By Sashi Teibor Laloo
The celebrations didn’t just end in the streets; it reverberated in the playing field and boosted the morale of the players which eventually paved way for the Jaintia Football Club to lift all the football trophies in 1947. The club was defiantly more than just a club for it represented the Jaintia identity in the field and represented the aspirations of the people.
Football or soccer as it is known in the United States is a very famous sport all around the world. Here in India, the game is also a major sensation especially during the commencement of the National leagues and the long-awaited World Cup tournament. The old-timers reminisce the simple glory days of Argentina and Brazil while the youths having access to social media passionately follow their football stars and their association with the National and League teams rigorously. The love for football has evolved massively over the turn of the years and the game is gradually making its way as a profession not just in the national/state level but has also gained pace at the grass root level. Comparatively, in North-East India, the young generation knows less about the Indian National Cricket or the Hockey team for that matter, but their knowledge about football stars and the tournaments worldwide is very impressive. The Jaintia Football Club which began in the early decades of the 20th century is not a functioning football club in Shillong anymore. Very few of the present generation remembers the glory days of football being mesmerised by the players and the laurels the club achieved in winning all tournaments held in Shillong in 1947-48. This short information on the Club is a tribute to all the individuals from coaches, instructors and players Bam kwai ha dwar u Blei (a local term for the deceased) yet have contributed significantly to the rise and the impact Jaintia Football Club had on the football scene in Shillong right from the colonial period. For the record, I’m very grateful to my maternal grandfather’s family for preserving and keeping records of the Club’s old photographs that are valuable today.
The history of football can be traced back to many centuries and one is uncertain about its origins. The game draws its inspirations from various forms played worldwide in the past. In an article published by the Football Stadiums, UK[i] it opines that football is similar to a game called Tsu' Chu, played by the Chinese Military during the second and third century C. E. it involves the kicking of a leather ball filled with hair and feathers into an opponent’s net. As per the rules of the game, hands were not allowed but it was common to use of their body in holding off opponents who were trying to score. Around 500 years later, the Japanese invented the game of Kemari, which focused more on team work in passing the ball and preventing it from toughing or falling on the ground.
Kemari - By Akisato Rito (秋里籬島) via Wikimedia Commons
In Europe, the Greeks have a similar game of football called Episkyros – a sport using the feet. The Romans on the other hand were proficient with a sport called Harpastum. This team sport wins points or goals every time the team attempts to pass the ball across a designated line in the opponent’s half. Coming to a more refined and similar form of football played today, the article The History of Football suggests that the first documented use of the term ‘Football’ interestingly goes back to the year 1409 in England. Other documented reports also suggested that a game of football was played as early as 1581 in schools around England. However, modern football match drew its origins from a collective decision made in 1863 which demarcated the rules allotted for Rugby and Football respectively.
In another article The History of Football by Sky History, it mentioned that:
In comparison to China’s advanced version of the football itself, the English equivalent was made using an inflated animal bladder. The game’s appeal continued to increase in England so much so that in the 1300s, its popularity became a bone of contention for Edward II. The king became increasingly concerned that football was distracting people from practicing archery, at a time when he was preparing to go to war with Scotland. The solution to this problem was to enforce a ban on everyone playing football. This was to be the first of many bans to be instituted by leading figures such as Edward III, Henry IV and Oliver Cromwell.[i]
Richard C. Giulianotti is of the opinion that as early as 1843, an attempt to standardize and codify the rules of play was made at the University Of Cambridge, as students who joined most public schools adopted these “Cambridge rules” and gradually established football clubs in the process. In the year 1863, a series of meetings involving clubs from metropolitan London and the surrounding counties formulated and printed the rules of football which prohibited the hand carrying of the ball as one important rule. By the early 20th century, as the influence of football had spread across Europe, an organisation was found where representatives from the football associations of Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland established the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1904.[i] The British in its numerous across the globe colonies, was considered instrumental at introducing the game. Intrestingly, the first recorded match outside Europe was held at Argentina in 1867[ii] which was organised by several Englishmen working in South America.
The beauty of the game however knows no bounds – be it in peace or war. Jon Townsend narrated that amidst the tension and chaos of the First World War in 1914, Christmas Eve broke the violence and the silence echoed the sounds of Christmas carols from both enemy lines. Eventually, both sides emerged from their respective trenches in the spirit of peace and brotherhood and walked towards one another yet exchanging looks of apprehension. There were accounts of German voices cutting through the area in Northern France exalting “You no shoot, we no shoot.” It was at this point, that faith in humanity was perhaps made possible that along with the exchanging of gifts, handshakes, cigarettes, wine and displaying pictures of their sweethearts back home, a short lived football match was played between both the warring army. A 19-year old Private named Ernie Williams who was part of the 6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment recounted that:
The ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it was from their side – it wasn’t from our side where the ball came. It was a proper football. They took their coats off some of them and put them down as goalposts. One fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kick about. I should think there would be at least a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at it – I was pretty good then at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will.
Football in retrospect was also not just a popular sport and a spectator game of the masses. The game of football was also a tool for resistance and a dissemination of conscience and realisation in the late 19th and early 20th century. In elaborating this statement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi used football as a platform to raise awareness of resistance during his days in South Africa. According to The Better India, Gandhi established three football clubs in Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg. All three clubs were called ‘Passive Resisters Soccer Club.’ Apart from making a political statement, he matches were significant because the money generated from these sporting events help raise funds to bail individuals who fought the British oppression. Gandhi and many of his contemporaries did leave a huge impact on the game of football especially with regards to non-whites in South Africa. For instance, “Federations like Transvaal Indian Football Association, or the Klip River District Indian Football Association, and the more famous South African Association of Hindu Football are examples of Gandhi’s organizational skills.” The article by the The Better India, was a tribute to Gandhi and his association with football way beyond what Gandhi is known for the world over for. Rebecca Naidoo, the great granddaughter of Gandhi’s long-time collaborator G. R. Naidoo, pointed out in an interview with FIFA, stating that:
Two of the most prominent football teams in South Africa’s more recent sporting history may never have existed were it not for Gandhi’s efforts, with the now-defunct Johannesburg club Moonlighters FC and former Durban side Manning Rangers both emerging from the fledgling Indian football community that had been nurtured by Gandhi and his colleagues.[v]
In the 1930s, we see a similar resistance to a particular ideology in Spain. Barcelona Football Club or Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) represented the Catalonian Nationalism against the iron hand of General Franco. Franco was a fascist who was assisted by Hitler in his rise to power, strived for a greater Spanish Nationalism with his seat in Madrid. Therefore, one of Europe’s greatest football rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid commenced from this era of political turmoil for identity which today has become one of the most anticipated matches yearly with famous football stars representing each side. It was during this period that Barcelona gained their motto “Mes que un club” or “More than a club”.
Coming to the Jaintia Football Club, in order to comprehend the significance of the Jaintia Football Club’s position in 1947, one must take a journey back in time to understand the oppressive policies of the British towards the Jaintia community and how 1947 was a year of liberation not just politically but also brought with it the people’s freedom of social and religious expressions. The English East India Company as well as the British to a very large extent administered with a motive to exploit the resources and at the same time interfered with the socio-cultural and political dynamics of the land. Beginning with the war against the Jaintia ruler in 1774, where skirmishes between the Jaintia Ruler and the East India Company arose over the routes along the Surma River and the jurisdiction of lands in Sylhet. The war was short lived and subsequently the Jaintia Ruler acknowledged the supremacy of the East India Company in his territory. Further, in the year 1835, the position of the Jaintia Ruler was abolished in lieu of British’s indirect rule where Dolloi(s) were directly answerable to the British in all of Jaintia Hills as the plain territory was annexed to Sylhet. In the 1860’s, with the introduction of the infamous House Tax which forced each Jaintia household to pay taxes to the British, the people in defiance of tyranny commenced the Jaintia Uprising in 1862 led by a brave commoner, U Kiang Nangbah. Having glanced into the colonial policies of the 18th and 19th century, the year 1931 was again very catastrophic with regards to the religious practices of the people. Due to some minor quarrel and fight that broke out during Behdienkhlam celebrations (the biggest festival of the Jaintia community) the festivities were completely halted till 1947, when India received her independence. As the title of the paper suggests ‘The Jaintia Football Club in ’47’ the year 1947 was indeed special and memorable to the Jaintia community as much as it was to fellow Indians all over. After the British left India, the people took the opportunity to revive the festival of Behdienkhlam after a gap of 17 long years. Just like Mahatma Gandhi used football as a tool to represent something more than just a sport, the Jaintia football club too was backed up by a crowd who were longing for a political and religious freedom for years. The football club not only improved in the wonderful sport throughout the years of colonial suppression in terms of religious expression and so on, the club most importantly brought the emotions to the field which reverberated in the stands as spectators boosted the morale of the players. With the roaring crowds behind them, Jaintia Football Club successfully lifted all the football trophies organized in Shillong during the year 1947-48. The celebrations in the success of the football club reflected the long aspirations of the people especially in a time when religious expressions and independence from the British reached its pinnacle.
The Jaintia Football Club with trophies in 1947 © Sashi Teibor Laloo
The family and well wishers of the Jaintia Football Club and their trophies in 1947-48 © Sashi Teibor Laloo
Gradually, the Jaintia Football Club became Jaintia Soccer Club as seen in the photograph dated 1953. The picture was taken in the front yard of my maternal Great Grandfather Mr. Harrison Kyndiah seated in the middle row, wearing a turban. Another respected family member who lived beyond the age of 100 is Mr Khro Shullai seen with his hands folded next to the Cup and Shield is remembered as one of the fiercest and finest central defender in the field. © Sashi Teibor Laloo
In the Khasi-Jaintia community, football is played among all ages from the city of Shillong to the energetic youths in the beautiful countryside. P R T Gurdon who was posted in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills in the early years of the 20th century remarked that Archery seemed to be the national game of the people, however if Gurdon would have visited the region today, football would have definitely changed his mind. The state has produced players like Eugeneson Lyngdoh and many others who contributed largely to the national team as well as the national leagues in the country. There are also very commendable initiatives by organizations like ‘Touchline Northeast’ who are working to enhance and promote grass-root football for boys and girls right from a very young age.
[i] Football Stadiums, The History Of Football, Accessed on 11th September 2020, https://www.football-stadiums.co.uk/articles/the-history-of-football/
[ii] Sky History, The History of Football, , Accessed on 12th September 2020 https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-sports/history-of-football [iii] Richard C. Giulianotti , Football-Soccer , Accessed on 12th September 2020 https://www.britannica.com/sports/football-soccer [iv] Sky History, The History of Football, , Accessed on 12th September 2020 https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-sports/history-of-football [v] Jon Townsend, If Only For A Day: The Christmas Truce Match of 1914 in In These Football Times, 23rd December 2018, Accessed on 12th September 2020 https://thesefootballtimes.co/2018/12/23/if-only-for-a-day-the-christmas-truce-of-1914/ [vi] TBI Team, ‘Meet Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – The Football Aficianado’ in In the better India, 2nd October 2015, accessed in 12th September 2020 https://www.thebetterindia.com/35523/gandhi-football/ ,
Sashi Teibor Laloo is a Research Scholar at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong .