Tag Archives: Paul Watson


Pohnpei. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Paul Watson, the author of a fantastic memoir called ‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’, gives his recommendations.

Visit Nan Madol

There’s nowhere like it in the world. Besides the fact it’s such a mysterious and magnificent series of structures, the atmosphere there is bizarre, it really sends shivers down your spine.

Drink sakau

You can’t experience Pohnpei without experiencing sakau. At first I struggled with the taste and the numb feeling it gives you, but I came to appreciate it and even enjoy it.

Go surfing

This isn’t one for me as I’m useless at it and can barely swim, but Palikir Pass is one of the best surfing spots in the world and gets a relatively small amount of visitors due to Pohnpei being off the beaten track.

Personally though I’d choose a jog around PICS Field, it really became my spiritual home and I miss it all the time!



Paul Watson is a British writer, football coach, and…a very nice guy. He is best known for serving as the manager of Pohnpei State football team. He described his ‘Micronesian experiences’ in a memoir ‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’. Interested to know more about Paul’s adventure? Read on.


Pasifika Truthfully: I have to ask… Why Pohnpei?

Paul Watson: For the silliest of reasons, and quite an embarrassing one. As failed footballers, my flat-mate Matt and I decided we wouldn’t give up on our dream of playing international football and would try and find the lowest ranked international team in the world and get that nationality so we could play for them. Our searching took us to Pohnpei as they had never won a match of any kind. However, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t actually be able to naturalise as Micronesian passports are very hard to get and many Americans who have lived there decades and married Micronesians don’t have them. However, by coincidence the head of the Pohnpei FA had moved to London and when we met him he told us the team had stopped playing and what they really needed was coaching.

PT: Had you known anything about the Federated States of Micronesia before you went there?

PW: We did some reading of guidebooks, websites etc., but none of it really sunk in before I was there. This was 10 years ago and there wasn’t that much online about Micronesia.

PT: So you land in Pohnpei… What’s the biggest shock?

PW: The rain! It’s one thing to read that somewhere has one of the wettest climates in the world, but quite another to experience it! Every time it rained it felt like the world was ending, but the locals didn’t mind at all. It took quite a while to not just accept the rain but come to enjoy it, but I miss it now, especially when I’m in the cold, English rain.

PT: Let’s focus on football for a moment. Can we say that you introduced the game to Pohnpei? How big of a challenge was it?

PW: I can’t say I introduced football to Pohnpei. The game had been played there for many years on and off, in fact I was told it was introduced by a Ghanaian teacher called Thomas Tetteh back in the 1980s. The man who introduced us to Pohnpei, Charles Musana, had played and coached football on the island for 15 years. The issue was that football was just a small group of people playing informally – what I worked with the keenest local players to do was to create the first ever league and make things more structured.

PT: Is football still popular in the Federated States of Micronesia? Do you follow it?

PW: Absolutely! Despite a lack of any FIFA funding, the game continues to grow across Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap thanks to the hard work and dedication of individuals who want to give kids the chance to play the sport. I am still in touch with the guys in Pohnpei and was able to send out a coach called Chris Smith who did some amazing work last year in getting over 400 children playing regularly, introducing football into schools and training teachers so they feel comfortable running football sessions.

PT: You described your experiences in your book ‘Up Pohnpei’, which I think is fantastic. It is an entertaining and very uplifting memoir. Did you want to show readers that it’s always important to follow your dreams?

PW: Thank you! I guess the message is that you can follow you dream, however stupid it seems! I will always be glad I went to Pohnpei, even though it was a gamble and certainly left my financial situation difficult for a decade!

PT: What are some stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book? Could you share one or two?

PW: A few things didn’t make it into the book but generally to protect the people involved, so still not sure I could tell the stories. One very safe anecdote that dropped out was the 5K Fun Run which I did alongside several of my players. I thought I was doing really well coming up to the final kilometer and then Roger Nakasone, our left-back and the fittest man I’ve ever met, sprinted past me giggling. He’d stopped to chat to some friends en route! That final part of the route everyone accelerated because there were so many dogs that started chasing you!

PT: What happened after you had left the islands?

PW: After we left, we left football in the capable hands of our captain and football leader Dilshan Senarathgoda, who visited Chuuk and Yap to run football workshops. The Federated States of Micronesia FA was set up, run by local people and ex-pats, and they put an application in to the East Asian Football Federation. Dilshan left the island to go to study in the US, but his dad, Vasantha, continues to run the game and teach it at the College of Micronesia and our former striker Bob Paul does amazing work training kids, while Steve Finnen and Albert Carlot help run the administrative side.

PT: Getting back to Pohnpei. What was the biggest life lesson you learnt there?

PW: I learned so much there, infinitely more than I ever taught anyone. Most of all I learned to take the time to understand different cultures and to respect that their values are different to yours. It may sound obvious, but it took a fair few glugs of sakau to truly embrace that!

PT: Do you have plans to come back to Micronesia one day?

PW: I’d love to return, but only to visit. The future of the sport depends on local people and they need FIFA to step in to give them the support they need. I’ll always do anything I can to assist with getting there and will continue to try and help other coaches get the chance to experience Micronesia – it truly is a unique and wonderful place.


‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ is Paul Watson’s memoir about coaching the Pohnpei football team.



Paul and Matt have always dreamt about playing international football. But how can you make it into a team when you are not the next David Beckham? Well, the easiest way is to become a citizen of a country with a team bad enough you will get a chance to play. A quick search and… Pohnpei sounds like a winner.

When it soon becomes clear that naturalization may be a little problematic, Paul and Matt decide to search for an alternative option. Coaching? Why not! With little hesitation, the two friends leave cold Britain and head for tropical Micronesia.

With one of the world’s wettest climates, a disastrous football pitch, and a population whose obesity rate is 90 per cent, Pohnpei turns out to be a less than ideal place for football. But with a little bit of will and patience, everything can be achieved.


‘Up Pohnpei’ is an eclectic mix of personal, sports, and travel memoir. You would think these can’t go well together, but I can assure you otherwise. Paul Watson created a very fine combination that will make you laugh, ponder, dream, and believe that you can reach for the stars if you only want to.

There is no denying that this book is about football, or soccer if you prefer. But don’t let this put you off. Yes, the references to this particular sport are probably on every single page, but the story itself is much deeper and much more multi-layered that you would expect.

First and foremost, it shows you that impossible can usually be turned into possible. Recounting his adventure, the author provides us with a high dose of motivation and hope. His own dream, so improbably unrealistic, came true. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t without problems, but he managed to achieve what he had wanted. Inspiring others to adopt this never-give-up attitude seems to be the underlying theme of the memoir. And that’s beautiful, because if we learn to follow our hearts and fulfill our goals and ambitions, then we will be genuinely happy people.

Paul Watson is very straightforward and honest in telling his story. When he describes his fruitless efforts and dozens of small failures, you admire his determination. When he shares his struggles to attract sponsors, you feel his disappointment. When he reveals his longing for his family back home, you understand his pain. You get drawn into his world the minute you start reading the first chapter, because you know it is real. His emotions are on full display, so you quickly get the impression that it’s not Paul Watson – the author of the book, but Paul Watson – my mate whom I’ve known for a very long time.

This shows how talented Paul Watson is as a writer. His wit and sense of humour – which come through on every page – make the memoir a light-hearted yet thought-provoking piece of literature, while his descriptive but not overwhelming style ensures it reads really well.

And where in all this is Pohnpei? The islands (not only Pohnpei) are as vivid as photographs. The author not only depicts the places he had a chance to visit and see, but also – or more importantly – provides insights into the local cultures. He explains various customs and traditions and delights readers with his very own observations. By no means is his account an anthropological study, but it presents quite a few interesting facts about the islands of Micronesia you might not have known.

All in all, if you are looking for an enjoyable, engaging, and uplifting  book, ‘Up Pohnpei’ will be a terrific choice. All the more so if you are a football fan. But I would recommend it most for all those people who tend to forget that everything is about belief. Remember, if you can dream it, you can do it.



‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Having spent 9 years as a street cop, Bryan gets a job as a law enforcement specialist in Saipan. Soon after his arrival he discovers that the islands of Micronesia, although dazzlingly beautiful, will be quite a challenge.

This is a brilliant book! Exceptionally well written, funny, and very informative. Bryan recounts his experiences in a refreshingly honest manner, showing readers what it was like to be a police officer in Micronesia in the early 1980s.

‘The Coconut War: Vanuatu and the Struggle for Independence’ by Richard Shears

Richard, a journalist working for the Daily Mail, is sent to the Pacific to cover the war that has just erupted in the New Hebrides. Trying to deliver a good story, he is forced to manoeuvre his way through the complexities of the country’s politico-military situation.

Richard Shear’s account is a wonderful description of a foreign correspondent’s job. Even though it’s a history book, it’s far from being boring. Actually, it’s a page-turner that reads like the most interesting novel.

‘Solomoni – Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’ by Roger Webber

Roger, a fledgling doctor with a committed passion for helping others, travels to Solomon Islands to provide medical assistance to those in need. But as he quickly learns, treating people from a completely different culture is not always as easy as he may have thought.

If you are curious what it’s like to live and work in Melanesia, this is a perfect book for you. Filled to the brim with interesting facts and information, it will show you the real Pasifika; Pasifika like you’ve never seen it before.

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ Trish Nicholson

To fulfil her youthful desire, Trish decides to apply for an overseas job in Papua New Guinea. After being chosen, she flies to the dragon-shaped island to work on a development project. At the time she has absolutely no idea what the realities of life for a development worker in Melanesia are.

When a foreign consultant comes to a faraway country to implement and guide changes, he must know it’s going to be hard. When that foreign consultant is a woman, she must know it’s going to be very hard. You don’t believe me? Just read Trish Nicholson’s engaging memoir.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

What’s the easiest way to become an international football manager? Find a team bad enough you’ll be allowed to coach them. For Paul and Matt, that’s Pohnpei.

This hilarious book is a proof that if you can dream it, you can do it. Paul and Matt’s adventures show the different side of football – without big money, famous players, and magazine-perfect WAGs. Although their job is not always easy, it brings more satisfaction than winning the World Cup.



‘Ujae Island was part of Ujae Atoll, which, like every coral atoll, was a thin ring of reef studded with islets surrounding a lagoon. Ujae sat perched between the inner lagoon and outer ocean, and I quickly understood that the essential axis of the island was ocean-lagoon, not east-west or north-south. Walking to the two ends of that axis brought me to the island’s extremes. The lagoon was calm, shallow, and so transparent as to be color-coded by depth; its beach was smooth, sandy, and fringed by houses. The ocean was violent, mile-deep, and impenetrably opaque; its beach was rough, rocky, and utterly deserted. There were two sides to this island, and they couldn’t have been more different.’

Peter Rudiak-Gould, ‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’

‘After our first week in Palau, Bourne took us out on the Milotk, the thirty-six-foot Marine Resources boat, to the rock islands. Southern Palau is dotted with these unique islands. Some are extruded limestone formations, deeply undercut at the waterline from erosion and the rasping action of hungry chitons. The rock islands, their crowns covered with dense native vegetation, appear as giant green mushrooms growing from the water. Others are laced with beautiful white sand beaches, as close to tropical paradise as imaginable.’

PG Bryan, ‘The Fish & Rice Chronicles’

‘The picture in our dictionary showed an atoll as a small ring of sand and coconut-palms around a dead flat lagoon kept fresh by the ebb and flow of ocean tides through breaks here and there in the land. Marakei in the Northern Gilberts is indeed rather like that – a ribbon of palm-green not more than twelve miles round; the regular golden circle of its beaches, closed save for one tidal passage, encompasses a sapphire lake forever exquisitely at rest.’

Sir Arthur Grimble, ‘A Pattern Of Islands’

‘Finally, Kosrae loomed on the horizon. The island was lush ad green, with long stretches of sandy beaches and two large, pointy peaks that defined what locals called the Sleeping Beauty, for obvious reasons. It was so beautiful and serene – like something right out of a picture postcard from paradise – that I felt a great sense of calm and peacefulness wash over me.’

Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris, ‘Micronesian Blues’

‘Beyond Nan Madol lay the ocean and several uninhabited islands on the horizon. The beauty of the place left us speechless.’

Paul Watson, ‘Up Pohnpei’



‘Making sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture’ by Francis X. Hezel

This is a fantastic book that should be read by every single person planning to visit the FSM. Written by Francis X. Hezel, a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in this Pacific country since 1963, it provides all the necessary information regarding Micronesian culture, letting readers understand the often unfamiliar island ways.

It should be noted that the author doesn’t focus on the FSM only, but on the vast area from Palau to the Marshalls. Drawing on his first-hand experience, he describes the peculiarities of each nation’s character, explains attitudes and real-life behaviours of the inhabitants, analyzes the patterns of values and sets of beliefs. The result? Educational, enlightening, very entertaining publication that is a true joy to read.

‘Nest in the Wind: Adventures in Anthropology on a Tropical Island’ by Martha C. Ward

Martha C. Ward’s book is a must-read for people who are interested not only in Micronesia but also in anthropology, ethnography, or cross-cultural communication. It is a comprehensive study of customs, traditions, habits, practices, beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes of the Pohnpeian (yes, the author devotes her attention to the Pohnpei State) people.

Although unbelievably detailed and insightful, this is not an academic publication. It’s actually an engaging account of one woman’s discoveries in the tropical paradise, written in a pleasant and very appealing way.

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Bryan Vila’s memoir that chronicles his adventures in Micronesia is undoubtedly one of the best books ever written about this beautiful part of our globe. Vila, together with Cynthia Morris, managed to create a compelling narrative that wonderfully explains the realities of life not only in the FSM but also in the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Marshalls, and Guam.

Delivered in a light-hearted and humorous manner, the story provides the most interesting, little-known facts about Micronesian cultures – Chuukese, Kosraean, Yapese, and Pohnpeian among others. By no means is this an anthropological study, nevertheless one may learn quite a lot from Bryan’s experiences (good and bad) in a foreign land. Thoroughly engaging from start to finish!

‘Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years in Micronesia’ by Jonathan Gourlay

Jonathan Gourlay is an outstandingly talented writer, so it comes as no surprise that this little collection of essays about his sojourn in Pohnpei is such an enjoyable read. It’s hilariously funny, extremely revealing, and unusually honest.

Micronesia was Jonathan’s home for 11 years – during that time he was neither a local nor a complete stranger. As he presents his point of view, he shows the Pohnpeian way of life from a new, very interesting perspective, making readers realize how difficult it is to adapt to an entirely different culture. You can’t help but marvel at Jonathan’s writings, and his book is well worth your time and attention.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

Can a book about football serve as a source of knowledge about Micronesian culture? Well, Paul Watson proves it can. His memoir about coaching the Pohnpei’s national soccer team is an amusing, inspirational read that unravels a few things you may not have known about the islands and their inhabitants.

Of course, with its strong focus on sport, the title may be a little disappointing for those who expect to find here an abundance of information regarding the FSM. However, despite this (minor) drawback, it’s still a book that sheds some light on the country that receives very limited coverage in literature.



‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

When a young lawyer from the City of London suddenly ends up in one of the smallest countries on the planet Earth, where literally everything is new and different, you can be sure that’s a promise of great fun. Philip Ells’s memoir certainly doesn’t disappoint. His unforgettable experiences are depicted in a candid, casual, and very jovial manner, which is both engaging and extremely pleasurable to read. What can I say… No one does humour quite like the Brits!

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

Although somewhat controversial among Chamorro communities, this is an interesting book. It’s not only very insightful in terms of providing valuable information regarding Guam, its history, culture, and traditions but also highly amusing and – this may come as a surprise to many – really well paced and plotted. And even the fact that the travelogue has some flaws cannot ruin your reading enjoyment.

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Bryan Vila’s memoir is the most hilarious account of a cross-cultural adventure you can find. It has absolutely everything a good travel book should have: entertaining story (it’s a page-turner that reads like a novel), vivid descriptions (yes, you can almost feel the tropical breeze), fascinating insights (it teaches, informs, enlightens), fantastic sense of humour (oh, see for yourself). This chronicle of one cop’s experiences in a foreign land captures attention, making readers roar with laughter.

‘Solomon Time: Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Will Randall

Will Randall’s book is an odyssey well worth your time. This rather improbable yet true story of an English teacher who travels to the Solomon Islands with the object of fulfilling a dying man’s wish could not be any more delightful. A wonderfully constructed narrative is embellished with humorous anecdotes and amusing scenes that are simply too funny not to be read.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

This is a book with so many layers to it. It takes readers to the magical island of Pohnpei to show them how passion, determination, and belief can make the impossible possible. It embodies the true spirit of sport, letting people discover the sheer joy it brings. But most of all, it makes everyone laugh. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, inspirational (beyond words), heart-warming, richly comic travelogue written for love of the game. Beautiful and entertaining!