When he was 6 years old Tai Barham had done his dash with kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard of the family’s Napier home.
“Are you going to tell him you were crying?” his father, Buzz Barham, can be heard asking in the background of the telephone interview.
A laughing Tai Barham wasn’t going to go there but suffice it to say the then youngster was itching to take his love for soccer another step up into an intoxicating but relatively unknown realm.
Buzz took little Tai to Park Island that Saturday morning where several junior teams were playing.
“He asked me what team I wanted to play for so I pointed out a colour – red – which was Napier South,” says the 20-year-old whose father is a former social competitive rugby player from Waipu, north of Auckland.
Akin to a non-punter picking the colours of a jockey in a gallops meeting for some loose change in a race, it probably didn’t matter what Barham’s choice was going to be but since then he has made huge strides in the beautiful game.
Tomorrow the Victoria University geography student will be among the Futsal Whites playing in a promotional match against Capital Futsal in Wellington after Wellington Phoenix withdrew yesterday.
Only last month he was competing for a composite Melbourne/Perth team, Muita Calma, in a futsal tournament in Kobe, Japan.
Comprising predominantly Australian internationals, Muita Calma got into the final where a Barcelona side, Cataluna, beat them 3-0.
“They were mostly first and second team Barcelona internationals who beat other sides 5-0, 10-0 so we didn’t do too badly,” says Barham who will resume at Wellington United this winter for their Central League soccer campaign.
He took six months off from his second-year tertiary studies in March to play futsal in Perth for South Freemantle Club under coach Raffaele Capasso who immediately asked him to go to Japan.
Barham had hopes of eventually impressing the selectors but Capasso’s request caught him by surprise although he was mindful the Aussies were aware he was a Futsal White representative.
Returning home to visit his family, Barham trained with his former Napier City Rovers clubmates in the ComputerCare Pacific Premiership side at Park Island.
After the Phoenix friendly, the former Hawke’s Bay United Youth Academy player will compete in the New Zealand v Australia Oceania Futsal Championship on July 20 in Wellington.
Weighing 65kg and 1.72m tall, Barham didn’t stand much chance in emulating his father’s love for rugby.
“I saw soccer on TV and it was a more skilful game so I was drawn to it,” says the man who sees himself as an attacking midfielder in soccer but a utility player in futsal who can play in any position.
The former Napier Boys’ High School student got into the Hawke’s Bay futsal rep team after Central Football futsal development officer, Nathaniel Wright, approached him while he was training with his Taradale team one night.
The Bay futsal side, who finished fifth last year, will compete in the national series in Wellington (October), Auckland (November) and here (December) in a three-round series.
“We’re hoping to make the semis this year,” says Barham, a left footer who can employ his right if need be.
A left winger at NBHS, he believes the job of a midfielder is to be alert box to box rather than just sitting up in attack.
He moved from Napier South as a 14-year-old to Rovers before spending four years in the Bay United franchise academy. From there Taradale beckoned with the promise of more game time.
Making it big in soccer is his passion but Barham points out futsal has helped refine his ball skills.
“I can tell you my game has improved a lot from it.”
He is hoping Bay United coach Chris Greatholder will give him a look in in the ASB Premiership this summer after making their historic playoffs last season.
“But I’m only 20 so my main focus right now is to help Wellington United move up the table,” Barham says of the capital city team sitting second last on the Central League ladder and play defending champions Bluewater Napier City Rovers on August 17.
“It’ll be good to play the old team and some of my friends.”