At the height of AS Venus’ glory days among the foreign recruits was one Felix Tagawa, a young New Caledonian talent with pace to burn and an impressive understanding of the game.
Fast forward 20 years and Tagawa has returned to French Polynesian shores with a young group of players in tow hoping to make a mark on the locals just like their coach did back in the day.
Tagawa is coaching New Caledonia at the OFC U-19 Championship and has made the most of the friendships he made during his time in Tahiti with Venus, to help the team out during their stay in the country.
“When we knew this competition would be in Tahiti, we’ve always had the relationship with Samuel [Garcia] and Coco [Taputuarai], the president of AS Venus, so I said why not?” Tagawa said of taking up the offer of assistance from his former club.
“I wanted to have a site where we weren’t missing out on anything and we can be close to what we need – close to a field, close to recovery sites and everything we need. But also somewhere we aren’t going to waste time in the city,” he said.
“We also wanted the group to remain tight – let go when it’s needed – but make sure we’re not missing out on anything. This is ideal, we’re staying in Arue and Venus is just next to us.”
Tagawa said the welcome from Venus has been incredible and reminds him of his playing days and the fond memories created within the club environment.
“We experienced a lot of things together at this club, a lot of titles,” he said.
“I would say that AS Venus is my second family. My first family is JS Baco, where I started playing football and then I had AS Venus.
“There was a big following, an entourage, back then. To come back here warms my heart. To see the old guys again, we had a great story with this club.
“There was no cheating, we were working hard all the time, all the time, then one day everything ends and it’s time to go home,” he continued.
As well as devoting his days to playing football with the club from the end of 1998 through to 2002-03, Tagawa was a sports educator with the local council, Mahina.
“Every year I was fortunate to work hard with my youngsters who I see today have evolved with some coming into national teams, or were in national teams – the years are going by,” he chuckled.
“I’ve seen that the club, the town, they’re continuing to follow the same path in terms of education and working with youth.
“Venus fed my ambitions, and now I continue to give back to football what I received when I came here.”
The OFC A Licence holder is proud to be able to share some of his own football history with the young players he’s shaping for the future of New Caledonia football.
Tagawa’s most vivid memory of that time with Venus was the huge following the club had.
“For many of the players they’ve already been here and tried the field with the U-17 last year. They’ve tasted the ambiance it offers, it’s an ambiance of fire,” he said.
“To take these youngsters and bring them here to follow this journey with them from somewhere that’s close to my heart, adds to the experience for me.”
AS Venus President Coco Taputuarai is absolutely delighted to see such a deep relationship with a player has endured over the past 20 years.
“We won many cups with him so it has been really pleasing for us as a club, to welcome him back,” Taputuarai said.
“When our technical director Sam Garcia said the tournament would be here and the coach would be Felix, he also asked if we would welcome them here.
“I said ‘no problem’, we’re actually very proud to have them here.”
The team, while staying in the nearby Pearl Beach Resort, travels to the AS Venus stadium every day to train and eat their lunch and dinner.
The meals are prepared by the club’s volunteers, while the team’s laundry is also taken care of by the club including washing, drying, folding and preparing for the next training or match day.
“We’ve seen the results up until today,” he said, “it has borne fruit in terms of the logistics we’ve put in place here and the field as well.
“Felix is someone who is incredibly disciplined, who likes things to be well-organised and that’s good for us too. He knows AS Venus, he knows a bit about the way the club works and I think what we’ve been able to do for them is good.”
Welcoming groups or individuals into their midst is not uncommon for AS Venus.
The club motto is “Mes qu’un club, ici c’est Mahina”, which basically means what the physical infrastructure and sentiment represent is more than just a club, but a community.
“Here in Mahina, what we’re proud of is being able to welcome people,” the club president said.
“The Point de Venus is here, where the first navigators arrived, and that something we’ve held on to here in the town, this way of welcoming people.
“It’s not just AS Venus, but everywhere in the town. That’s why we say it’s more than a club, it’s Mahina – it’s the values of this town.”
Having played a role in the success of New Caledonia’s campaign so far, which has seen them set up a semi-final showdown with New Zealand, Taputuarai said he’s become very close to what he describes as “a pleasant group of boys”.
However when it comes to choosing a side should both New Caledonia and Tahiti find success in their respective semi-finals, his heart remains tied to its roots.
“Of course, for my heart, my players and Tahiti team have my full support,” he said.
“But we’ve also made a connection with these boys and Felix and I’d also like to see them have some success too.
“In my role as president, I’ve been able to experience a really nice journey with these boys, I’ve really appreciated it and so if they win I won’t be disappointed,” Taputuarai stated.
“I’ll be happy for them.”