Colonial secretary got the ball rolling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

Say 'Lockhart' today and the first thing that might spring to mind is the bars and clubs in Wan Chai.

But let's raise a glass to the person after whom the famous road is named, Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart, who was responsible for establishing organised soccer in Hong Kong.

Lockhart, a former colonial secretary, is mainly remembered for signing the convention for the extension of Hong Kong territory with the Qing dynasty in 1898. Under that convention, the territories north of Boundary Street, later known as the New Territories, were leased to Britain for 99 years and became part of the crown colony.

But he was also responsible for another less-publicised deed - setting up the first football club on this 'barren rock'.

In 1886, Hong Kong Football Club was established. It happened at a meeting chaired by Lockhart at the Victoria Recreation Club.'Lockhart was just 28, and was an all-round sportsman,' historian Denis Way, who is writing a commemorative book to celebrate Hong Kong Football Club's 125th anniversary next year, said. 'He played football, rugby, cricket and also rowed for Victoria Recreation Club. He called for a meeting as he had the authority to do so.

'He was encouraged by others in the foreign community, especially in the British Forces, who needed to keep fit by playing competitive sport, and they wanted to play more football.

'Only a few games were arranged among themselves each season. Administration, at which Lockhart was an expert, was the way to improve football in Hong Kong, and this included the formation of a Football Club (in 1886) and the setting up of a football competition 10 years later, as things moved slowly in those days,' Way said.

The first match took place a week after the club was formed and was played on a grassless pitch on the infield of the Happy Valley racecourse. The players were either civilians or British Forces officers. The captains were W.H. Wallace from Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and Lieutenant Colonel C.E. Lawrie of the Royal Artillery. The Forces won 1-0.

'The players arrived for the match already changed as there were no changing rooms,' Way said. 'It was only later that facilities were loaned by the Jockey Club.'

Soccer was mainly an imported game until colleges like St Joseph's, King's and Queen's started to teach the game to local children in the early 1990s.

'Boys from less affluent Chinese families who lived near football grounds, or worked as ground staff, also developed their skills on their own by copying the 'foreigners' they saw playing near their homes,' Way said. 'One such example were the boys from the village of Tai Hang who lived next to the Navy Ground in Causeway Bay (where the Central Library now is) and who formed the nucleus of the first national team from China to compete at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.'

Chinese clubs began to emerge, with South China being the first in 1908. In that same year, the first 'international' took place when a team from the Hong Kong Football Club played a side from Shanghai. The Hong Kong Football Association was formed during the season of 1913-14.