With a population of barely 2,500, Hienghene is a small town located 380km from Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. Its most famous club, Hienghene Sport, has become the most recognisable symbol of the town – and with good reason. The club is enjoying the best period in their history and, having won the 2019 OFC Champions League, are now gearing up for the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019, stealing the limelight from Noumea’s big clubs like AS Magenta and AS Mont-Dore.
Hienghene’s continental title was a first for the club and New Caledonia, a small country whose solitary appearance at a global tournament came at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. The club’s achievement is a source of immense pride for the town and the country as whole, where football is not professionalised and players have to hold down full-time jobs, train in the evenings and play games at weekends.
Among those leading this lifestyle is Hienghene skipper Bertrand Kai, who manages a boarding school, taking care of logistics such as food and cleaning supplies. He goes to work in the mornings, trains every day except Wednesdays, and plays official games on Saturdays. Apart from during the close season, this severely restricts his family time, so his two sons and wife accompany him to matches to spend more time together.
In Doha, Kai spoke about his life in Hienghene, saying: “As amateur players, we live an ordinary life, and we try to strike a balance between our work, family duties and playing football. This is very difficult, especially now that we’ve reached this level, winning the OFC Champions League for the first time in the country’s history. This wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifices all of us have made.”
Despite being 36, Kai is still technically adroit and in great shape physically, and was recently voted best player in his domestic league. He is known for his selflessness and the sacrifices he makes on the field for his teammates. Raised in the Ganem tribal area, he assumed responsibility at a young age, learning to work in the fields in addition to hunting and fishing. “In our country we live as tribes and this helped us in the team to be one family. We make a lot of sacrifices when we go to play football at the weekend and leave our families behind,” he explained.
Qatar 2019, a dream come true
Hienghene Sport club realised their first dream after being crowned OFC champions – the club winning an exciting final 1-0 with a wonderful goal that prompted joy all across their home town. The club’s soon-to-be-realised second dream is to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Speaking of the journey Hienghene are on, Kai said: “Coming to Qatar to participate in this great competition is a dream come true; no one believed we could win the title. We ourselves didn’t think we could achieve this success, but thanks to years of hard work, we carried the torch of those who preceded us and taught us the meaning of sacrifice.”
In their tournament opener, Hienghene will play the host nation’s representatives Al Sadd in a win-or-go home encounter. “We will try to be the best representative of club and country, and to present a good image of football in Caledonia. The Qatari team is made up of professional players and I’m sure we’ll face a very strong team and a far from easy task. We will fight, but at the end of the day it’s a game of 11 against 11 and the team with the most determination will win.”
Asked about his side’s specific targets were, given that this will be their maiden appearance in the competition, he said: “First of all, we’re happy to be here, which in itself is a big achievement for us, but we hope to go beyond the Al Sadd game and as far as possible in the tournament.”
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