Usually she is a blonde, super fit, easy on the eye all-rounder, who has lots of friends, is intelligent, kind, honest and at the end of the movie she usually teams up with the college football captain and they head off to the school prom or the into the sunset.
In Tupapa, our girl-next-door whilst not blonde (not totally yet anyway), is super-fit, easy on the eye, has lots of friends, is intelligent, kind and honest. But that’s where the similarities with the archetypal girl next door ends. Our girl next door is a constable in the Cook Islands Police Department and an international FIFA football referee.
Tupou Patia is a Cook Islands trailblazer.
Earlier this year Patia entered the record books as the first Cook Islander, male or female, to be a referee at a FIFA football world cup. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup took place in Canada from June 6 to July 5. Matches were played in six cities across five time zones.
Patia’s love of soccer began at the age of 10 when as a student of Imanuela Akatemia she came across someone she would later regard as the person most responsible for her pursing the sport. Ken Tatuava was Patia’s first coach, he was also the one who was able to instil into the feisty 10-year-old a love for the sport and the skill and tactics that come with it.
Not long after being introduced to the game Patia started challenging the referees. By her own admission an aggressive player, she could often be found suggesting to the refs that they didn’t know the rules and yelling at them. For her efforts she regularly received yellow and red cards. This on-field exchange motivated her to gain a better understanding of the game and its rules. She’s played pretty much every position although being on the wing is her favourite spot.
Being the all-rounder girl-next-door that Patia is, it should come as no surprise that she tried her hand at a number of sports before choosing to concentrate on soccer at the age of 19. Her parents, Puroku and Tere, encouraged their three girls to play sport from a very young age. Both keen sportspeople themselves – Puroku played soccer and netball – and Tere played rugby – they enrolled the girls into Takuvaine teams as soon as they could. Tupou represented Takuvaine in five sports – volleyball, netball, soccer, rugby and touch.
But it’s soccer that won her heart and at age 15 she found herself in the Cook Islands squad. Since that time she has trained and travelled extensively representing her country, her family and herself with great pride.
And in keeping with the girl-next-door image Patia and her partner of 13 years, Ed Brogan have even travelled in the same team, to the 2007 South Pacific Games in Samoa when they were both in the country’s top soccer teams. Whilst Patia has kept up her love of soccer, Ed has branched off into body building and last year represented the Cooks in his new sport.
So how did our girl-next-door cope for four weeks in a country of over 35-million people? (Incidentally that’s roughly the same number of women world-wide who play soccer and FIFA want to see that number increase to 45 million in the foreseeable future).
Patia reckons she coped well. The FIFA family embraced her as they did all the other “newbie” referees. Not only was this tournament a first for Tupou, it was also the first World Cup refereed 100 per cent by women and the first women’s world cup to have 24 countries represented (up until then 16 had been the norm).
Patia has made new friends from around the globe who she keeps in-touch with through the universal friend – Facebook. Her taste palate underwent a huge expansion programme. Just imagine six weeks of buffet meals – including desserts, she gained a smidgeon in weight. She says the atmosphere was an absolutely positive, focussed and challenging one. Regular upskilling sessions were held on theory, mental agility, interpreting laws of the game and of course “hard core training” was a daily given.
Patia refereed games in Vancouver and Edmonton, but for the most part was based in Vancouver. She found the Canadians a friendly lot and was surprised to find out their summers got as hot as ours. This made her training sessions feel like she was training in Raro in January.
Refereeing at the World Cup was, says Tupou, an “awesome experience” and one she’d like to get the opportunity to repeat in four years’ time in France. Until then there’s plenty more tournaments to come, starting with the Oceania Under 20s being hosted here next year.
Earlier in the year when attending the final selection phase in Switzerland, Tupou met the big-wig himself, FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. She says he has great presence and spoke of being proud to see the profile of women referees being raised; proud too that the 2015 Women’s World Cup could encompass 24 countries for the first time.
What did she miss during her extended time away? Her family, and in particular, her six year-old-son Ioane. Once through the airport terminal she immediately noticed a taller, older-looking Ioane. His conversation skills had also developed in her absence. And what was one of his first questions for his Mum? You guessed it: “Did you get me any presents?”
So, with two super-fit and sporty parents who love soccer, might it follow that Ioane also takes up the sport? “Maybe” says Patia. “Ed and I will be his number 1 support crew if he does.” As a first step, Ioane is enrolling in the Tupapa Under 8’s next week.
What next for the girl next door? Well Constable Patia returned to police duties a couple of weeks ago and is incredibly grateful to her bosses there for allowing her to take time off work to train for and then travel to Canada to represent our country as our first FIFA World Cup referee. She’s keeping up her training and the domestic season starts next week. That’s when we’ll get to see Patia playing for her Tupapa club for her 4th season and also refereeing (but not at the same time!).
And it’s on the field Patia finds players who remind her of herself – feisty, cheeky and chatty, full of “advice” – and yes, she’s been known to give out a few yellow and red cards to them. It’s on the field she keeps an eye out for promising young players she can motivate and inspire to take their sport to the next level.
Patia gets motivated by seeing active, driven athletes achieving in their sports.
Alongside her policing duties, she has also resumed her other “non-official” duties that include being the hair stylist and manicurist of choice of my four-year-old son and Patia’s little boy next door, Tinirau. He was mighty pleased to have his Aunty Tupou back next door!