The Solomon Islands have had a rough time of things over the years. Fierce fighting during World War 2, ethnic tension, civil unrest and a helping of powerful earthquakes. It’s safe to say that they’ve not had the best of times. All these troubles see them ranked number seven on the list of the worlds least visited countries. Despite this, the Solomon Islands are blessed with crystal clear blue waters, golden sandy beaches and plenty of greenery. It’s the stereotypical paradise island! So how has football in the Solomon islands fared over the years?
HISTORY OF FOOTBALL IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS
Where are the Solomon Islands I hear you ask? The Solomon Islands lie to the east of Papua New Guinea and north of Vanuatu, around a 4-hour flight from Sydney. The Solomon Islands consist of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands. The Solomon Islands were one of the major battle areas in the South Pacific during WW2. The bulk of the conflict happened on the main Solomon island of Guadalcanal, where the capital city of Honiara lies. We won’t go into too detail here, but it was brutal at times! The Islands were claimed by the British in the late 19th century but declared independence in July 1978.
Right, back to the football!
The Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF) were founded in 1979 and are the main governing body for the Solomon Islands National Football Team, as well as the two domestic football leagues. However, the first recorded game for the national team can be traced back to 1963. The SIFF was founded with the aim of developing the infrastructure to help bring football on the island up to a professional standard, with the ultimate goal being becoming members of The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and FIFA.
The SIFF worked hard over the next nine years to raise the standard of not only the infrastructure, but also implementing steps to aid solid player development. All this hard work paid off in 1989, when the Solomon Islands became official members of the OFC and FIFA. The new membership bought increased exposure to football on the islands, but most importantly were now eligible to play in official FIFA sanctioned games, including World Cup qualifiers.
Their first ever FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign saw them drawn against Australia and Tahiti, with their first ever game coming against Tahiti in Honiara in 1991. They managed a respectable 1-1 draw on the night, but unfortunately, they failed to pick up any more points in the remaining games – finishing bottom of the group.
HOW ARE THEY GETTING ON IN MORE RECENT TIMES?
Honestly, not too bad for a country with a population of just over 600,000. In the year 2000 the Solomon Islands received funding from FIFA to upgrade the Lawson Tama Stadium, which is the national stadium. The newly redeveloped stadium was officially opened by Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton in 2001!
Further funding was provided by FIFA in 2005, this time to construct the ‘Alan Boso Complex’. This complex means that the SIFF now have a permanent venue to run crucial development programmes for players, coaches and referees.
Obviously, the Solomon Islands have never qualified for a major international tournament such as the World Cup. Two 4th place finishes in qualifying are about as close as they’ve got, but they do hold their own amongst the other pacific nations. The Solomon Islands can be pleased with finishing runners up in the OFC Nations Cup and runners up in the South Pacific games three times – usually losing out to a much stronger New Zealand or Australian sides. Since the turn of the century they have recorded two 13-0 victories over American Samoa and Tuvalu, as well as near double figure score lines against Tonga and the Cook Islands. So, there are some positive signs for sure!
WHAT’S THE DOMESTIC LEAGUE LIKE?
The Solomon Islands have two domestic football leagues, although only at semi-professional level. The S-League is the top division and consist of eight teams. The format is pretty standard, with the top two teams qualifying for the OFC Champions League and the bottom team relegated to the second division. A large chunk of the teams are all based in the capital city of Honiara, with the rest coming from some of the other six main islands.
All the games are played at the 22,000 capacity Lawson Tama Stadium, and the most successful team in the Solomon Islands are Solomon Warriors, who have been crowned champions of the S-League five times. Unfortunately, they haven’t been as successful in the OCF Champions League, failing to make it out of the group stages most years.
Hopefully football can continue developing on the island over the next few years, they’ve certainly built a decent enough platform for themselves to continue building upon. Who knows, we might be seeing the next Solomon Messi in the near future?
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