Where’s the best place to ignore the biggest, most anticipated, and most watched sporting event on the planet? The United States. It’s obvious that the most popular game in the world is not popular here.
Soccer has managed to circle the globe and become the preferred and popular sport in nearly every country on every continent, except our own. For years, soccer has struggled in the United States. And right now we’re in the middle of the biggest event the sport has to offer.
The World Cup is a soccer tournament held every four years. The top national teams compete to determine the best soccer team on the earth. Every four years—just like the Olympics—a different country hosts the tourney. This time the host country is also one of the most fanatical soccer cultures around: Brazil.
Soccer as we know it became popular in England and Scotland in the nineteenth century. From there, it took over the world. Wherever they went (and they went just about everywhere back then), soccer followed. In most places, it stuck and soccer cultures developed. For example, Brazilian and Argentinian futbol blossomed when Scottish and English engineers, schoolteachers, merchants, and rail workers went to build the railways of South America in the 1860s and ‘70s.
It didn’t catch on in the United States. Folks played it early on, but it never took off like the way football, basketball, and baseball became part of our sports culture.
But that still doesn’t explain Hawaii. The Hawaiian Kingdom had many English and Scottish expats and visitors. Surely they brought with them their love of the game. And yet, there’s no real evidence that soccer came with them.
The rest of the Pacific doesn’t have much of a soccer culture either. The Oceania Football Confederation includes national teams from Tahiti, New Zealand, and Vanuatu is by far one of the weakest in the world. No countries from this conference made it to the World Cup.
Then again, perhaps soccer was introduced early on by the English and Scots in Hawaii. Perhaps they did play it. Maybe Honolulu was the spot where the first soccer game in Hawaii was played.
No one really knows for sure. The earliest evidence of organized teams date back to the early twentieth century, but by then there were established teams with uniforms, organization, and a league. The Honolulu Advertiser ran a story in 1905 about a fierce competition between “Kams and the YWCA.” Apparently, Kams won 12 to 9—a shocking number of goals by any standard.
Photographs dating back to 1906 show a team of young women and men at Oahu College posing in uniforms. (Oahu College eventually became Punahou School). But this wasn’t just a game for private schools kids. In 2013, a historian out of Hilo discovered another fascinating photograph from the same time period. It’s a postcard depicting a soccer team dressed in all-white with small collared jerseys, shorts, and heavy boots of the early twentieth century. Apparently, they were the team representing the Olaa Sugar Company.
Olaa is gone now, but in its heyday, the plantation town in Puna on the Big Island near what is now called Volcano. It was the classic sugar plantation town. Strangely, no one in the photograph looked Asian. They were all Portuguese, Spanish, or haole.
The game got more popular over time. By 1910, there were established teams on the Big Island and Maui. By the 1920s, teams from different sugar mills and from schools like Punahou and Kamehameha Schools competed regularly.
It’s been here ever since. Folks gather to play on fields nearly every day of the week all over the island. The folks who play here come from all over the world. Out here in the middle of the Pacific you can find a single game with players from just about every continent.
Maui, after all, is a great place to play soccer. The weather is ideal year round and our public parks have something that many other countries can’t offer the public. My Brazilian friend once told me how lucky we are to live (and play the game) on Maui. Any patch of grass in Brazil, he said, automatically is destroyed by kids playing soccer.
The only place where you can actually see the game being played on grass is on television or in a stadium. Grass fields are just not available for most of the public. In the images coming from Brazil, you can see street kids playing in dirt lots or in the sand on the beach.
It really puts it in perspective. Perhaps it’s best to keep soccer a secret after all.