Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – The Sierra Leone Premier League kicks off today, with titleholders Bo Rangers aiming for a third consecutive crown. This season, however, holds a special significance as it marks a century since the commencement of the first organized local championship in Sierra Leone.
For the opening matches of the 2023/24 Sierra Leone Premier League, which has been recently renamed the Leone Rock Premier League, SLIFA and Real Republicans will host Diamond Stars and Luawa Football Club at the Trade Center and Angola playing fields, respectively.
To gain a deeper understanding of the significance of this milestone and its implications for Sierra Leonean football, Awoko Newspaper interviewed Durosimi Thomas, a media consultant and African football expert with extensive experience covering major football events, including seven Nations Cup finals, a World Cup, several continental club championships, and Africa Club Championship final matches.
“The 1920s was a crucial decade for football in Sierra Leone, coinciding with the global growth of the sport. The memorable 1924 Olympics in Paris were just around the corner, and six years later, the first World Cup took place in Uruguay,” Thomas explained.
“Even before the first organized league competition in 1923, football clubs were taking shape and forming in the Western Area, particularly,” Thomas added, referencing records shared by former referee and Premier League secretary Patrick D. Green.
“The rivalry between established boys’ schools, CMS Grammar School and Methodist Boys High, in friendly matches was already a significant fixture from the early part of the century, while some communities in central Freetown began playing regularly.
“At 100 years, it’s an exciting time to reflect on what the atmosphere was like in 1923 before kick-off. We can only assume it was a success because in 1924, Grammar School formed Sierra Leone’s oldest existing club, Regents Olympic, followed by East End Lions four years later.”
“However, some things remain the same. For example, the condition of pitches we used in 1923 remains the same 100 years later – this should be an unsettling wake-up call. There’s a glimmer of hope, though. The construction of the new Bo stadium (Southern Arena) and other modern facilities (artificial turf projects) should serve as a yardstick for other clubs to follow, as football has become a mega socio-economic industry.”
Research has shown that the annual Premier League competition not only showcases the country’s football talent but also contributes to the local sporting culture, offering excitement and entertainment to fans across the nation.
The first organized league by the Sierra Leone Football League (SLFL) in 1923 featured 13 clubs, including Regent Olympics (the runner-up), Literacy and Games, Barmoh, South Scientist, Police, Railways, Cline Town Rovers, and Young Tigers. East End Games emerged as the inaugural champions of this league.
Sierra Leone has witnessed the growth and development of football over the years, and this milestone reflects the enduring history and passion for the sport in the country.
Football has played a crucial role in uniting people and communities in Sierra Leone and fostering talent development, making this milestone a testament to the rich football tradition in the nation. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the progress made and to look forward to the continued growth of football in Sierra Leone.
Further research conducted by Awoko Newspaper reveals that the Sierra Leone Football League (SLFL) was established on March 23, 1923. However, three years later, on March 26, the league changed its name to the Sierra Leone Amateur Football Association (SLAFA). At that time, the local football governing body was affiliated with the Football Association in London, as Sierra Leone was still under British colonial rule. In the 1960s, SLAFA eventually ceased to exist.
In July 1967, the Western Area Football Association (WAFA) took the initiative to organize a regional championship in the capital city of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Prior to this, the championship had been organized by the old SLAFA. A new SLAFA emerged, later renamed the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) in 1992. This marked the organization of the first-ever national league in 1980, bringing an end to the regional championship. Initially, the regional championship may have served as a qualifying competition for the nationwide tournament, which was initially determined by a final match.
It’s worth noting that the SLFL organized three leagues, with East End Games Club winning in 1923, and Regent Olympic securing back-to-back titles in 1924 and 1925. The SLFA organized an impressive 40 regional championships from 1926 to 1966.
East End Lions dominated the league by winning 12 titles, followed by Mighty Blackpool with six championships, and Real Republicans, FC Kallon, and Ports Authority, each with three titles. Old Edwardians, Diamond Stars, and Bo Rangers have two titles to their names, while Freetown United has also been crowned champions once. ARW/3/11/2023