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Yidnekatchew Tessema
Mengistu Worku

St. George Gallery

Ethiopian Football


It is believed soccer was introduced in Ethiopia in 1923 or 1924 when the foreign communities were playing against each other. However, at the same times the English expatriates teaching at the Teferi Mekonnen and Menelik II Schools introduced the game to the students as extra carriculium activities some 85 years ago.

The games were being played thereafter between the area schools and the existing clubs mostly composed of foreign nationalities of Armenians, Greeks, Indians and Italians who were playing against themselves.

old-teamO, well! There were no records as who first introduced soccer in Ethiopia and yet credit was given to these foreign nationals before the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The geographical exploration of Europeans in search of colony brought many to Ethiopia including of course the French sailors who played against selected players from Addis Ababa and lost 3 to 1 which was then considered to be the first international competition and to the surprise of the fans in this hard time, it brought them the greatest satisfaction of victory against an European.

Gooooooooal! Maybe, but definitely the word geb echoed through out the field and all over the city. Children all over the country continued to form their own teams in the neighborhoods with enthusiasm and ardently attached and absorbed in an interest for the game. There may have been teams formed but the commonly called Arada area and of course due to its urban location considered to be the birth place of an organized soccer team named St. George Club.

Definitely, it can’t be that hard on how the name came about but the St. George Church is located majestically on top of the city and considered the protector of the poor and the rich alike. It was then that the team started to play with the then organized foreign teams of Greeks and Armenians and was believed to win most of the games as most considered to have the power of St. George on their sides. These were indication where soccer was heading and pioneered by the first Ethiopian club in soccer barren country and initiating an Ethiopian past time cycle in history.

Through out all these times many of the tournaments between teams were held in the then available open fields of Filweha, Jalmeda and Taleyane Sefer. Young men traveled from one area to the others equipped with the goal posts and strangely enough played barefooted of which they loved and preferred.

Ah! Balls were hard to get but there were creations made to make the game going. Imagine the time? The country was never accessible to European products of goods and services. But the games were played by any means necessary. Many were engaged in making soccer balls available for the daily Participation of the tournament, be it within themselves or to compete with others.
Yecherekquasse was used and the making of the ball had its qualitative and quantitative sizes and formations. The ones that are made with hair and rugs and sewn together can bounce better to accommodate the players in their footwork against the opposing team. Of course the highly urbanized teams might have been able to secure a tennis ball.

All was not well for in the progress of soccer in the country. The Italian invasion required the man power of the young and old alike and as such its development was drugged out of national interest to protect the country from the enemy.
By 1937 the Italians were the decision makers in the city of Addis Ababa. Their racist decisions affected every little thing concerning the life of the city dwellers including where and when the young men could play their soccer. Decision came to segregate the Ethiopian soccer clubs into one area and located and headquartered at an open field currently occupied by the St. Paul Hospital far from the general population. As a result of this action Ethiopian could only play against each other without mixing them with the foreign nationals.

To make matters worse the Italians unilaterally renamed the Ethiopian teams to fit their colonization were St. George was named Litoria Woubee, Kebena became Villa Italiano, Sidest Kilo was named Piassa Roma and Gulele Consulato. Be as it may, game and tournaments continued to be played amongst the Ethiopian short of any known soccer rules and regulations. However the St. George and Sidest Kilo teams were considered up to par to play against the Italians Clubs to amuse the white Italian spectators who seemed to look down at the teams for playing a White mans’ games. Both teams were ordered to only play bare footed as the game rules only allowed for Whites Only.

At one time when the two teams were playing against each other a minor spat that turned to major fight between the teams where the referee failed to call the penalty and watch them fight it out between themselves with moral indignations. The spectators were of course enjoying the fight rather than the game where they were amused and cheered each side for their unsportsmanlike behavior. The players on the field continued their fight until they got exhausted while the white spectators enjoyed this fight as a circus in a tent.

As a result of the Italian invasion the newly introduced soccer game was temporarily terminated. Once the issue of national question raised by the foreign invasion settled some friendly games resumed between Dejach Besibu Sefer, St. George and Sidest Kilo teams in Addis Ababa. However, the Italian Club, Fortitido Club managed to secure a field and fixed it for the purpose of a soccer game and yet the only ones who were playing on the field were non-Ethiopians such as the English, Greeks, Armenians and Indians and never allowed the only existing Ethiopian team, St. George commonly referred as Giorgis by its fans and those who love to hate the team.

Giorgis had had on many occasions the desire to play with the owner of the newly constructed field, the Fortitito and sent the team’s captain Mr. Yidnekacew Tessema to negotiate a friendly game between the two teams. Obviously the Italian team procrastinated on making such a decision for two reasons, for fear of any riot that may arise and the unpredictability of playing against a black team.

After two months of putting of intentionally they decided to play against Giorgis on one condition and that is the Ethiopian team must come with shorts only in and around the soccer field. All went on and in 1942 the two teams played and Giorgis won 4 to 1. This was a historic moment in the Ethiopian soccer history where a black team won a white club and where a colonizer lost to its colony it was also on this same year that an official sport office was established by the effort of Mr. Yidnekachew.

The Sport Federation then continued its service and mobilized the Addis Ababa clubs to register under its office to compete the first recorded tournament on the same historic year 1942. At the time the clubs were the Ethiopian Giorgis, Armenian Ararat, Italian Fortitito, Greek Olympiacos and the English Military Mission. The game was played wit round Robin tournament and the result was the English Military Mission, St. George, Fortitito, Ararat and Olympiacos.

This was the green light signal that brought another historic tournament of inter-provincial in 1945 between the host Giorgis and the Diredawa Teferre who played in Addis. However, the game did not go so well as a result of the one goal scored Giorgis to tie the game. The guest team complained that the ball did not go through the net but oozed by the side and settled inside the goal post. It ended up wit disappointment to guests and went back to Diree. To this day no one can confirm how the ball went through but the fans in Diredawa welcomed their team as the sole winner and the newspapers galvanized mutual influence on the public.

Te field was fertilized; the seed ripened to smooth transaction of the soccer games in Ethiopia. Gooooal! Moooosa! Echoed through out the nation. The 1940’s and 50’s soccer became for Ethiopians, to Ethiopian and by Ethiopians. In 1947 the first Ethiopian Championship was played between the clubs of which 8 teams played in Division I and another 8 teams played in Division II and in this tournament the victory went to the Red Sea club.

Success and triumph got rhythm and rhyme, the Ethiopian past time fully developed in the 1950’s and even extended its historic attachment to the African Championship, world and inter-continental competitions. The country from border to border joined in the effort of forming clubs in towns, cities and neighborhoods where it reached all 10 provinces of the then divisional states of the country.

It is unfortunate that on many occasions records were not kept or were destroyed but soccer tournament in Ethiopia became expression of freedom of speech. The Giorgis team was an exemplary to such expression where the teams’ fans or its foes united to cheer government related teams to merely express their satisfaction.