still cherished and just the thought of it brings back a flood of memories.
“My uncle Qaqa Ravouvou holds a special place in my heart as he was the one who got me into soccer. He passed away recently. May his soul rest in peace and without his influence, I wouldn’t have made it.”
‘Cheetah’ said Manaan, Salim, Jimmy Okete (Rewa) Ivor Evans (Labasa/Ba), Jo Tubuna (Lautoka/ Ba), Abraham Watkins (Nadroga), Emasi Koroi ‘Bacardi’ (Nadi/ Suva/ NZ), Inosi Tora (Nadi),Johnny Williams (Labasa), Semi Tabaiwalu (Ba) Esala Masi Sr (Ba) and Anand Sami (Labasa) were some of the best players ever seen in Fiji.
“These were complete players and worthy of world-class status. They had it all and I’m glad to have played with some of them in the national team. You don’t see such quality players very often. They sure were fun to watch and play with.”
His favourite Lautoka players include John Monday, (late) Gopal Krishna, Sam Work and (late) Suliano Turaga.
“Gopal was a master magician. His footwork was an art show. You’d simply envy him for his talent. John was a class athlete, a man of immense vision and skills. Sam was a prolific striker and Suli was a great goalkeeper whom I adored.”
‘Cheetah’ said Lautoka was a force in the 80s because of the quality of players it had
“Lautoka had the best players for a good part of the 80s. We had Niko Lilo, Nasoni Buli, Mohammed Shariff, Jermaiya Ladawa, Shamsu Dean, Epeli Kosa, Kolinio Tubuna, Poasa Tubuna, John Monday, Toma Tani, Upendran Choy, Henry Dyer, Leone Waqaliti, Wame Vosuqa ‘Macha’, Semi Bai, Nicholas Rounds, Miteli Inoke and Modu Hyote.
“A team is only as good as its players. It’s a lot more fun to play the ball when there are good players in the team. It sure helps produce results and did we ever produce them. Our style (touch and possession) captivated the fans and the opponents. It was a big reason for our success.”
After the early 80s, Lautoka has been producing players on a relatively smaller scale. One player, who made a big name for himself has been dual international Pita Dau. Dau played for both the national rugby and football teams at the highest level. Then there were players like Vishwa Nair, Sheik Saheb, Bakalevu Mocemerike, Lorima Batirerega and Sekove Vosuqa. Lately it has been Salesh Sami ‘Bula’, Taniela Waqa, Jone Vonu Junior and Alvin Avinesh.
‘Cheetah’ was a cultural icon as well. He was fluent in Hindi and enjoyed watching Bollywood movies. The runaway hit Sholay was his all-time favourite. He had most of the dialogues at the back of his head and could recite them with ease on any given day.
He grew up in Topline and proved to be a source of inspiration for many. He was truly the pride of the Sugar City in the 80s and back then, Lautoka fans would just go on- and- on about his greatness, his magnificent touches and his spectacular half-volley goals.
He attended Lautoka Fijian School and Lautoka Muslim High School. ‘Cheetah’ was a born winner and an able leader both on, and off the field. All he needed was half a chance to punish the opposition with dazzling goals. After moving to Australia in 1987, he landed a two-year contract with the Brisbane City. He joined the Brisbane Lions after that and won premier league championships with both sides.
Queensland has been home to him and his family ever since.

Fiji Sun

February 6, 2012