What Is Iolani Football?

Iolani Football is a competitive team sport in Hawaii and one of the most popular sports played in the island. It is named after the Islais – one of the islands that make up Hawaii – who are known for their football team. The term “Iolani Football” comes from the way that many players refer to themselves collectively as Iolani Footballers. The IFF called on each member of its membership to wear an orange jersey that read “FIRE” when playing Iolani Football and it actually did so! There was an elaborate ceremony where members of the public wore orange jerseys, took stands, and posed for photographs with arms raised high into the air in a gesture of defiance against white rule. The Orange Fire Flag has been displayed at all home games for the last three seasons and it remains one of the most famous images of Iolani Football today.

The History of Iolani Football

Iolani football was first organized in 1869 when seven students at the University of Hawaii were sent to New Zealand to tour the country as part of the American Explorers. The students met at the Hokkaido National University in Tokyo to arrange for the first volleyball club in the Far East. The club’s name was changed to Iolani Club in 1871 and it became a dominant force in the sport in Japan. It would go on to win the national championship in 1875 and play in the Nippon championship for seven seasons. While the club was in Japan, the students kicked around the idea of formulating a new sport for the island. One of the sports that they had in mind was rugby union, which they hoped would become an international sport. While the club was in Japan, another group of students in the United States also visited the island and discovered that rugby was a very popular sport there as well. One of the members of the club, Dr. Theodore I. Ogg, became interested in rugby and became the first president of Iolani College. That club would grow into the Iolani Football Club, which would later become the Iolani Saints.

How It Started?

At first, the club only met in the summer months when the students had the chance to practice at home. The Hokkaido National University hosts the oldest rugby club in the world, the American Explorers, which has been playing since 1869. In those days, rugby was a very popular sport in Japan and was also quite common in New Zealand where the club was based. The club quickly learned that it could not stay in the current location of the university, which was in the city of Tokyo. It eventually became clear that the proposed location had to be outside of Tokyo to avoid being bulldozed and cleared by the Shinagawa Arboretum. So the Hokkaido university decided to organize a match between Tokyo and New Zealand against the United States. The first Iolani Football Club match was held at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium in July 1875. The match concluded with the Tokyo team losing by a single point to the New Zealand team.

The Japan-based team that became the first Iolani Football Club

The Iolani football team was formed in 1875 and made its first competitive appearance in 1881 in Tokyo. That club lost in the first round of the J-League to Nagoya Grampus, which would be the team’s only other competitive appearance. The club then traveled to China, where it would play in various exhibition games until 1884. The club made one other competitive appearance in 1889 when it played in the Japanese national championship against the imperial army. While the club was in China, it also took part in some matches in the nearby Indian Ocean, which would result in the club earning its second name, “Iolani Footballers”. Most of the Iolani Footballers did not survive the trip and are now thought to have been captured by the Japanese army.

The first season played at home without an external match on a regular basis

The first season of Iolani Football at home without an external match on a regular basis was in 1926. That was the first year that the sport was spread across the island and no Asian or African countries were allowed to participate in the competition. The competition was essentially made for and consumed by the island’s football club, the Iolani Saints. The Saints won their first title in 1927 and then lost in the semi-finals of the 1928–29 Nakajima Cup to the Tokyo University team. While the teams were in the same region, it was also the first time that the Tokyo Olympic Stadium was used as the home venue for the two teams. The stadium was built in 1928 and had served as the site of numerous international matches until that year. That year also saw the last time that the Hokkaido national rugby league team played in Tokyo and that was a classic example of the island’s rugby team being used as a marketing tool. The players played in the Tokyo Tokyo Olympic Stadium in 1926 and 1927 and that was the last time that the sport was played in Japan.

The second season played at home with an external match once per year

The second season of Iolani Football at home with an external match was in 1954 and 1955. The matches were played at their home stadium, the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, and were part of the Nippon API. That was the first time that the Iolani Football Club was participating in an international competition, which was the only overseas competition that the club would play in the future. Japan won that match 1–0 and that was the first time that the Iolani Football Club gained international recognition. That event also marked the last time that the sport was played in Japan.

The third season played out of three different facilities in Hawaii

The third season of Iolani Football at home was made up of three different facilities, the Naaluku F.C. Stadium in Lahoa, the Lahaina Fields in Lahaina and the Marine Parade in Lahaina. The first two were used for exhibition matches and the final was played on the Lahaina Fields. The Marine Parade facility was used only for home games until the early 1980s when it was replaced by the current stadium, the Kohler Stadium. The Kohler Stadium would be used as the home venue for the Saints for the next few seasons before being gutted and removed from the field in 1986. It would later become the 1995 Hawaii Skipper’s Home Stadium.

How It Looks Today?

The Kohler Stadium in Lahaina was completed in 1979 and is the most recognizable building in Lahaina. It has served as the home venue for the Saints since 1986 and has seen plenty of action during that time. The Kohler has seen plenty of wear and tear over the years and is now in need of a significant revamping. The Kohler was once expected to be used as a permanent sporting facility but that has now become wishful thinking on the part of the owners of the club. The Kohler is now scheduled to become the 2011 Hawaii Skipper’s Home Stadium.

Final Words

The Iolani Football club has seen much success over the years, winning numerous championships and international encounters including one against the English rugby team at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo in 1927. Now that the sport is spread across the island, the Iolani football club will make its return to the stadium in 2011 as the 2011 Hawaii Skipper’s Home Stadium. The Kohler will host the 2011 Iolani Football game and will be built to look like the place where the team practiced for the last 21 years.