Natural evolution

IN sports, there is always a process of natural evolution of the game. It reflects larger societal changes. The 1930s was a period of transformation of industry, society and some slight shifts on the one constant of that time-the colonial government. The most significant change was land tenure and farming practices, from plantation to tenant farms.

The second change associated with the first was the growth of urban centres. Most of the municipalities in Fiji were officially proclaimed in this decade. Along with these developments came the changes in leisure time. Colonial administrations, missions’ and large commercial operations like sugar and mining companies all put aside time and developed amenities and facilities for recreation.

The reasons were not always altruistic. The lesson learnt from the industrial revolution was that of a healthy worker. In addition, as an added benefit sport boosted morale and provided escape from daily rigours- then setting aside a few hours a week in organised sport was a solid investment.

As always, these investments were not caveat-free.

Football in the Northern Districts (as it was known then) from Sigatoka to Rakiraki grew rapidly, Ba and Lautoka were at the forefront. They had their eyes on the Southern Districts as talk began of a united football association (FA) for all of Fiji in the mid-1930s. The early start by the Southern districts gave them an advantage.

These early series of matches also laid foundations of many of the rivalries between district sides Rewa and Suva by 1938 had an established rivalry going back to their cub sides from 1922. Suva as the Capital City was the one that all loved to hate. The city slickers with their attitude similarly looked down at the country cousins, especially from the cane fields and rice paddies of Nausori. This root cause rivalry still simmers.

The Lautoka and Ba rivalry was established before their formal founding as districts,in 1934 after 1935,respectively. The two sides played a series of friendly matches in late 1920s. Districts formed because of the “keeping up with Kumars’ principal. The “monkey see monkey”, phenomenon between neighbouring districts, greatly accelerated, with the founding of Fiji FA and when the IDC kicked off.

Lautoka grew rapidly after the establishment of the new CSR Mill in 1903, one of the largest freestanding buildings in the southern hemisphere, overtook Ba as the focal point of Northern Districts. This did not go down well with the “Blacks’ and soon enough they wanted to assert their superiority on the football pitch.

Since then the two sides have had the better part of 70 years to pitch their best against each other. Passing years have not mellowed this rivalry and no love is lost between Ba and Lautoka.

In 1936 the first “Inter District” match between teams from South and West took place with the Indian Reform League under Dwarka Singh and AS Farebrother playing against a Lautoka selection in August, with future matches planned for Levuka and Ba.

Singh and Farebrother cut their teeth with Indian Reform League experiment. The larger sectarian groups and divisions isolated the Indian Reform League (IRF). This was made worse by the deteriorating in the relationship between Sanatan and Arya Samaji leader Pundit Vishnu Deo and his political career was stalled due to the resulting conviction. The upshot of this division was entrenchment of divisions along sectarian lines.

The IRF, were not representative body for Indians of Fijian descent in Fiji. Their association with colonial authorities and society placed them on shaky ground as a representative of their national body. It is arguable that the experience of Dwarka and Farebrother, as steadying influence led to the decision for an inclusive national soccer association for Indians of Fijian descent.

One, separated from sectarian divisions and politics. Prasad and Farebrother as founding officials of the Fiji Indian Football Association in 1938 had their IRF experience to set up a different set of foundational pillars, one that was inclusive and cut across these sectarian lines.

While there were individuals like Prasad and Farebrother with a vision for a national body, at the local level soccer boomed. In Tavua, the so to be booming gold town, football took off with a local league divided into European, Native and Indian Leagues. A Native League was organised for the first time in 1937 under a European management. The Goldfield Native Soccer Association was formed with E.G Theodore, the gold mine manager, as their patron.

The Allen Cup, named after the manager of the CSR Rarawai, challenges among the schools in Ba was a fixture in the 1930s and 40.

The flurry of competitions and matches between 1930 and 1936 is significant in making out the road to the formation of the Fiji FA in 1938, It made the task for Prasad and Farebrother easier. The desire for a national association to organise competitions at the next level was there without their prodding or prescription.

With 1938 in the horizon, the buildup, matches for some form of an inter-district competition continued, the Ba senior side prepared for matches against the much-vaunted Service and Namoli Sports teams from Lautoka in a series of matches over the Easter Weekend in April, 1937. The matches were held at the Rarawai CSR ground. Service, one of the oldest clubs in Fiji from Lautoka was regarded as ‘the most up to date soccer team in the northern district.’

These were the last series of matches in 1937 before the grand finale that signaled the foundation of the Fiji FA in 1938. This tool the form of a series between a team from southern Viti Levu against the north western district side in August 1937. The matches were compromised on earlier attempts to have an inter district competition that year. Time and logistics of organising individual districts conspired against the idea.

Instead, the north west district side featuring Ba, Lautoka and Nadi players played against the southern district side. They lost 1-7 in Rewa on August 1 but came back to win the return leg in Suva 3-1 the following day. The series of matches led to the formation of the Fiji FA a year later ad the introduction of the IDC. The two-day series provided the opportunity for AS Farebrother and Dwarka Prasad to meet their counterparts from the north west.

* Next week formation of Fiji FA 1938-1939

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