By HENRY MORABANG
AN exciting new breed of football talent is emerging from Rigo’s eastern coastline in Central as evident in the recent conclusion of the Hekari Central Cup soccer tournament. The Kempa football team, representing Kalo village, has suddenly become an instant toast for football supremacy, not only in the heartland of soccer in the 3 LLG areas of Rigo Inland, Rigo Central and Rigo Coast, but also in other parts of Central & NCD, covering the far-flung Fishermen Island (locally known as Moukele), Koita FC representing the Motuan villages west of Port Moresby and even a combined Laloki-Brown River (TLV Rottweiler) side all of whom featured in the 2017 soccer tournament staged at Bisini from October 3-6.
But for now, the spotlight remains fixed on how the team from Kalo has taken such massive strides within a space of just over 12-months, to grab football accolades so far.
Kempa were runners-up to Papaka in the inaugural season, but their victory two Friday’s ago at Bava Park mini stadium not only atoned for the 2016 finals loss, but heralded a new beginning.
Readers outside of Central may be wondering where Kalo is. In brief, Kalo is nestled alongside the mouth of the mighty Kemp Welch River, situated on the coastline between Hood Lagoon and Hood Point, and about an hour-and-a-half drive out of Port Moresby.
The village somewhat has a wretched historical past within the United Church and London Missionary Society (LMS) where the infamous ‘Kalo Massacre’ occurred on March 7, 1881 that claimed the lives of 12 LMS teachers mostly from Rarotonga, Cook Islands by the locals who had a reputation in the area as fearsome warriors. The subsequent backlash of this martyrdom resulted in over 400 warriors from Kalo slain by the British Army as retaliation to the deaths of the missionaries from South Seas. The full story can be found in Chapter V. The Kalo Massacre from the eBook titled: Adventures in New Guinea by James Chalmers.
In many ways, the fearless warrior instinct has translated onto the football pitch as Kempa’s latest breed of rising stars take to the big stage – with the possibility of promotion to the FFPNG sanctioned National Premier League in 2018.
“I think Kempa has proven today with their will and courage that they may be ready to enter as the third team from Rigo in the NPL next year alongside FC Papaka and Amoana of Koupa,” FFPNG president and owner of Hekari United FC John Kapi Natto announced immediately after the Friday finals.
Kempa last won a major title back in 2013 during the Hood Point soccer tournament held in Makerupu and it was none other than Papaka that they faced in the decider. This healthy rivalry between the two villages continued into last year’s tournament and Papaka’s persistence paid off with a 2-0 win in the final under the tutelage of former international keeper David Aua. But a few months later Kempa advanced to the semifinals of Southern Besta Cup staged for the first time in the rural village of Kaparoko only to be denied 2-1 by the hosts Koupa under controversial circumstances. Koupa went on to claim the Besta Cup when they defeated NCD in the final.
Following last year’s series of tournaments, Kempa captain Kolu Kepo was spotted by current PNG Kapuls coach Srretislev and plucked straight from the village to tour Malaysia for the two international friendlies. He debuted as a substitute for midfielder Michael Forster in the clash with Asia’s top-ranked Iran on November 11 followed by a match with hosts Malaysia three days later. By the end of last year, Kolu and his brother Ati were named on the Kapuls extended squad for the up-coming World Cup qualifiers against Tahiti and Solomon Islands.
However, the dream to further their international careers were short-lived after the fall-out between PNGFA president David Chung and Kapi Natto over the election process during the congress at Kimbe. The effect of the Kimbe event saw the two boys, along with a host of other players contracted to Hekari United FC including Kapuls Captain David Muta withdraw from further participating in any future international duties.
Despite this setback, more players from Kalo had brief stints playing under the Hekari development system in the NCDPSSA season and later in the NPL competition in the likes of defender Karo Iga and goal-keepers Ila David, Roga Rogamo and most recently Cedric Kini.
In the opening pool B match of the 2017 Hekari Central Cup played two weeks ago at Bisini 1, the tide changed as Kempa demolished last year’s Southern Besta Cup winners Koupa 7-nil and dished out another 5-nil thumping of newcomers Koita FC on the same day, sounding out an early warning that the Kalo boys were gunning for the major honors.
“Our village boys are disadvantaged in many aspects of the game in that football pitches are mostly uneven and can be least described as very poor playing surfaces, coupled with their lacking basic training or match gear but they continue to beat the odds and continue to prove that there is so much of hidden talent stashed away in the rural areas of PNG,” newly-formed Kempa Football Association president Kamo Kini said.
“I’m just one of those silent passionate supporters of soccer who wants to see this rift that has caused so much damage to the code to end once and for all so that we can have the football administrators spend more time promoting rural talent like what we have just witnessed,” he said in reference to the Hekari Central Cup concept.
Kini echoed what Hekari franchise owner Kapi Natto had said a week earlier during the launch of the tournament that it was time Central leaders took ownership as partners and supported a grassroots initiative that promises to unearth raw football talent.
“This is your call, all we are doing is giving the support it needs but at the end of the day, this is for you Central people, we all have a duty to help showcase the abundance of soccer talent that is in the rural areas and I know our political leaders are watching and hopefully can come on board to support this initiative,” he said.
Kapi Natto explained that the Cup initiative was his way of repaying, in a small way, the people of Central for producing past internationals for the Hekari United FC like Koupa’s Kema Jack and Papaka duo David Aua and Gure Gabina.
Kempa finished the Hekari Central Cup tournament undefeated and easily accounted for Lalaga (Boku) 2-nil on day two followed by a 5-1 thrashing of Alukuni. On day three, Kempa beat TLV Rottweiler 1-nil to top its pool, and in the semifinal on day four, the boys from Kemp Welch River hammered their closest neighbors Kamali 4-nil to set up a mouth-watering final with arch rivals PSA Papaka. Interestingly, it was the injection of a third and younger Kepo sibling in
Freddy came on as substitute on two occasions at crucial stages of the finals and break the nil-all deadlock against Kamali in the dying stages of that match, and again equalize just before half-time of the grand final after Papaka had grabbed the lead through an early goal to star forward Numa Kila, who later won the Most Valuable Player award of the tournament. Kempa’s prolific goal scorer Ati Kepo collected the Golden Boot award after hauling a total of 12-goals including providing the winner in the final.
PSA Papaka mentor Aua had nothing but praise to offer for the winning team.
“Kalo was the better side, my hats off to the boys and well played, they deserved the win. Proud of their achievements,” Aua said in his congratulatory message on social media.
Given the opportunity to enter next year’s NPL competition, Kini revealed that he has formed an executive committee to take charge of the affairs of a new club registered as Kempa FC which is affiliated under Kempa Football Association (KFA). The main task of the committee now is to map out a plan moving forward and importantly to secure a major corporate sponsor to partner with for the 2018 NPL competition and beyond.
By HENRY MORABANG