So much has happened in Meleseini Tufui’s short football career, she struggles to remember where it all began.
The 21-year-old has been a regular fixture on the regional scene since making her debut for Tonga at the 2014 OFC U-20 Women’s Championship, in the starting line-up of a 3-1 loss to New Zealand.
The experience was an eye-opener for the then 14-year-old, who went on to add three further youth tournament appearances, before becoming a dual international in 2017 when she represented Tonga at the OFC Youth Futsal Tournament.
That same year she made her senior international debut as a substitute against Fiji at the Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu and has accumulated eight starts from nine matches with the Tonga women’s national team across two competitions.
In 2019 she turned out for Tonga at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship, marking her fifth and final youth appearance. And in amongst all that she managed to fit in the Youth Olympic Games Futsal Tournament in Buenos Aires.
“Representing Tonga is exciting. It’s exciting knowing that I’m one of the national players here in Tonga because there’s a lot of girls playing football and I’ve been chosen to become a national player. I’m proud of myself,” she said.
Tufui, or MJ as she’s known to her friends, remains committed to adding further caps to her international tally with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifiers on the horizon.
In the meantime, however, she’s tasked herself with upskilling and contributing to the wider football family as the newly recruited Just Play Media Officer with Tonga Football Association.
A role which has provided an opportunity for Tufui to circle back to where it all began.
“I actually just found out that I joined Just Play in 2009,” Tufui said.
“Lafaele’s (Moala, Just Play Master Instructor) wife actually reminded me that I was in Just Play and I was probably nine years old in 2009 when I started.”
The details may be hazy, but after following her older sister into the world of football Tufui has remained hooked.
“I played tennis then I started following my older sister to soccer. I started making friends, Seini Lutu is one of my best friends in soccer, and saw how I started to improve. I wasn’t really that good in the beginning but I enjoy playing it more than rugby and other sports.”
For someone who picked up media and journalism studies on a whim, Tufui’s progress as a media officer can be contributed to a mentality she applies both on and off the field.
“To represent Tonga takes a lot of training,” she said.
“When we were preparing for the Youth Olympics we all did our best and trained really hard. We knew we were going to do something new and that it would be hard for us, but we stayed focused.”
Tufui has taken the same approach to becoming a media officer.
With her diploma in Media and Journalism from the Tonga Institute of Education in hand, Tufui has been attending weekly trainings with the OFC Commercial and Communication department on top of Saturday trainings with a local media organisation, to ensure she delivering to the highest standard possible.
“I originally wanted to study IT but wasn’t good at maths, so they suggested media. When Palu (Uhatahi-Tu’amolohea, Just Play Programme Manager) asked if I could come and be the media officer for Just Play I took the opportunity even though I wasn’t really so interested in media,” she said.
“But I really enjoy it so far. I have help from Jackie (Tran Van, OFC Social Responsibility Communication Consultant) with my stories and I’m seeing the improvement.
“I was really excited when I published my first story to the website. It was my first time because in school I wrote a lot of stories for practice, but none were ever published.”
As for the content, Tufui said she’s encouraged by the way Just Play reaches out to the community with more than just football.
“I think mixing football with social messages is good. Just Play doesn’t focus only on football but the importance of life and staying healthy,” she said.
“It’s especially important in Tonga because children can get the non-communicable diseases at a young age and these messages and activities can help them to stay healthy.”
Tufui has made a fast start to her new career, conducting interviews, writing articles and promoting the work of her Just Play colleagues in the community, while building her competencies in photography, videography and content planning.