File-photo: Lone of yester-years with the incredible Waniboe Toe, second from left, standing.

Football in Liberia: The Beginning

By: 
Omari Jackson

Football has had an enduring presence in Liberia since the 1950s. The game was played among the scattered communities without a central organization. Available information suggests early an encounter in Monrovia between a local team known as the Young Lions against a select side of expatriates, then working with companies in Monrovia. Though the exact date of the match could not be verified, it was however not played under any organized association. It was simply a game without much of the arrangement and organizations we know today. The truth was that the players were familiar with the rules of the game and therefore playing against an expatriate side did not present any difficulty. The indication was that the sport made its appearance in the country through seamen who spent their time in Monrovia, along with Liberians who returned from trips to families to neighboring countries. But the notable game as the beginning of an organized occurred with a Liberian select side and an expatriate team. That game, and subsequent others were not played or organized under a central authority as we know it today, though they became the starting point for the game’s eventual organization in Monrovia. But it was not until the return of the man credited as the father of Liberian football, Mr. John Howard, from Grammar School in Sierra Leone, somewhere around 1936 that an attempt was made to get a central organization. And thereafter the Liberia Football Association was organized.

    So the official organization of football, known as ‘association football’ and the subsequent membership of the Confederation of African Football, CAF, was in 1936. Mr. John Howard was the elder brother of Joe Richards, a soccer enthusiast and one of the founders of first division club, Invincible Eleven.

    In an article, courtesy of the erstwhile X-Ray magazine, John Howard explained what happened:

    “Football started in Liberia long before I spearheaded the formation of the Liberia Football Association in 1936. Even before the 1920s, to the extent that was difficult to trace its origin; the sport was popular among the settlers, (Liberians who returned to Africa from the United States, and later from the West Indies in the early 19th century.)

  But the general consensus is that football originated from Britain. From there it spread to the rest of the world.

   There was no central organization to monitor the activities of the various teams, which were already in existence. I then called a few football enthusiasts to a meeting at the home of Mr. Anthony Barclay, (cousin of then President Edwin J. Barclay), on Broad Street.

  Those in attendance included Lawrence Gbehyon, George Padmore, Isaac Davies, George Terrence, Jacob Brown, J.D. Brown, Urias Brown and McKingley A. Deshield, Sr.

     It was at that meeting that I tabled the idea of founding the Liberia Football Association, which would be charged with formulating rules and regulations regarding football in Liberia.”

   Teams that were already actively playing against each other in Monrovia included Great Bame, Iron Side, Mosquitoes, Central and Olympics. But it was not until 1953 that the national team was organized. The national team was known as, some say ‘The Probables,’ others say “The City Team’ (Josiah N. Johnson), and it eventually came to adopt the name Lone Star from a local soccer team that was based in New Kru Town, Monrovia, (Josiah N. Johnson). Though we could not find the reason the team was finally renamed Lone Star other sources claim that the Republic of Liberia declared independence on July 26, 1847 and was known as the “only” or the “lone star,” among the many stars in Africa, particularly south of the Sahara without colonial rule. Hence it was therefore the “lone” star that shone brightly, beckoning and inspiring other African nations to struggle for self-determination.

    It goes on to say that when Ghana gained its independence on March 6, 1957, as the first black nation in sub-Sahara Africa, it described itself as the “black star” following Liberia’s historic role as the “lone star” of freedom. Further investigations revealed that Ghanaian and Nigerian newspapers began to refer to Liberia as the Lone Star of Africa and therefore by 1954, it was a kind of imposition and Liberian sports officials accepted without question its noble role as the Lone Star, inspiring other African Nations, to self-governance.

  By 1954, Liberia was ready to test its mettle and the first football encounter with the national soccer team, Lone Star, was against the Elephants of neighboring Cote d’Ivoire. The 1954 Lone Star was coached by Franco Roberts and the captain was McDonald Accolaste.

     Great Bame, Iron Side, Mosquitoes, Central and Olympics were the pioneer clubs in the country from the 1930s, and six years later, the Liberia Football Association was organized. It affiliated with the International Football Federation, FIFA in 1962, which was twenty two years later.

    Though these developments were significant, the Government of Liberia did not take the necessary interest in them. There was in fact no department or ministry responsible for sports to cater to the developmental needs of the youths. And 24 years later in 1962, Liberia could not raise a team to participate in the 1962 World Cup, which finals were held in Chile, from 30 May to 17 June.

    The tournament earned Brazil’s second title, as Garrincha (Manuel Francisco dos Santos) the star player accepted the mantle and responsibility, (after regular talisman, Pele,) was injured during the first group match against Mexico and was unable to play for the rest of the competition, according to investigations conducted by our team of researchers.

    Meanwhile a background introduction to a document from the Ministry of Youth and Sports said, “Prior to 1972 the affairs of sports were administered by the National Sports Commission. It was under the Sports Commission that Liberia first participated in international competitions.

   “The first international exposure was in 1950 when Liberia played the Ivory Coast in football.

  “The next major event was the Games of the 13th Olympiad held in Melbourne, Australia in 1956. The outcome of the Olympic Games was the formation of the Liberia Olympic Games Association later to become the Liberia National Olympic Committee.

  “By May 1972, an act of the national legislature created the Ministry of Labour Youth and Sports and on March 1981, PRC Decree No. 36 of the People’s Redemption Council repealed the Act and established the National Youth and Sports Commission.

  “It was in 1982 that the Ministry of Youth and Sports was created. Its responsibilities were to supervise, coordinate, monitor and evaluate youth development and sports programs and activities in Liberia.”

  Editor’s Note: the author is currently working on the history of Liberian football with the assistance of the Liberia Football Association.)

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