Home 2011 – Lotto
Little more than a speck on the South Pacific map, the US unincorporated territory of American Samoa lies 30 miles east of regular Samoa and a bloody long way from just about anywhere else. The islands are notable for two things; producing tuna – lots and lots of tuna – and having the highest US army enlistment ratio of any American state or overseas department. Quite what possesses the native population to abandon their lush, tropical island paradise to die in whatever dusty, dirty, godforsaken corner of the earth Uncle Sam presently has his teeth into is anybody’s guess. Perhaps army rations simply make a welcome change from the Samoan staple three course meal of tuna salad, tuna casserole and, for pudding, the ever delightful tuna crumble.
Also noteworthy are the mind-bending fun and games to be had with the international date line in the region, essentially the closest you can get to time travel without a DeLorean, flux capacitor and lunatic plutonium pilfering scientist in tow. The line neatly bisects the thin strip of ocean separating the two Samoan nations meaning that, despite a mere 12 minute flight time between the capital cities, there is a 23 hour time discrepancy. Depending on the direction of travel it is quite possible to either land in Pago Pago (American Samoa) the day BEFORE you boarded the plane or to rock up in Apia (Samoa) having effectively made a day vanish into thin air, which, if nothing else, makes for an original excuse for forgetting your wedding anniversary.
Mind you, if there’s one date American Samoa’s footballers might want stricken from the record it would have to be the 11th of April 2001. This was the day when the national side were infamously crushed 31-0 by Australia in a World Cup qualifier, which remains – and probably always will remain – a record score in a full international. There were mitigating circumstances however. Beset by passport issues, the Samoans were missing 20 of their original squad with only goalkeeper Nicky Salapu (poor sod) eligible for the massacre that was to follow. Instead several youth players were drafted in, including some as young as 15 who worked in local fish packing factories and had never played a 90 minute match before.
Things could only get better, and mercifully they have. In 2011 the federation recruited no-nonsense Dutch-American coach Thomas Rongen who, dismayed by the lethargic training setup before him, inserted stamina drills, drafted in several college players from the States and cancelled nap time. On the 22nd of November 2011, just over ten years since the Australian debacle, American Samoa defeated Tonga 2-1 in a Brazil 2014 qualifying match to record their first ever victory. In another landmark moment, man of the match that day was defender Jaiyah Saelua, the first ever transgender international footballer who belongs to a third gender recognised in Samoan culture as Fa’afafine (essentially males brought up as females in boy-heavy families.) Quite rightly these extraordinary events have been immortalised in the brilliant documentary film Next Goal Wins which, even if you’re not a football fan (unlikely if you’ve read this far down) I highly recommend.
A few years ago Lotto stuck their fingers into almost every slice of the Oceania football kit pie, producing template shirts neat on style but bereft of imagination. Given that the countries of this region have some of the most striking and colourful flags to be found anywhere in the world this is something of a disappointment. That said, Lotto’s monopoly did at least make several shirts – such as this one – commercially available, which were previously next to impossible to find, so swings and roundabouts.
Not much more to say, it’s a nice shade of blue and the badge features what appears to be a pool cue and a pony-tailed baseball bat resting against a half-eaten Ferrero Rocher, although I might not have this exactly right.