The first steps towards a 'House of Football' for the Tonga Football Association were taken in May 2002 when the FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter planted a Heilala tree as part of a Goal project. Unique to Tonga, the Heilela tree is well known for the time it takes to reach maturity, and also for the very special flowers it produces - flowers of great symbolic importance in the country. Fortunately, the growth of Tonga's 'House of Football' has proved a great deal more rapid than that of the Heilela tree.
It was in May 2004 that the late King of Tonga, Taufa'Ahau Tupou IV, proudly opened the first phase of Goal project, comprising the national headquarters and football academy, which incorporated an education centre plus dining, kitchen and accommodation facilities. Furthermore, four basic natural turf playing fields were formed within the 23-acre site, the first-ever dedicated football facilities in the country's history. Now, less than three years later, preparations have commenced for the inauguration of the second phase of this Goal project.
There was almost a feeling of déjà vu as the morning sun rose over the main island of Tongatapu to again illuminate the remarkable efforts that the football community had gone to. A few finishing touches continued until only a few hours before the inauguration event that included a huge FIFA Goal sign being installed by local sign-writers on the magnificent new players and match officials facilities constructed as part of the project's second phase.
The special feature was a traditionally decorated marquee that was finely prepared to receive His Majesty King George Tupou V and other members of the royal family. With guests including many government ministers, there was great anticipation and not a seat to be had in the giant marquee.
The FIFA Development Officer, Glenn Turner, opened the speeches by welcoming the royal guests, the president of Oceania Football Confederation, Mr. Reynald Temarii, FIFA Football Ambassador, Cristian Karembeu, and all the football family of Tonga to another historic milestone in the development of football in the country. He elaborated on the tremendous initiative of the FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter, to assist member associations through the Goal programme, and the benefits that had accrued for Tonga Football Association. Turner then congratulated those involved in designing and constructing the buildings for players, officials, medical personnel and media. With such facilities now in place, it is expected that football standards and programmes would further improve during the next years with a special focus for youth and women's activities.
It was a special moment for the crowd when Cristian Karembeu was introduced, and although his address was brief, its message was compelling and very well received. Born and raised in nearby New Caledonia, Karembeu explained how talent and opportunities had taken him to France as a youth player where the professional world of football then became his life as one achievement after another eventually led to the highest accolade: a FIFA World Cup medal with France in 1998. Kristian applauded the FIFA Goal project and the realisation of the magnificent facilities for the Tonga Football Association. He encouraged everyone to ensure that talented youngsters were nurtured and given the same opportunities that were extended to him.
Royal seal of approval
The FIFA President's representative, Oceania Football Confederation president Reynald Temarii opened his address with a special thanks to Joseph S. Blatter for the Goal project and a message from Zurich of very sincere congratulations to the Tonga Football Association.
Temarii also thanked the royal family for their dedicated support to football, including the 'gift' of the land for Goal, and concluded by challenging the Tonga Football Association to "bring to life the House of Football for the benefit of all Tongans".
King George Tupou V then addressed the assembled guests, captivating even the most knowledgeable football fans in the audience by recalling the game's history and how his own personal interest had grown thanks to his late father. Taufa'Ahau Tupou IV became the Patron of the Tonga Football Association, and his work was recognised with the award of the Order of Merit on the 100th anniversary celebrations of FIFA in 2004.
King George Tupou V extended his appreciation to FIFA, OFC and TFA for taking football development so seriously in Tonga and for the magnificent facilities constructed under the Goal project. He then advised that it was now timely for a new royal patron to be appointed to the Tonga Football Association announcing with real pride that Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku'alio was now the patron of the Tonga Football Association, a fitting choice at a time when women's football is growing from strength to strength.
After the his speech, King George Tupou V was escorted together with Reynald Temarii and Christian Karembeu were escorted to unlock the doors to the extended 'House of Football'. Applause echoed as His Royal Highness and Temarii lifted the tapa cloth covering to reveal the Goal commemoration plaque, mounted within a magnificent 'rain tree' wooden carving of a football held aloft by two hands similar to the World Cup trophy.
The Goal II project was now officially opened, and all the guests followed through the main doors to inspect the facilities, then through to the international standard playing pitch.