The roots and routes

Tracing the route to the foundation of the Fiji Indian Football Association in 1938 through various football competitions is surprisingly obvious enough. There was the ball, then there was a field, then players and then teams and they wanted to compete.

And this quest for competition led to the formation of the Fiji FA in 1938. The pathway that followed this natural progression of football is marked by a number of tournaments and competition prior to 1938.

Football in organised form with regular competitions on a club level was popularised by Fijians of Indian descent and Fijians after 1920. It became particularly among the first generation of Fijians of Indian descent as a popular schoolyard pastime.

By 1920, some of this first generation of Fijians of Indian descent has their first taste of football as students in Christian Mission Schools. The earliest documented Fijians of Indian descent football teams are Sunshine (Suva) and Rewa football clubs from 1922.

The role of the Catholic brothers in the introduction and development of football continued well into 1960’s and beyond. Brother Betrand, another well-known Marist priest and teacher, was the coach of the first ever Fiji national side in 1951. He remained an influential figure mentoring many other players and coaches.

There is myth of football being primarily a sport of Fijians of Indian descent origins. This was not true. Europeans introduced it to strong following among Fijians in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Indenture obviously enough was not prime slot for sports.

All races followed district football teams. Local village communities and heads provided important moral and logistical support during tournaments. It was common for an exclusively Indian district football team to be hosted and cared during the duration of the Inter District Competition (IDC) by a local village community.

After their hard-fought IDC 1944 the Rewa manager through an interview in The Fiji Times thanked the Buli of Ra Koro and their people for billeting the team and contributing to their success.

These early interactions in football were not allowed onto the official leagues and associations. They continued at the schools level and with the support given by officials like Ratu Meli Qoro to football.

One of the results of this was the easy transition made by Fijian players into football at the district and national level,when the Fiji FA evolved out of the Fiji Indian Football Association in 1961.

Prior to the formation of the Fiji FA in 1938 the Indian Reform League between 1926 and 1932 made several serious attempts to organise the game on a national level. The Indain Reform League encouraged by their success in organising school football decided to arrange league football competition for the adult teams in and around Suva in 1928.

In December 1927, the League had organised a very successful schools football competition at Albert Park.

The editor of the, a monthly bi-lingual Hindi and English magazine, Dr IH Beattie donated a trophy named after his magazine to be competed for annually by teams in a competition organised by the League,

At the annual general meeting of the Indian Reform League held at the imperial Picture Theatre on Sunday 22nd 1928, a special association football league committee was chosen. S.V Singh was the first secretary. Many of the Indian Reform League football committee officials later held influential posts in the Fiji Indian Football Association when it was formed a decade later.

Among these future administrative figures with Indian FA were J.F Grant, I Ramjan, A Raymond, Sahu Khan, C S Narain, G Suchit and D Dudley. The four original teams in the Indian Reform League Football Club, Toorak Service Club, Dilkusha Excelsior Football Club of Rewa were joined after the competition started by the Union (Marist Brother’s team).

The first game between the Indian Reform and Toorak side was kicked off by Dr Beattie and refereed by Mr Lamb on May 14, 1928, 49 years to the day that the first Indians arrived as indentured laborers in Fiji. The date was deliberately chosen.

A year later in May 1929 Indian leaders as a show of protest decided against participating in a public holiday celebrations of the “Golden Jubilee of indenture declared by the colonial government. The program included a football tournament for Indian football” that was boycotted.

This first session was closely followed by people in Suva and Rewa. It was also seen in some envy of North-Western districts, which had teams but no extended regional league. The league saw teams attracting their own legion of fans based largely on geographical closeness to the base of the team or familial ties. On a global level the introduction of the World Cup in 1930 and the publicity around it provides a more tenuous reason for the increased interest in the sport, in this period. After all, in relative terms, the global village is not as recent a phenomenon as we generally accept it to be.

The formation of the network of fans based on parochialism to district from the opening rounds of the Indian Reform Football League.

The Indian Reform League football competition ran successfully until 1932. Suva and Rewa began their own leagues to cater for the increased number of clubs within each district. The two districts soon had a competitive local league running. And their annual matches between districts. The two districts soon had a competitive local league running. And their annual matches between district selections provided the basis for an enduring rivalry.

AS Farebrother and Dwarka Singh were instrumental figures in the oraginsation of football within the Indian Reform League. The duo was to spearhead other initiatives. Their sights set on bigger things. The spent the next six years working on districts and organising patronage of the game in order to make a national association viable.

? Next week: Formation of Fiji FA