THE name “father of Fiji soccer or “Ba soccer” is not something you can refer to anyone.
To be called or referred as father of Fiji/Ba soccer is something very special or unique that a particular person possessed in terms of football.
Sashi Mahendra Singh: Born in Navua and did some primary school in Saweni, Nadi. Most of his adult life he spent in Ba and that was all his formal education. In his young days he joined Fiji Military Force and from there he joined Rice and Stuart Firm as law clerk. Later while still working he opened his spare parts business.
The business, Ba Motor Parts, has been established for more than sixty years now and has more than eleven branches in major centres of Fiji.
In mid-1964, he was instrumental in getting first Bollywood famous singer Hamant Kumar to Fiji followed by Mannadey show another popular singer in those days. Singh had a passion for music and had large collection of Indian records and also for books that in early days he ran his own mobile library delivering books on a bicycle “Sashi Circulation Library “
His love for movies saw him operate mobile screening service, screening Hollywood movies from Ba to Wainibokasi on the back of the Land Rover.
With his contact with British High Commission, he also managed to get English Premier League and FA Cup finals on the “British News Reels”. This was late 50s and by 60s, we were able to watch 1958 World Cup final between Brazil and Sweden which Brazil won.
During the 1966 World Cup as well, these soccer matches were screened at home front yard and at schools during school hours. (He also sacrificed his working hours). So those early years kids in Ba were exposed to overseas soccer and in late 70s and 80s most of Fiji had exposure to overseas soccer matches. In late 50s when his playing days were over because of injuries, he focused on administration and coaching. In late 50s and 60s he introduced the short passing and possession game in Ba as opposed to the long kick and chase game most Fiji was playing in those days.
Initially it did not bring Ba much success. After having played the final against Rewa in the inaugural IDC, it was not until 1961 in Nadi that Ba first won the championship.
By mid-60s Ba had mastered the possession game and started dominating the local soccer scene. Sashi M Singh had been Ba coach since 1950s and even he was getting old in 1980s, he still came around and coached the boys but always had the assistant as an understudy.
He coached the Fiji team in the first South Pacific Games 1963 and before that in 1961 he took the Fiji team for their first overseas tour New South Wales, Australia. He was the Fiji team coach from 1961 to 1981.
His last match as Fiji team coach was the first World Cup qualifying match for Fiji in Ba against New Zealand. Fiji lost that match 3-0 and then an overseas coach was brought in for the rest of the World Cup campaign, Fiji went on to lose 11-0 and 13-0 to Australia and New Zealand respectively.
His coaching style caught lots of attention and fans not only came to watch Ba’s actual match but they came to watch Mr Singh’s coaching / practice in big numbers.
That was another entertainment for fans from soccer crazy town, Ba. His training was full of drama and entertainment, a discipline and no nonsense coach with Ba having big names such as the late great Jo Tubuna whom Singh regarded as his own son, Bale Raniga, late Jone Nakosia, Semi Tabaiwalu, Jone Jr, Rupeni Soro, Meli Vuilabasa, late Farouk Janeman, Vimlesh Singh (his son) Feroz Khan, Julie Sami, Inia Bola, Romulo Delai, late Kini Mocelutu, Bobby Shahdat these players were part of winning six in a row IDC Cup.
Thereafore late Sashi Mahendra Singh will definitely go down as the legendary coach and father of Fiji/ Ba soccer.
The views expressed in this article are his and not of this news paper