For more on island football, see our popup resource pages on the Faroe Islands and Greenland. For more on Montserrat, see our interview with Johan Kramer, director of The Other Final.

Football’s island charm | Brian Ching, Oahu and how Hawai’i gained a spot at the World Cup

Haleiwa, Hawai'i | He spent part of one summer planting birds of paradise while working 8½-hour shifts on one of Oahu's "plantations," surfed, and played soccer at Kamehameha High School. Brian Ching, a forward for the U.S. national team that enters its fifth straight World Cup finals, recalls watching the 1994 event when he was 16. He remembers being excited when the U.S. defeated Colombia—the first U.S. victory in a finals since 1950—yet feels compelled to add, "Overall, though, I think at the time I was more concerned with how the waves were."

While U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk goes by the moniker "surfer dude," Ching seems to have stronger credentials. To the Boston Globe in 2004, Ching described his childhood as "amphibious." The first native Hawaiian to play internationally for the United States—and, to our knowledge, the first Hawaiian on a World Cup roster—Ching represents the spread of soccer beyond the U.S. mainland. We spent part of our formative years in Oahu rambling around a U.S. Army installation, Schofield Barracks, but at the same time as Pelé and Carlos Alberto helped guide Brazilian football to new heights in Mexico City, one was more likely to spot a snow goose than a soccer ball. All this has changed.

The sign serves as a landmark at a crossing in Haleiwa. (Copyright © 2005 Hawaiian Beach, Flickr™)

Ching's hometown, Haleiwa, exists far from the urban centers on the archipelago's most populated island, yet by the time he was 7 he could join a youth team, with his mother coaching. In high school, he graduated to the elite Honolulu youth club, Bulls '85, which in 2004 became the first Hawai'i team to win a national title in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association. The team makes its home at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Complex, one of the best in the country. The facility makes the Islands a mecca for traveling teams, and Hawai'i sometimes attracts up to a dozen summer tournaments.

Hawaiian soccer has developed to the point of having its own style, a "rich mix," according to Frank Dell'Apa of the Boston Globe, "with a strong Asian influence." Natasha Kai of Kahuku, Oahu, a North Shore village of corn fields and shrimp farms, duplicated Ching's feat earlier this year by joining the U.S. women's senior national team. A striker, she has scored three times in five international fixtures, including the lone goal in the side's most recent match, in Japan, on 9 May.

She says in an interview on that, as a Hawaiian, she has found a hard time fitting in to the national-team structures due to her accent and the cultural separation that exists between Islanders and those on the mainland. She sometimes communicates in Pidgin, referred to as Hawai'i's Creole English. (A Pidgin New Testament, Da Jesus Book, is available.) Of her first appearance with a U.S. team, Kai, who has starred for the University of Hawai'i, says, "I was really nervous. ... I was not comfortable around anyone. I was kind of left by myself and I was kind of the runt in camp being from Hawai'i."

Kai after the goal against Japan on 9 May. "I am representing Hawai'i and the United States," she says, "and, of course, that means a lot." (Copyright © Brad Smith,

A runt's reputation attached itself to soccer in its beginnings on the Islands. Jack Sullivan, called "Mr. Soccer" for his involvement reaching back more than 30 years, says he and others in 1974 started training with 225 boys on a field outside a jail. "We aren't a traditional sport," says Sullivan, referring to the games in which Hawaiians have excelled over time, including swimming (Duke Kahanamoku, Buster Crabbe), weightlifting (Tommy Kono), canoeing (Toots Minvielle) and golf (Jackie Pung, Michelle Wie). And how could we forget surfing? Hawai'i also has produced a gaggle of players, especially linemen, for the National Football League.

Sullivan, a mainland transplant like much of the Islands' population, settled here in 1957, two years before Hawai'i achieved statehood. He switched to soccer from coaching baseball because, according to Leila Wai of the Honolulu Advertiser, "he didn't like the children being scared of making a mistake such as striking out or dropping a ball."

Here is a sport [soccer] where you eliminate those things. You don't have these negative things for timid kids. It creates responsible people with self-worth and the confidence to play other sports.

Sullivan, 70 years old when this picture was taken in 2004, grew up playing ice hockey in Boston. "Anything that has to do with soccer, he's right in the middle of it," said friend and sports broadcaster Les Keiter. (Deborah Booker | Honolulu Advertiser)

The Hawaiian soccer apparatus, as of 2004, incorporated more than 27,000 boys and girls as well as adults as active players. Registered leagues exist not only on Oahu, but on the Big Island of Hawai'i, Maui and Kaua'i. Naturally, development of players is facilitated by the climate, but also by a preexisting sporting pipeline that emphasizes high school athletics. A long list of Hawaiian baseball players have used their high school years to gain attention from farm teams in Major League Baseball, eventually advancing to the top level. "When you ask someone from the Islands where they went to school," writes magazine Island Scene, "they will usually answer with the name of their high school, even if they went to college."

Hawai'i High School Athletic Association executive director Keith Amemiya reaches back into island history to help explain the competitive mentality:

Hawai'i student athletes are prized by colleges because they're known for their toughness, hard work, and team-oriented outlook. Hawai'i athletes are known for a warrior-type mentality of never giving up. People from Hawai'i are known for having big hearts in that they are very generous, but also in the way of being very proud. I think because we are an island state in the middle of the ocean, we always feel we have to prove ourselves. Nobody wants to embarrass everyone back home.

Wrapped up in the popularizing of soccer, naturally, is the continuing sensitivity toward the native Hawaiian culture. Overrun by missionaries in the 1820s and then subsumed by a tide of imperialism in Washington (Queen Lili'uokalani was deposed by U.S. interests in 1893), the Islands have long struggled to integrate the kanaka maoli (indigenous) and haole (Anglo) populations. (1) In soccer's case, the sport's acceptance among native Hawaiians likely has been smoothed in that Ching, although his mother is from California, and Kai have ties to local ways.

Sports appear to run through the veins of Hawaiians. Dan Cisco, who compiled a 651-page history of Hawaiian sports, counted 59 having been practiced on the Islands since the 1850s. And he does not include extensive discussion of native games, reprised in the annual Makahiki Games. In reading descriptions of such contests, we did not find mention of anything resembling the ball games of Mayans or Native Americans, but many references to water sports and boxing. (2) Attempts are being made to bring back lava sledding (he'e holua), a 2,000-year-old practice of riding a sled head-first, at speeds of up to 50 mph, down hillside lava floes. Missionaries ended the sport, according to sled builder Tom Stone. "They wanted us to work, stop being happy," he says.

The subtext for soccer, and for Ching's anticipated appearance for the U.S. team in Germany, goes deeper than we have time to pursue fully. "I didn't take the ordinary path the majority of guys on this team took to get where we are at," says Ching, referring to his multiple surgeries and minor-league toils with the Seattle Sounders and Spokane (Wash.) Shadow. Ching's path has been longer, and no doubt more scenic.

Update: The U.S. Senate on 8 June blocked legislation, originally introduced in 2000 by U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai'i), that would extend federal recognition to Native Hawaiians as indigenous people. The bill aims to create for Hawaiians, about 20 percent of the state's population, a status comparable to Native American governments on the mainland. "The central issue of federal recognition for Hawaii's indigenous people has yet to be given its fair examination," Akaka said.


1. While missionaries provided loving service, such as Father Damien of Belgium in his ministry at the leprosy colony on Moloka'i, their influence typically is viewed as devastating to native practice and sensibilities. In addition, they, along with others, transmitted disease and brought lack of sophistication regarding the animist style of worship on the Islands. Writes Rev. Brian J. Grieves, an Episcopalian: "Hawai'i is often referred to as a paradise, but this didn't prevent the missionaries from finding sin present among the 'heathens.' How sad they didn't know God already was present in the islands when they arrived, not only as creator, but also in the spirituality of the kanaka maoli."

Author Stephen Kinzer in Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (Holt, 2006) suggests that the monarchy's ouster in 1893 represents one of the early cases of U.S.-backed regime change.

America's long "regime change" century dawned in 1893 with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. This was a tentative, awkward piece of work, a cultural tragedy staged as comic opera. It was not a military operation, but without the landing of American troops, it probably would not have succeeded. The president of the United States [Benjamin Harrison] approved of it, but soon after it happened, a new president [Grover Cleveland ] took office and denounced it. | back to text

2. Mark Twain made a five-month excursion to Hawai'i, then called the Sandwich Islands, in 1866 (see Lawrence Downes, "Mark Twain's Hawaii," New York Times, 14 May 2006). Twain does not write directly about sport but takes frequent outings on horseback and sails between the Islands, accompanied by rats and peach-leaf-sized cockroaches. His dispatches for the Sacramento Union, compiled in Roughing It, reflect mainland and anti-native bias, yet passages about the declining monarchy and reports on ritual and historic sites demonstrate what Downes calls Hawai'i's "complicated soul." Twain describes coming to what is said to be an ancient battleground above Honolulu:

All around everywhere, not three feet apart, the bleached bones of men gleamed white in the moonlight. We picked up a lot of them for mementoes. I got quite a number of arm bones and leg bones—of great chiefs, may be, who had fought savagely in that fearful battle in the old days, when blood flowed like wine where we now stood—and wore the choicest of them out on Oahu [his horse] afterward, trying to make him go. | back to text

Triumphs | Famagusta stands on two legs

The walled city of Famagusta in a sepia-toned postcard image. (

Larnaca, Cyprus | It demonstrated how football sides can serve as surrogates for larger animosities. When FC Anorthosis of Cyprus defeated Trabzonspor of Turkey over a two-leg Champions League qualifier, Cyprus Football Association officials said it felt like an island victory over the 1974 Turkish "invaders" (Michele Kambas, "Cyprus 'Big Lady' Celebrates Win Over Turks," Reuters, 4 August). A team from the Republic of Cyprus had never played a Turkish team since the incursion. The Anorthosis club—founded as a reading society in 1911 in Famagusta in the northeast, part of the Ammochostos region (see club history)—was displaced when Turkish forces intervened in July 1974 to protect the Turkish Cypriot community following a coup d'état. They are now based in Larnaca, on the southern coast. That the island's division into

Suitable for imbibing: A Base Ring tankard from Bronze Age Cyprus. (Semitic Museum, Harvard University)
Greek and Turkish sections still stirs emotion became apparent before the tie's second leg in Trabzon on 3 August. Five hundred protesters gathered outside the Anorthosis team hotel, and an advertisement in nationalist newspaper Volkan bore menace: "Forward lads! Those who threw the Greeks into the Aegean in 1922, those who in 1974 hurled back the Greek Cypriots to the south of the Mediterranean, let them by the same token punish the Greek Cypriots at the Avni Aker stadium. Let us squeeze them into the Black Sea. Allah be with us!" (Elias Hazou, "Tense Scenes at Airport for Local Team," Cyprus Mail, 3 August). Anorthosis withstood the distractions for a 3–2 aggregate victory, prompting large airport crowds on the 4:30 a.m. return to Larnaca. "You don't see those scenes often in a life," said player-coach Temuri Ketsbaia of Georgia. "It was four o'clock in the morning and there were about 6,000 people there. That's probably the equivalent of about 100,000 fans in British football" (Mark Wilson, "Ketsbaia Faces Up to the Bald Truth," The Herald [Glasgow]). Scottish newspapers were interested because of Anorthosis's third-round opponent: Rangers FC of Glasgow, with a first-leg match in Nicosia on 9 August. The winner of the tie moves directly into Europe's premier club competition.

Update: Rangers enter the second leg, to be held 24 August in Glasgow, with a 2–1 cushion. Much more significant, though, have been the ramifications on the Famagusta side of the 14 August crash of Helios Airways flight ZU 522 outside Athens. The uncle, aunt and two nieces of team captain Nikos Nikolaou were among the 121 who perished (John Leonidou, "Cypriot Football in Mourning," Cyprus Mail, 17 August). The Cyprus international missed the 17 August World Cup qualifier in the Faroe Islands—a 3–0 Cyprus victory—but is available for the Champions League qualifier against Rangers (Lakis Avraamides, "Bereaved Nikolaou Set to Face Rangers," The Scotsman, 23 August). A Cypriot referee as well as a board member and a medical officer with other Cyprus teams also died in the crash.

Shetland Islands | 200,000 puffins, 60 footballs

Harbison Park, the home of Whalsay FC on the island of Whalsay. See the Shetland 2005 site for an inventory of football venues.

Lerwick, Scotland | New goalposts have been installed and a broadcasting agreement settled with the NatWest Island Games less than three months away. Football will feature among 15 sports from 9–15 July on the Shetland Islands, the smallest island group, by population, to have hosted the biennial event. This will be the 11th edition of the Island Games, comparable in number of athletes to the Winter Olympics. Where will they all sleep? It is a pressing question with just 1,000 available hotel beds. Organizers are renting two cruise liners and have bought 650 more beds from the Netherlands. "It's not quite palliasses in barns, but we could not cope with a big influx of tourist spectators," said general manager Gary Jakeman, adding that he expects less than 500 fans in total. Twenty-four islands will compete, from Bermuda to the Falklands to Saaremaa, part of Estonia.

Footballers in Scalloway (undated), located 10km west of Lerwick on the main island. They wear boys' versions of the fisherman's froke or gansey. (Shetland Museum Photographic Archive)

Handicapping the football competition proves difficult. One might expect Greenland to do well, yet they finished just 10th at the 2003 Island Games in Guernsey. Faroe Islands, which has held its own in qualifying for the World Cup and European Championships, fields a team in the women's competition, not in the men's. Games will take place from Boddam in the south of the main island to the island of Unst, north of 60° latitude. There should be room for spectators; in gymnastics, fans will only be allowed on days with less-cumbersome apparatus, and then only if they take off their shoes and sit on the floor.

Grenada | The U.S. invaded and left friends behind

Grenada Prime Minister Kevin Mitchell was a math professor at Howard University and is a former captain of Grenada's cricket team. (AP)

St. George's, Grenada | The United States will play Grenada for the first time on Sunday, in the first leg of a 2006 World Cup qualifier, amid an odd confluence of circumstances. The nations have had few meaningful encounters since 1983, when the United States, gripped by Cold War fervor, invaded the island nation, the southernmost in the Caribbean's Windward Islands (Kelly Whiteside, "Grenada Adding Spice to Big Mismatch vs. U.S.," USA Today). The man who authorized the invasion, Ronald Reagan, will be lionized this weekend in ceremonies culminating a week's remembrance of the 40th president. "Ronald Reagan is still seen as a popular person in Grenada," said prime minister Kevin Mitchell, interviewed before Reagan's death. "If not for America, we may not be here." Although Grenada does have players in professional leagues in England and in Major League Soccer, most hold down other jobs at home. There is a pool of only some 400 male players on an island where cricket is the most popular sport. Whiteside describes practice before a friendly with St. Lucia, at which players assembled the goals and waited for a cricket team to vacate the premises. "I'm pampered in England, so when I come back here, it's like bringing football back to its roots," said Jason Roberts, who plays for Wigan Athletic. "Putting goals together and doing everything else is like a bonding experience for the boys." For Sunday's match, the Spice Boyz have been training at Howard University in Washington, which has a substantial Grenadian expatriate community (Steven Goff, "Spice Boyz Are Kickin' It at Howard U.," Washington Post, 11 June). The second leg of the series takes place in the National Stadium in St. George's—capacity 7,500—on 20 June.

Cinema | ‘Mighty Iron Leg’ kicks sweet-bun habit

Click for film website
The Siu lam juk kau website on the "hooking leg" technique: "[G]yrate around your body's central axis, break it down, and get funky with your bad self."

Hong Kong | Long deprived, American audiences can now thrill to Stephen Chow's high-flying Siu lam juk kau (Shaolin soccer). New York Times reviewer Elvis Mitchell refers in his opening paragraph to the film's three-year journey to U.S. cinemas, noting that the mo lei tau–genre martial-arts comedy is "fatty, chewy and funny—and slightly gamy, given the amount of time it sat on the shelf" ("Chop-Socky, Thy Name Is Stephen Chow," 2 April). Like other Chow films—he has made more than 50, to become a major player in Hong Kong cinema (see Dave Kehr, "Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field," New York Times)—Shaolin Soccer is apparently its own animal, with Chow as Sing, a kung fu and football master with a corrosive affinity for sweet buns. Bun chef Mui (Vicki Zhao) plays an important role as Sing's love interest, as Sing gathers down-and-outers for a pivotal match with Team Evil. Chow tells Miramax publicists that football training did not occupy much of his one-year preparation for playing the role: "I kick-boxed and jogged almost every single day. Of course, I sustained quite a few injuries as well since I spent half the time on wires." One must therefore acknowledge that Shaolin Soccer is not intended for the football purist. "Two young men sitting directly behind me were in hysterics the entire film," writes reviewer Richard Horgan, "luxuriating in the stream of inside references to Bruce Lee, classic kung fu films and Japanese anime. This pair, without a doubt, represents the film's core audience."

Vulcanology | Qualification process continues, despite pyroclastic flows

The steam rises from La Soufrière, which has caused much anguish for residents of Montserrat (National Geographic Society)

Plymouth, Montserrat, and Hamilton, Bermuda | The lowest-ranked side (no. 204) in the FIFA system, Montserrat, begins its World Cup pursuit tomorrow with a first-leg qualifier against Bermuda (no. 179). [Update: Bermuda began the tie with a 13–0 victory.] Montserrat's woes have been well-documented, beginning with the 1995 eruption of La Soufrière that resulted in the relocation of almost two-thirds of the island's population of 11,000. A documentary film about Montserrat's "Other Final" with Bhutan, held on the same day as the World Cup final in 2002, has been produced and is showing next month at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. The documentary's title is, simply, The Other Final (link opens the movie's official site). As for the volcano, La Soufrière, FIFA Magazine reported in October 2002 that it

is still volatile, and giant ash clouds have been known to shoot 5,000 metres into the sky during the national team's practice sessions. If the winds are in the right direction, the ash blows out to sea. Otherwise it comes down on top of the island. The dome atop the volcano still glows red and occasional pyroclastic flows add to the debris on the south end of the island. Underground thunder, another telltale sign of volcanic activity, is a regular occurrence. (Paul Gains, "The Aspirations of a Volcanic Island," p. 39; link opens PDF file)

Thanks to FIFA's Goal Programme, however, Montserrat does have a new national stadium, where it should host the return leg on 21 March. (Update: Montserrat lost the second leg 7–0.) As for Bermuda, the Royal Gazette is imploring the cricket-loving nation to show support (Colin Thompson, " 'We Need You Behind Us,' " 26 February). "This match is attracting international attention," says David Sabir, Bermuda Football Association general secretary, "and we have been contacted and advised of journalists and photographers from the UK and El Salvador who will be coming to report on this game." The winner of the two-leg qualifier faces El Salvador in the second round.


Honiara, Solomon Islands, and Sydney, 20 Jan 04 | A depressing 1–0 loss to Samoa, Solomon Islands flag at restwhich FIFA ranks 177th in the world, has eliminated the Solomon Islands in qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games (Michael Cockerill, "Islanders Wounded and Playing for Pride," Sydney Morning Herald), dampening some optimism about the sport's development on Guadalcanal Island and on other islands in the archipelago. "It's really bad at home," says Solomons striker Henry Fa'Arado. "I think the result [against Samoa] definitely showed we haven't moved forward, we've gone stale. At the moment, we don't have the proper direction. They can't even finish the league because they've run out of money. There is so much talent in the Solomons but it's going to waste." In somewhat more positive fashion, the Solomons lost just 5–0 to Australia (the Olyroos) in a subsequent qualifying match. The FIFA website in the past has spoken in upbeat tones about football's ability to quell strife among islanders and painted pleasant tableaus of Honiara residents caressing the turf of a freshly laid field and sitting in the new Lawson Tama stadium to watch the sprinklers ("A Garden of Eden Deep in the Pacific," 19 November 2002). A survey of football's development on the Islands is available from the Solomon Islands Football Federation (click on "SIFF History").

St. Sampsons, Guernsey, 17 Nov 03 | News must travel slowly along the Sark's lighthouse, erected in 1912English Channel, as it has taken this long for the Times (London) to report football results from the 2003 Island Games (Russell Kempson, "Island Dream Sunk by Tidal Wave of Goals"). Although the Games concluded on 4 July, it is nevertheless interesting to read of the travails of island side Sark (pop. 550), whose rangy backup goalkeeper, Leon Burletson, is a full-time gardener. "I'd love to lead that sort of life all the time," says Burletson, despite letting in 36 goals in two fixtures against Isle of Wight and Greenland. Sark lost two other matches in the tournament, 19-0 to Gibraltar and 15-0 to Froya. (Sark did not field a team in the women's tournament.) The Island Games reconvene in 2005 on Shetland.

Reykjavik, Iceland, 6 Sept 03 | Rudi Voeller has caught flak for his use of profanity following a scoreless draw with Iceland in qualifying for the 2004 European Championships. Voeller had harsh words for German TV commentators and, according to Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, Voeller "lambasted journalists 'on their high horses' as 'kill-joys' who are 'living in a different world' because they can't understand that Germany 'have played the first-placed team in this group.' " Personally, not having heard what commentators actually said, we're sympathetic to Voeller's frustration, especially his comments about journalists "in a different world." Now, a few days later, Germany having beaten Scotland 3-1, everything is all right, and we can pick on Berti Vogts for a while. (Vogts's side, by the way, is "distressingly unconvincing," according to The Scotsman.)

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