The year 1902 saw the formation of the Bombay Football Association to run a League Tournament. Seven teams, viz., Oxford Ltd., R.A., Bombay Rovers, Bombay Gymkhana, Telegraphs, Bombay Volunteers Artillery and H.M.S. Magdala participated in it. Oxfords were the Champions and Gunners, the runner-up of the fist league. The Cup was donated by Col. Harwood, the President of the Association. Thus the League was later named after him. But this Trophy was misplaced. The present one, “the Advocate of India Cup” was presented by Mr. Gordon, proprietor of this evening paper in 1913.
In the year 1911, the two bodies, the old Rovers Cup Committee running the Rovers Cup and the Bombay Football Association managing the League were amalgamated and the Western India Football Association was established. Hon. Mr. Justice Russell, President of the Rovers Cup Committee was elected its President and Mr. P. R. Cadell, President of the League Committee, its Vice President. The respective Secretaries, Mr. F. Hogan and Mr. Linn, became its Joint. Hon. Secretaries. Both Mr. Justice Russell and Mr. Hogan appear to have been connected with the organisation of football in Bombay since 1902 in their respective capacities. Evidently they were the real backbone of football in our City in its early days. But for their joint valiant efforts in its primary stage, it was not known if there had been any Organised football prior to World War. If so it should be remembered.
Elsewhere will be found the list of players of the winning and runners-up teams of the Rovers and the Harwood League since 1911 together with the final league tables which was gathered from the old files of the “Times of India”.
Cooperage The Chief Venue
Now it is on record that from the earliest days Cooperage has been the Chief venue of football in Bombay. Not only soccer and rugger but hockey tournaments like Aga Khan Cup were staged there. Only during the Rovers Cup temporary stands were put up on the Western side of the ground. Other sides were kept open. During the league the playing field was roped in and a few chairs were placed in the west at a nominal charge of four annas. The side attraction for the spectators was a bar at the Bandstand corner which was well-patronised by the rival teams and their supporters to finish their argument on the days game.
The Nadkarni Cup was presented by Nadkarni and Co., Sports good dealers in 1908. It was a monopoly of the St.Mary High School since its inception till it became dormant in 1915. There were barely half a dozen School teams-St.Mary’s putting up two –to compete in this tournament.
Harwood League had two divisions in 1914. The Indian teams to figure –both in the second division was Bengal United, Instituto Luso, Indian. The latter withdrew before the competition was half – way through. Then the World War I broke out and all football activity was stopped till 1920. During this period the ground was occupied by the Royal Mule Corps.
Football was revived at the old venue in 1921. Harwood League had only one division with seven teams which was increased to eight in the following year by the inclusion of the solitary Indian combination-the Bengal United. But the next year found, that the League broadened by one more division. Needless to mention, public interest- particularly Indian-was negligible up to this time, so much so that matches were played on the open field, though military teams from all parts of the country were invited to participate in the Rovers Tournament.
The British Soldiers played a predominant part in their occupation. Bombay Gymkhana had some share in this limelight, but they always played second fiddle to the Tommies. As for the Indians they generally acquitted themselves well on dry grounds but failed miserably under wet conditions as most of them played barefooted.
Mohun Bagan’s Debut
For the first time in the history of the Rovers Cup an up-country civilian team was invited to participate in it in 1923 viz. Mohun Bagan, who had the unique distinction of winning the most coveted I.F.A. Shield of Calcutta in 1911, set the Cooperage literally afire by their scintillating displays. They lost ultimately to Durham Light infantry in the final by 4-1 after leading by a goal for nearly 45 minutes. However, they claimed the honour of being the first civilian team to reach the final stage of the tournament since 1891. The Western India Football Association reaped a rich harvest from the gates and Indian Football received a great impetus. Indeed it was a memorable year for Bombay’s Soccer from every point of view. The Western India Football Association was however unable to take full advantage of the enthusiasm created by Mohun Bagan’s visit.
The paucity of good playgrounds was the main cause for this failure. The Oval and Cross Maidan grounds proved no allurement to the junior teams, as they found evil effects of heavy monsoon too disconcerting and disadvantageous. Consequently progress of junior and civilian football was slow. Nevertheless the Controlling Body under the able guidance of Sir Joseph Kay made every effort to enhance the popularity of the Rovers Cup by inviting more Indian Teams from all parts of the country.
Bangalore Muslims Achievements
Meanwhile, an Indian team, Bangalore Muslims, who had made an unobtrusive entry in the Rovers Cup in the early thirties, made its mark in Bombay football. They won the Blue Riband of Western Indian for the first time by an Indian or civilian combination in the year 1937. Though named communally, most of their players were non-Muslims. Their achievement was most creditable as they wrested the trophy from the firm grip of the British Tommies after nearly half a century of the unabated struggle. They were successful in the following year too. Therefore their names deserve to be written in letters of gold In the History of Football in Western India. It is worthy of note that by this time the Cooperage had taken a new look. The days of open ground were long past. It was enclosed on all sides by corrugated-iron sheets and a semi-permanent covered stand was put up on the Western side. These amenities were not being provided even at Calcutta the home of Indian Football.
A Bright Era
The Second World War brought financial boom to the Western India Football Association. Fortunately the Military Authority did not take away the Cooperage ground from the Western India Football Association as they did during the first World War conflagration. With some of the International and top class players of Britain like Denis Compton, Tommy Walker, Harper, Wringlesworth, Curtis & Langton taking part in the various tournaments and the Tommies flocking the Cooperage ground in thousands from day-to-day, the Association was soon drawn out of its financial morass. In addition to strengthening its own position, it donated large sums of money to various War Relief funds.
The years 1941 and 1942 were memorable for local Football in that the Senior Division of the Harwood League was won by a civilian side, the Y.M.C.A. captained by D. Alexander, for the first time since the foundation of the Association. It may be mentioned however, that the same institution had the privilege of claiming this Championship as for back as 1909. The next year saw a Bombay team- the WIAA Staff – reaching final stage of the Rovers Tournament. It was more or less the same outfit that carried away the League in the previous year. This also was a landmark in the history of local Football.
Rare Feat by Hyderabad Police
In 1950 a new team arose on the horizon, the Hyderabad Police who made a triumphal march through the Rovers for five consecutive years. No team in the long history of this tournament has succeeded in winning the trophy for more than three years in succession. In fact the Cheshires and the Middlesex Regiments were the only two who had captured it thrice before. The Hyderabadis have actually added more feathers to their caps by gaining the laurels on two more occasions. This is an achievement for which any team may be justly proud.
The year 1954 was a red-letter year for the Western India Football Association and Bombay. It was in this year the Bombay team, led by Sanjiva, succeeded in winning the National Championship for the first time. Although our side had reached the final stage several times before, it failed to lift the Santosh Trophy even once. This victory proved beyond a shadow of doubt that our football has reached the top grade.
Four years later Caltex Sports Club skippered by Anthony had the honour of annexing the Rovers Cup for the first time by a local side. They defeated the famous Mohammedan Sporting of Calcutta in the final by 3 goals to 2.
Another Bombay Club, India Culture League, ably led first by Walter D’Souza and then by Thomas, had the unique distinction for a non-Calcutta side to win the IFA Shield in 1953.
It is noteworthy that several foreign teams, Viz. Chinese Olympians in 1936, Islingtons Corinthians in 1937, Afghan Olympians in 1948, Swedish in 1954, Russians in 1955, Bulgarians and East Germans in 1956, Sudanese in 1957, Iranians and Pakistanis in 1960 played in Bombay against all India and local sides. These gave a fine opportunity of measuring the strength against different countries. All these matches were patronised by the increasing numbers of football fans.
Although no Bombay side has gone abroad on its own, many of our players had the privilege of wearing the National Colours both at home and abroad. The names of a few like Sanjiva, Papen, Parab, Narayan, Latiff and Neville D’Souza may be mentioned here acquitted themselves very creditably in the Olympic games of 1948, and later years.