Tuesday 23 April 2019, 07:29

Culture and commitment greet Brown in Tahiti

  • FIFA Legend Wes Brown attended Tahiti’s Festival des Iles

  • Former Manchester United star experienced diverse island culture

  • Ex-England defender got to grips with islands’ logistical challenges

While Tahiti may be the centre of activity amongst the French Polynesian islands, it is by no means reflective of life among the entire Pacific archipelago. Comprising of 118 islands stretching across 2,000 miles, it’s no surprise there’s plenty of diversity there.

This is what FIFA Legend Wes Brown, former Manchester United and England defender, discovered upon visiting the 11th Festival des îles – part-funded by the FIFA Forward programme – which saw people travel huge distances to participate in football, futsal and beach soccer. He spoke with FIFA.com to reflect on his trip.

Wes Brown’s missions in Tahiti:

  • Meeting officials from the Tahiti Football Federation and other OFC Member Associations

  • Participate in and assist in opening the FIFA Forward workshop

  • Taking part in the opening ceremony, meet the teams and visit the facilities at the Festival des îles

Wes Brown in Tahiti

FIFA.com: Wes, you’re just back from Tahiti, experiencing the Festival des îles there, it must have been quite the insight into Pacific life, with the opening ceremony looking spectacular?

Wes Brown: It was about all the different cultural backgrounds around Tahiti getting together. There were lots of different hakas and the chants, I think every island did their own haka during the opening ceremony and just showed a bit of what they were like, which was brilliant. It was good to see everyone supporting it and delegates from a range of different countries, so it was really positive to see it happen.

With islands spread across such a huge area, did you get an idea of the challenges of getting to Tahiti for some of those involved?

We got speaking to a few and some of them had travelled two days on a boat because there aren’t any airports, it’s crazy. They’d saved a lot of money to get there. Some of the lads I’d spoken to did extra work throughout the year just so they could get the boat over from their island. These are good, talented footballers and two days on a boat is hard to do in itself. It was a bit mind-boggling, really.

How was it to see football being celebrated on the opposite side of the planet by a culture so different to your own?

For most of the kids, when they grow up they tend to focus more on rugby – they’ve got Fiji which isn’t far and then New Zealand. But just to see that football is massive over there and what people did to get there was unbelievable. For everyone to get there at the same time for this opening ceremony was incredible. It was the biggest ceremony they’ve had and there were loads of volunteers. They did a fantastic job.

Wes Brown in Tahiti

And you got to meet some of the teams, originating from all across the islands, too.

Yeah, we got to see a few of the teams and the facilities they had were brilliant. It reminded me a lot of when I was younger, when the lads all used to get together and live in the same accommodation. Everything was provided for them and I think overall they did a really good job considering there were a lot of people who had come to the island.

The dedication to travel that far for the festival must have impressed you.

It was brilliant because they were all playing music and having a good time, but you could see it was difficult how they got there. I asked them how and which island they came from, and with two days on a boat I guess we’re not talking cruise ships here. It’s fascinating that, for one, they wanted to do it – these are not professional footballers, so to take the time and want to be in this sort of tournament opening ceremony is brilliant. The lads were pretty chuffed about it. You can just see how football is loved there, even if rugby often takes priority growing up. There were definitely a lot of talented kids there.

Manchester United shirts seem to end up in every corner of the world. How was it to meet people who’ve been impacted by you as a footballer in one of the most remote places on the planet?

It was funny because, at first, a lot of them didn’t recognise me but when they did they went a bit crazy. It just shows how far it gets. I’m obviously a little bit older now, but when they realised they asked loads of questions: How’s Cristiano and the like. I’ve not played with him for a while, but they all love football! It is worldwide, as we know, but for the smaller islands in the smaller countries it is just as big, but they often just don’t have the facilities. FIFA being there helps because it just shows that support.