Football is the major sports contribution to Nepal from British sports culture, just as hill racing and to a lesser extent are mountain racing/marathons and speed climbing are to Britain and the world from the Nepal/Nepali-Gurkha British Army context.
The story of football as a particularly special sports-culture sharing phenomenon between the two peoples and countries dates back at a formal level to the 1921 when football commenced in Nepal on a formal teams’ basis.
Nepal football origins and development:
The actual early origins of the game as played in Nepal are little-known, but it is clear the knowledge of football will have been received through association with the British, probably quite early on the special 200+ years friendship and relations between the two countries and their peoples, essentially in the domain of Nepali Gurkha presence within the British Army.
In 1921 under the Rana Monarchy we find that football was being played for instance in royal palace grounds (Singhdarbar, Chhauni, Gaucharan, Jawalakhel and Lainchaur) in Kathmandu by particularly palace teams, but some non-palace local teams too. designated football teams. We learn from All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) research that even in its infancy, football matches in Kathmandu were watched by extensive audiences. ANFA cites the names of Narayan Narshingh Rana and Chandrajung Thapa, as the pioneers of football as an organised sport with by the early 1930s, mass popularity in Nepal. In 1934 Prime minister Padma Shumsher initiated the Ram Janaki Football tournament; its purpose was to consolidate and further develop the already clear appetite for football that the general public had. As such Prime Minister Shumsher, through taking this crucial step for development of football in Nepal ranks next after Narayan Narshingh Rana and Chandrajung Thapa.
Up until about 1990, many teams played football without goalposts and net. Such teams in substitution for these key features of the game used instead getting the football to the goal line. In effect football played in such a technically different way, constitutes a distinct, unique form of the game itself because the area in which goals are scored is so different, impacting on tactics of team as well as the goal scorer/potential scorer. To this day many who enjoy playing the game, especially in remoter parts of Nepal, such as Dadeldhura in the Far West of Nepal, use the goal line as opposed to formal goal posts/net area.
ANFA, and football leagues in Nepal:
The All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), is FIFA affiliated, and was created in 1951, AFC affiliated in 1954, and became FIFA affiliated in 1972. ANFS is Nepal’s governing body for football. It has responsibility for all main club and football leagues competitions, and for Nepal’s National Team, including for Nepal national youth and women’s football teams: Mr Karma Tsering Sherpa is the current (2020) president.
Football leagues in Nepal: There are a number of football leagues in Nepal that include from national professional to other levels. The National League is the main one of these, but beyond this also the national Martyrs Memorial League. The A Division of the latter is one of the most important of ANFA facilitated leagues and is contested by approximately 12 – 16 clubs, on a promotion – relegation basis from the Martyr’s Memorial League B Division: currently the A Division is sponsored by Qatar Airways and is consequently known as the Qatar Airways Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League. The Martyrs Memorial League is so named because it remembers national martyrs of many kinds in Nepal. The League in fact originated from the Ram Janaki Football tournament (commenced in 1934)
‘… After the establishment of democracy in 1950, the Nepali Police Force had initial successes, enjoying consecutive hat-trick wins and monopolizing the trophy for several years. The Nepal Football Association received the trophy from them, continuing the tournament in remembrance of national martyrs. The trophy is presented today to the winners of the “Martyr’s Memorial League Tournament”.
UK Nepali football Gurkha origins and development – the Nepal Cup:
Football as a Nepali phenomenon in the UK begins around the end of the 1940’s and is linked to the Gurkhas’ British Army context through creation of the annual Nepal Cup tournament. As such it constitutes a parallel phenomenon to that of football in Nepal, with the two (UK, and Nepal) forming Nepali football per se: an attacking orientated often swift moving game that it is a great pleasure and thrilling to watch.
In the UK context, the British Army through the Brigade of Gurkhas is at and remains at the heart of the Nepali UK Nepali community football passion and phenomenon: the British Army/Army FA – Brigade of Gurkhas ‘Nepal Cup’ annual tournament is at the heart of this phenomenon, and has inspired outside of the Army and Army FA such outstanding developments as the ‘Gurkha Cup’ and others such on a lesser scale, as the ‘Swindon Cup.’
The Nepal Cup:
Sgt Hiradhan Rai who has kindly lead for research and discussion on a number of areas – including football and endurance sports and martial arts — for the UK Nepali Cultural & Social Heritage information resource project has noted directly from Brigade of Gurkha sources, where the Nepal Cup’s origins were concerned, the key date is 1948.
At that time His Highness the Maharaja [literally, Great King] Mohan Shamsher Janga Bahadur Rana GCIE CBE, Prime Minister of Nepal and Colonel-in-Chief of the Gurkha Brigade, presented this famous cup trophy to be subsequently competed for on an annual Gurkha Brigade inter-unit basis. It is recorded that ‘with high spirits, competitive emotions, and pride for those fortunate and skilful enough to win it, this tradition has endured.’ More on the Nepal Cup below.
Nepal Cup 2019
The 71-year-old Nepal Cup may not be quite as old as the FIFA World Cup but it certainly matches it in terms of excitement and spirit. This annual football competition pitches teams from units in the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas against each other, and this year it was
played at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, with the final in the Aldershot stadium. With support from friends and family throughout the Gurkha community, the matches highlighted some real talent and provided a great deal of entertainment and excitement.
250 Gurkha Signal Squadron, part of 30 Signal Regiment only wanted one outcome for this year’s competition and successfully played their way to the final on 13th July against 1 RGR. The atmosphere was electric and both teams played well in a tense and hard-fought match. By the end of 90 minutes, the only difference was a single goal scored by LCpl Tamang from a free kick, giving 250 Gurkha Signal Squadron the win.
On the same day, 30 Signal Regiment also won the Army Tug-of-War cup and finished runners-up in the ladies’ volleyball competition. With the 60th anniversary of the Regiment’s founding the following week, it really gave them a fantastic birthday present! The Royal Signals continue to provide the cyber, IT and communications support to the rest of the British Army, but also pride themselves in their sporting and adventure training prowess. Well done to all those who took part and supported: players, management, coaches and fans.
The Beginning (1888-1918)
Even before the Army Football Association was formed Army teams were in the forefront of the developing game.
The Royal Engineers, Chatham, were in the first three FA Cup finals (1873-75) and were runners-up in the first two years and eventually won in 1875, beating Old Etonians 2-0 in a replay at the Kennington Oval.
In 1888 a meeting was held under the chairmanship of Major F A Marindin CMG, President of the Football Association of England. This was the first stage to the formation of the Army Football Association. Field Marshal His Royal Highness George Duke of Cambridge KG KP GCB GCMG GCH accepted the Presidency of the association. The winners of the first ever Army FA Cup were 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on 27th March 1889.
In 1901 an Army side played a civilian team for the first time competing against Dorset and also Surrey County. The following year Tottenham Hotspur became the first Football League club to play the Army.
The 2nd Battalion Coldsteam Guards’ Corporal Lease was selected to play as goalkeeper for England versus France in April 1910.
In 1913 the War Office stated that the Army Council had no objections to matches taking place between officers of the Dutch and British Armies, and arrangements were made to organise the first match.
In the same year the Army FA took over the Army Athletics Ground in Aldershot as its permanent football home. The ground would be known as the Army Football Ground.
Between The Wars (1919-1939)
In 1919 the Army Challenge Cup recommenced after the end of the First World War in addition to the fixtures versus the French and Belgian Army.
The 1920 Army Cup Final at Aldershot was won by the Royal Army Medical Corps in front of 15,000 spectators in from of Their Majesties The King and Queen and the Royal Princess and Princes. In the same year the formation of the Army FA Referees’ Committee was made with the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel G H Impey DSC, Royal Sussex Regiment and Lieutenant A E Edwards, Royal Field Artillery, as the first President and Honorary Secretary respectively.
The Army Sports Control Board took over the Army Football Ground in Aldershot from the Army FA for a sum of £822.
In 1921 the annual Inter Service competition versus the Royal Navy FA was extended to include the Royal Air Force FA. The competition was named the Constantinople Cup.
In 1939 the Army Sports Control Board instructed all associations that they were to close for the duration of World War 2. An emergency Wat Committee was formed and various army matches were authorised.
The National Service Era (1946-1962)
All players that played for the Army during the war years were presented with a trophy to take the form of an Army FA crest in recognition of funds totalling £24,875.11s.6d being raised by the various tours that were provided to charities and relief funds.
In 1948 during the Army Cup final between the RAC Bovington and 121 Teaining Regiment Royal Artillery the Aldershot stadium was struck by lightning, resulting in the death of one member of each team and injury to players, officials and spectators. The match was abandoned and the trophy was shared.
The 1949/50 season saw a record 205 entries for the Army Cup together with a record of 1,200 Referees. This was superceded in 1955 by a figure of over 2000.
In 1956 a representative Army team toured British Army of The Rhine and played against seven German civilian teams. RSM C F Blackman (Royal Artillery) was appointed team manager. The following were later selected as England international players: Pte D Edwards (RAOC), LCpl GJ Armfield (King’s Own Royal Regiment). Later internationals would include Driver W Foulkes (RASC), Gunner C Jones (Royal Artillery) (Wales), Sapper D McKay (Royal Engineers) (Scotland) and LCpl R Charlton (RAOC), Pte A Young (RASC) (Scotland), Pte J Baxter (Black Watch) (Scotland).
During the same year Brigadier General R J Kentish CMG DSO passed away. He had served Army football for a total of 40 years. The Triangular Tournament between the British, French and Belgian Armies would become known as The Kentish Cup.
In 1959 Major CH Dennis was appointed Linesman at the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
In 1962 the end of National Service saw the end of a memorable epoch in Army Football. In the 15 year period the Army team included a long line of international players who became household names internationally. It was now important to reconstruct the Army team with regular Army players.
To the present day
Captain V Tennuci (RAMC) refereed the Challenge Cup Final and set up a unique record of being the only holder of a winners medal (Depot and Training Establishment RAMC 1949) to have taken charge of a Final tie. In 1968 CSM Instructor M Kerkhof (APTC) was promoted to the Referees List of the Football League.
In 1971 the Directors of Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes presented a new Trophy to be known as the NAAFI Jubilee Cup for Inter Unit and Inter Service competition. Five year later, in 1976, the Army FA Six A Side competition was introduced. Major Alan Dobson (MBE), the Secretary of the association, was appointed a FIFA Referee Instructor and appointed to conduct the first Referees’ Course dealing with third world countries. Three years later Re-diffusion became the first sponsors of the Army Cup. The Grenadier Guards Trophy was introduced in 1986 for an annual fixture versus the Metropolitan Police.
100 years of the Army FA was celebrated in 1988 as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent presented the Army Challenge
Cup to School of Signals. The match was attended by England manager, Bobby Robson. To commemorate the centenary the Army senior team played a Football League XI.
Football remains the most popular sport in today’s Army. Regular matches are played at unit level, corps (with the mens Massey Trophy) and Womens Inter Corps competitions too. The Army Officers Football Team (Crusaders), formed in 1922, continue to participate and now have a Veterans team too.
There are three Army FA representative teams. In 1999 the Williamson Trophy was formed to provide a Womens Inter Services tournament whilst in 2006 an Under 23 Mens Development Inter Services competition commenced. In recent years there have also been successful representative tours including visits to Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, South Africa, Brazil and, in 2009, the mens senior team visited Croatia to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of the Dalmation coast.
Many players have progressed through the Army into professional football. In recent year they include Maik Taylor, Guy Whittingham and Lee Bradbury. Between them the trio have made over 1500 senior professional appearances for the likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth, Manchester City and Birmingham City whilst Taylor also represented Northern Ireland on over 80 occasions.
In addition the Army FA has provided an excellent platform for Match Officials too with Major Danny McDermid (RLC) being an established Football League Referee until his posting to Cyprus in 2012, WO1 Andy Halliday (APTC) a Premier League Assistant, Sgt Declan Ford (REME) and LCpl Rob Ellis (RAMC) Football League Assistants). In March 2011 the Army FA created history when four soldiers were appointed as the match officials for the Football League match between Notts County and Bristol Rovers.
In May 2011, for the first time in the history of the association, the Challenge Cup and Minor Units Cup Finals were both staged on the same day as part of the “Festival of Football” day in Aldershot.
The association moved offices in May 2012 and is now based within the headquarters of the RAPTC in Fox Lines, Aldershot. In the same month it played host to the German Bundeswehr in a friendly fixture; the first time the German armed forces had visited the United Kingdom. The Army FA remains a busy organisation and celebrated its 125th anniversary during 2013/14 where the highlight of a healthy activity of events was a fixture played at Reading FC’s Madejski Stadium between the Army (managed by Stuart Pearce) and an FA Legends team managed by England boss Roy Hodgson. It concluded the festivities in May 2014 with a Presidents Dinner where the guest of honour was respected football columnist Henry Winter.