Among the roaring Tahitian fans, two foreign faces eagerly observed as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea battled to a 3-3 draw in the OFC U-17 Championship on Tuesday.
Forty-nine hours from leaving their home in the North of England, Jim and Linda Harrison found themselves in Tahiti heading to the Melanesian showdown at Stade Mahina, but the scenario is one that the two have experienced several times together over the past seven years.
“For Linda, this started seven years ago yesterday when we first met, and for me about forty years ago when I gave up refereeing because it was so difficult to progress the way referees worked in England. I would just go somewhere different every week,” Mr Harrison said.
“The first game I can remember was 1966, Sheffield Wednesday against Bulgaria after the World Cup as a friendly. It was great because it was Wednesday, that’s my team,” he added.
Mr Harrison found out about the OFC U-17 Championship while they were booking a cruise from Tahiti around the Pacific. The eager footballer squeezed the fixture into his and his wife’s itinerary, eager to witness a foreign approach to the Beautiful Game. Knowledge of the competition came a bit later to Mrs Harrison.
“A few weeks before we came, he brought the news to me that we would be going to two football matches, and I said ‘well I could always take the credit card for a walk’ but I’ve stayed in the stands and it’s absolutely beautiful,” Mrs Harrison said.
The style of football was new to the Harrisons but both Jim and Linda were impressed at the athleticism and pure passion of the young sides as the battled in heat and humidity.
“It’s only U-17s so it’s very hard to tell if they’re as good or bad as anybody else but we’ll find how it is because I presume that somebody from this qualifier gets to go to India, from what I’ve read, so we’ll find out then,” Mr Harrison said.
Papua New Guinea would have been pleased to have a fan in the crowds with Mrs Harrison backing the young Kapuls in their bid for India.
“I think both teams are equal at the moment but I’m supporting Papua New Guinea, because they have a good rugby league team,” Mrs Harrison said.
“We watched rugby league in the North of England so that’s why we know that, and Papua New Guinea were there in the last (Rugby) World Cup,” Mr Harrison added.
The Harrison’s Oceania football experience is not over yet, with their itinerary taking them to Noumea, New Caledonia, just in time for the Group A clash between Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga and Papua New Guinea’s Madang FC in the 2017 OFC Champions League.
“We’re on a cruise and we’re docking at New Caledonia at one o’clock on Tuesday the 28th, and there’s a Champions League game at five o’clock,” Mr Harrison said with a wide smile.
“Then we head to Sydney. First game there’s the North Queensland League in Cairns.”