Wellington’s rough winter weather and a host of early morning trainings was not enough to stop Laydah Samani enjoying her time playing football for Wellington United.
Samani was the first player from the Solomon Islands brought over by the club to experience football in New Zealand in 2016.
“It was a challenging, yet rewarding experience,” she said.
“The game was very different there. At home we love skills and in New Zealand we were playing fast and accurate, and with good pace.”
She started with the club’s Premier League ‘Sapphires’ team, but by the end of the season she was pushing for a starting spot in the champion Central League ‘Diamonds’ side.
United already have an exchange programme with the PEC Zwolle club in the Netherlands, and it was through that process that they were inspired to help people a little closer to home.
Being from Solomon Islands meant Samani endured a challenging start to her time with United.
“It was something new, especially the weather. We used to train at 6.30am, and the first few weeks I was struggling.”
However, she said she had quickly adapted to their style of play and her natural ability eventually shone through.
The assistance of Diane Justus the Solomon Islands Football Federation Women’s Development Officer and Joy Kere, Solomon Islands High Commissioner to NZ, was crucial to making the move a success.
For Samani, she looks to use her experience to help the development of local talent at home, where she is registered with Solomon Warriors.
“I want to help our club to develop, especially little kids at grassroots level. I’d like to return to New Zealand one day, but I don’t know when.”
Samani’s football career begun while she was in primary school.
“My dad used to play for Solomon Islands national team and clubs at home so I used to accompany him to the grounds and it was there while running around on the field and kicking the ball that I generated my interest in football,” she said.
The Solomon Islands captain said she started playing futsal in primary school where she was scouted to be part of the women’s league team.
“In 2006 at the age of 13, I was selected to be part of the national U-20 team squad and I made it in the final squad which was very proud moment for me.”
From futsal skills to football, Samani made her debut for her country in the national U-20 team in 2006 before going on to play for the senior squad in the Pacific Games in New Caledonia in 2011.
“My family all play football and I think that is why I love playing the game,” Samani shared.
‘My aim is now to help my team qualify for the OFC Women’s Nations Cup which we are all dreaming of,” she said.
With a love and passion for football running through her veins, Samani expects her future in the game will extend past her playing days.
“After I hang up my boot I would like to become a national women’s coach and give back my experience and skills to my country,” the 26-year-old said.
While Laydah’s personal journey has seen her enjoy some life-changing experiences, she believes there is still room for a change in mentality in the Solomon Islands when it comes to the women’s game.
“Women are seen as second priority at home,” she stated.
“It’s normal and we accept the fact that there are more followers of men’s football but at the same time it is not easy and quite frustrating too.
“We are representing the nation as the whole so why not give the same support to the women’s team?”
Samani said she would like to see more efforts go into the development and support of women’s football at all levels.
“We should get the support from clubs, the nation and everyone as we represent our country at all levels of competition. We are doing the same as the men do,” she said.
“For the cultural side, it is okay to accept things as they are. But we are heading towards a new modernised way of life which is changing and we should accept that women’s football is growing rapidly in the world.”
Samani is hopeful that things will change for women in future.
“It can only be changed by us and we have to prove to them that we are doing something for the country like the men are doing by winning the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifiers and also one day qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We also need the support to achieve that.”
Samani has very much been leading by example throughout Solomon Islands turn at the Qualifier in Fiji with two goals against American Samoa helping her side to their first victory of the competition.
With a victory in their final match against Vanuatu, they can remain in the running to progress to the next stage of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in New Caledonia.