The new society and football from 1920-1938
3 April, 2018, 12:00 am
THE Colonial Sugar Refinery with their sugar mills in Lautoka, Ba, Rakiraki and Labasa and locomotive stations and sector offices throughout the western halves of Viti and Vanua Levu provided much of the early infrastructure for all these sports.
As they had done in Nausori until 1958, while sugar plantations had made Navua a thriving town until they closed down in 1935.
Most of the organisers and enthusiasts for the sports were drawn from the large number of mainly Australian and New Zealand workers in the CSR, the colonial administration, professional classes including the influential teachers,various armed forces from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and US based in Fiji during WW1.
Large companies and corporations like the then Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac), Bank of New Zealand (now ANZ Bank) and Emperor Gold Mines, among others, provided players and patronage.
Burns Philp and Morris Hedstrom, for example, provided match balls for the first Inter District Competition in 1938.
There exists little official documentation that deals directly with a “policy” of sporting apartheid in Fiji.
It was part of the unwritten texts of colonial administration of race relations.
The result was the formation of separate sporting bodies. And football proved no exception.
This separation though was limited to the national district and club levels of sports. Among schools such separate leagues did not exist.
Participation in football in primary schools was open to all races.
At the secondary level national football competitions that began in 1951 similarly made no restrictions.
In the 1920s, football was an important Saturday social activity with a number of Fijian teams competing for the prestigious Ricarnie Cup on a provisional basis.
Some of the club teams that were formed included: Shamrock (Suva), Kadavu (Suva) and Ovalau (Levuka).
Games were played on a regular basis with players playing barefoot with great speed, stamina and ball control, according to various anecdotal reports.
In the western side there was an early emergence of interest in football among Fijians in the 1920s and 1930s.
Lautoka became the centre for Fijian football in the North-Western districts.
A large number of clubs competed under the leadership of Ratu Meli Qoro with a long playing career for the Namoli Native Football Club.
Ratu Meli was also one of the earliest Fijian referees and was a regular official at most of the Inter-District tournaments in the 1940s by the Fiji Indian Football Association.
The Northern Natives League began around 1927 ad had teams from Ba to Rakiraki playing at various venues between the two centers.
In the league Vitogo, Vakabuli, Saru,Yalobi (Waya), Kadavu, combined Macuata/Bua/ Cakaudrove and Topline joined Namoli. Namoli were the most dominant side and won the league for a record nine wins in a row between 1941 and 1949.
JK Gopal, a pioneer Lautoka football rep, was a Lautoka Methodist Mission School contemporary of Qoro and other Fijian players in the early 1930s.
The duo had a close friendship and recounted that football provided one of the strongest common grounds for the inter-mixing among Indians and Fijians.
Mission schools spread football to Fijians in the early 1900s. It engendered a tradition of competitive, communally organised football feasts or “magiti”.
These were usually played between inter-village schools accompanied by senior teams. Reports suggested that there was a fierce dose of physicality and rivalry to their games.
The Fiji Times of September 8, 1938, documents such a football match played.
By the Wainikoro and Waibula District Fijian Schools, which ended in a one-all tie. Refreshments were provided and musical items performed for the enjoyment of players’ teachers and guests.
The commonalties of organised club level, primary schools and the early period made it a national sport.
As part of the colonial diktat it took on a more divided form than the possibilities engendered by its organic roots.
* Next week: Tracing Roots and Routes to Formation of Fiji Football Association.