The first time I met Peter Fatialofa (Fats) I was a young boy who had just seen Manu Samoa triumph at Apia Park. I don’t remember who their opponents were. But mind you this was in the 1990’s when Manu Samoa played quite often at Apia Park against International sides from all over the world. The Manu was unbeatable at Apia Park back then and a big reason for that was Fats himself. On the field he was relentless…fearless.
Off the field as his enormous hand shook my 8 year old hand I can still remember the broad smile he wore – still breathing heavy from the game, blades of grass collected on his jersey collar, pointing towards me and saying to my uncle –
“Looks like a future Manu Samoa Half Back”
Everyone around wore the broad smiles after that.
The second time I met Fats it was 10 years later in my late teens. I was doing my best wallflower impression at Eye Spy Night Club (Now known as Y Not). Having just arrived at legal drinking age in Samoa (which I believe is still whatever you can get away with) and hanging with the boys. It seemed like a regular Wednesday night hanging by the bar. And then I heard a booming voice call out to me (using my uncles name). I turned to meet Fats’ handshake, still an enormous hand grasping mine.
“First rounds on you”, he laughed.
I laughed too until I saw more of the Manu boys walking in – Brian was there, Antelea Aiolupo, Darren Kellet, Leo Faleniko and a few others…it was like the real life avengers had just walked in, larger than life heroes.
Looking back now I realised that I would have spent every cent I had in my pockets if Fats had wanted…but as I got my cherished Talas out to pay the round Fats put his hand up and said to me with a wink:
“Don’t worry, first rounds on the house” as the bartender passed out drinks Fats made a point to mention :
“and one for si o’u uso lea – don’t you know who this is? It’s the future half back of the Manu”
Fats went on to ask me about my family and how they were as the Manu boys stood around him waiting on his every move. He told me some stories about the old days and some of the trouble he used to get up to with my uncle. Unfortunately I was a cheap drunk back then (well still am) and after only two drinks the room was starting to spin. I kindly excused myself but not before thanking Fats and telling him the next time would be on me.
I smiled and made my way back to my group of friends who by now thought I was a bona-fide superstar. I explained to them that me and Fats went way back and he was family.
Mr. Fatialofa had that effect on people – making you feel welcome. Making you feel like aiga, like family. He was that rare person that could converse with Kings and laymen with equal ease. He never put on airs, he wore his power lightly. He was the kind of man you would follow into whatever challenge or obstacle stood in the way. And many did. Generations of Samoans will remember his name and come to respect what he has meant to our country.
I’m sorry I never got to shout you a round of beers Fats. Sorry I never got to return the kindness you showed me. But that was your way I guess. Giving your all and never expecting anything in return.
Ia Manuia Lou Malaga Fats