June 1, 2012
HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS – The All Whites have may have earned a few hundred more fans for the start of their OFC Nations Cup campaign after a visit to a football mad local school.
Ian Hogg, Jake Gleeson, Cam Howieson, Tim Payne and Adam McGeorge took time out before the team’s first training in Honiara on Thursday to visit White River Community High School in Honiara, where they were greeted with a hero’s welcome by pupils and other local children.
Football is the national sport of the Solomon Islands and all forms of the sport including beach football and futsal are embraced with equal fervour.
The quintet of players, not long out of high school themselves in the case of Howieson and Payne, had no shortage of takers for games of keepy-uppy, head tennis and other activities, and even took on the school’s team in a game of 5v5 on a makeshift pitch outside the school house.
“The thing that strikes you straight away is just the joy these kids have,” said goalkeeper Jake Gleeson.
“They have huge smiles on their faces and they have the same passion for football as we have.
“They were happy to see us and we were pretty happy to see them – I’m not sure who had more fun, us or the kids.”
There is already a great deal of goodwill to New Zealanders in the Solomon Islands thanks largely to the work of New Zealand High Commission, who administer New Zealand’s largest single country aid effort.
New Zealand invests SBD $55M (NZD10.5M) every year into improving education infrastructure and standards around the Solomon Islands, with significant results since the ‘Tensions’ (civil unrest) calmed in 2003.
White River is one school that benefits from New Zealand’s contribution, and Gleeson said it was inspiring to see first-hand the effect of New Zealand’s role in the Pacific.
“It’s great to see the huge difference that New Zealand and the Kiwis working over here can make. The support is making a real impact of the lives of so many young Solomon Islanders.”
New Zealand High Commissioner Mark Ramsden has welcomed the All Whites to Solomon Islands.
“This is a football-mad country and the All Whites are household names here. We’re proud to see them here representing their country so well – not just on the field, but out in the community as well.”