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The 36th Battalion: a record of service of the 36th Battalion with the Third Division in the Pacific

VI — Soccer

page 103


It was in Fiji that association football became recognised as a battalion sports activity. The first game was played early in March at Samambula Camp, and from then on weekly inter-company games were played. These early games were played on grounds where, one week merely falling over would mean skin off in several places, whereas during the next, one could scarcely move for mud. Later a Brigade Soccer Competition was organised, and the venue was the mission grounds at Nausori, where two comparatively level and well-turfed grounds were available. Some good football was seen, and battalion A and B teams held their own against other units. Perhaps mention should be made also of the Riwa Hotel, popular rendezvous for players after a game, where more games were lost and won over a glass of iced beer.

When we played a team from HMS Leander we struck very different opposition from anything previously experienced. Several of the Leander's players had been members of first-class English teams before the war, and the first five minutes' play showed what we were up against. Beamish, captain of the Leander team, delighted the spectators with an exhibition of soccer at its best. We considered it no disgrace to be beaten by such a team—0-7. On a return match with the Leander team we held them down to a 3-0 win. Our team exploited the 'kick and rush' tactics so beloved of English Cup finalists, and succeeded in upsetting the planned football of the sailors.

Another interesting match was against the Suva Indian team, winners of the Fiji championship at Lautoka in 1941. The Indians demonstrated that their standard of play was comparable to that of the Indian hockey team. Sheer speed—for they were all slim, almost frail youngsters—overwhelmed our team, which had to be content with the wrong end of a 4-1 decision.

Playing conditions on Norfolk Island were more suitable than the tropics, though the grounds were poor. Bailey's paddock, our main ground, tested the players' capabilities to the full—the folds in page 104the ground, including one four feet deep, often resulted in players disappearing completely from view!

A competition was organised involving two teams from the 36th and several teams from other units on the island. At the close the battalion A team was still unvanquished, while the B team suffered defeat only in their encounters with the A team.

In New Caledonia a brigade competition was organised, and soon inter-unit games, together with the company games on Wednesdays were in full swing. Here also many very rough grounds were encountered, and many a member of the battalion team will remember one ground in particular with grass which was knee-deep.

Nevertheless we had a successful season in New Caledonia, and lost to only three teams during the season. The best match of all was that in which a very strong field regiment was defeated by three goals to one.

There are quite a few of the battalion's soccer players who played alike in Fiji, Norfolk and New Caledonia, notably E. Harwood (captain in Fiji and Norfolk), A. Niven (vice-captain in Norfolk and captain in New Caledonia), G. Batstone, C. Cardie, A. Pink-stone, and A. McGrath.

During the course of the soccer activities several officers did their share in making each game a success, including Mr. Steggles in Fiji and Norfolk, and Mr. Utting and Mr. Hutchinson in New Caledonia. Mention must also be made of the help of the National Patriotic Fund Board who, by the supply of the necessary gear, enabled the team to look spick and span.

All in all, players and officials of the team co-operated to the fullest, and the games were thoroughly enjoyed and played in the best of spirits.