HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL COUNTY MEET: HOW, WHEN, WHERE AND WHO WERE THE BRAINS BEHIND ITS FORMATION.
By: Archie P. Williams
To begin, I heartily extend my congratulations to LOFA COUNTY for successfully emerging as the winner over Montserrado County in the finals of the 2020-2021 National County Sports Meet held at the SKD Sports Complex in Paynesville, on Sunday, January 31, 2021, after an intense 90 minutes of gruelling performances that culminated into the much deserved 3-1 scoreline victory.
By that feat, LOFA has for the first time etched its name in the historical annals of the pageant soccer gallery which has been won several times by other well-deserving counties, and or territories.
However, a cursory and sanitized analysis of the entire County Meet has revealed that several relevant pieces of historical information per the game have been OMITTED, and or DISTORTED regarding the details of WHEN; HOW, WHERE, AND WHO WERE THE BRAINS BEHIND THE FORMATION of such a flagship annual sports fiesta which championship has become a coveted National Treasure of the winners.
Unfortunately, there are several individuals including past and present players, journalists, and by extension sports administrators who have erroneously attributed the formation of the COUNTY MEET to 1956 through the airways, and even heralded that in commentaries as was the case of the recently concluded Meet.
Another layer of erroneous information that is been constantly fed to the public is that Maryland County won over Montserrado County in the maiden duel of the MEET in 1956 to the effect that such win was garnered through tossing a coin commonly referred to as “COCO AND MISSES” after the full end resulted into a nil draw. This is TOTALLY UNTRUE!
So, in a bid to provide a more comprehensive outlook of the historical genesis of the County Meet, I embarked upon three-month analytical research which feat propelled me to carefully navigate amongst thousand pages of archival documents, and including several newspaper stories/articles with sporting spectacles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s which contents revealed acute contrasts to the wildly propelled notions concerning the formation of the COUNTY MEET.
Therefore, and in view of the aforementioned, I take upon the gauntlet to share with the public through this platform what my teething research discovered.
In 1953, President Tubman had gone to Harper to celebrate his 58th birth anniversary. While there, he utilized the time to honour an invitation from the chiefs of the predominant Grebo Community and Descendants from Liberia with residences in the towns of Tabou and San Pedro to witness the enthronement of the “TATUM” of the Grebos in Ivory Coast. Tubman routed over the Cavalla River into Ivory Coast which distance is about a few stone throw miles away from Harper whereat he was received jubilantly by scores of its Grebo residents. Historically, Tabou, San Pedro and other vast areas on the fringes of the Cavalla River were territories of Maryland County prior to its annexation to Liberia in 1857 but were commandeered and partitioned by the French.
At the pomp occasion in Ivory Coast, Tubman and his delegation were feted to several eye feasting sporting gymnastics which were performed predominately by young students which events caught his attention, and impressed upon him.
Back in Monrovia, he discussed his impression of the events in Ivory Coast with Ambassador George Padmore who was on the delegation, and present at the occasion as Under Secretary (Assistant Minister) of State responsible for Francophone countries, and an ardent sports enthusiast who was also impressed with the warm embrace, and a myriad of the feted sporting festivities.
So, after series of lengthy discussions, Ambassador Padmore proffered to Tubman the idea of FORMING A YEARLY ROTATIONAL NATIONAL SPORTS COMPETITION AMONGST THE COUNTRY’S YOUTH as a means of cultural integration, which proposition was readily agreed upon. To further engender such laudable spectacle, Tubman charged the Ambassador with the sole responsibility to work out feasible modalities of similar events and present same the earliest for “prompt approval as a means of furthering the nation’s health and welfare.”
That task was finally consummated, and presented to the President which amongst others, embedded in the recommendations consisted of the following:
*** That sportsmen from all five counties to include Montserrado, Bassa, Sinoe, Maryland and Cape mount participate in an annual sporting competition amongst the youths in the 100, 220-yard dashes, the mile and marathon races, pole vault, broad jump, boxing, bicycle racing, football, and many other events;
*** That the event be styled as the NATIONAL SPORTS COMPETITION;
*** And that the COMPETITION is held at the beginning of every year prior to the opening of schools.
Satisfied with Ambassador Padmore’s handiwork, the President appointed him as HEAD OF THE NATIONAL SPORTS COMPETITION.
To operationalize the event, THE FIRST COMPETITION WAS PLANNED AND INCLUDED AS PART OF THE PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES TO COMMEMORATE THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF TUBMAN’S ASCENDANCY AS PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA (1944-1954) WHICH EVENTS WERE HELD IN JANUARY 1954 AT THE ANTOINETTE TUBMAN STADIUM WHERE TUBMAN AND HIS OFFICIALS WERE IN FULL ATTENDANCE AS SPECTATORS TO THE MAIDEN COMPETITION.
IN REMARKS THE PRESIDENT EMPHASIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MEET “AS A TOOL FOR NATIONAL ONENESS FOR THE FUTURE OF LIBERIA.” Source: (LIBERIA TODAY, May 1954 Volume 3, Number 5).
The following year 1955 was an elections year that witnessed a heightened and politically charged contestation for the country’s presidency of which Tubman was pitted against powerful opposition from outside forces, and within the ranks of his own TWP which aftermath consequences resulted into brutality and bloodshed. So, against that backdrop, the competition did not occur that year.
In January 1956 Tubman was inaugurated after he was declared President. Calm had gradually returned to Monrovia, and the game was played with less fanfare between both Montserrado, and Bassa counties exclusively.
The following year 1957 was a commemorative one in Liberia that witnessed the CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY of Maryland annexation to Liberia (1857-1957). And by that, it brought about another facet of the competition which exclusively pitted Montserrado against Maryland County in honour of President Tubman who was a son of Maryland, and by extension, President of Liberia with residence in Montserrado County.
Also as a guest of government to commemorate that CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, the GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND IN THE UNITED STATES, THEODORE McKELDEN flew to Liberia where he and President Tubman subsequently laid a wreath at the monument on the Anniversary Day of the founding of Maryland in Liberia. Source: ( Page 91, LIBERIA PAST AND PRESENT).
The commemorative soccer duel between both historic counties featured several National Team star players who hailed from both counties. Those that donned the jerseys of Maryland included the Gadagbeku brothers (Philip and Gideon); Aloysius Itoka, David Wolo, and Albert Johnson. Those that featured for Montserrado included MacDonald Acolatse, Hillary Mason, Frank George, and Richard Brown, amongst others.
In the finale, Maryland made their son, President Tubman proud when they became victorious through a lone goal scored by “Center Back” Aloysius Itoka from a spot-kick. That game was refereed by Mr. Joe Richards who became Liberia’s first international referee. Probably this was the game in which pundits have consistently referenced as the game where Maryland had won a County Meet Championship. This is far from the truth.
As time unfolded, the momentum began to drop, and for several years the competition came to an eventual halt for reorganization.
In 1964 after Tubman created additional four new counties that included Grand Gedeh, Bong, Nimba, and Lofa, the need became more apparent for broader participation to incorporate the new counties and territories to reflect all segments of the country.
Thus after President Tubman launched, and dedicated his Unification Policy Monument in Voinjama, Lofa County, the rebranding of the National Competition was highlighted by Counsellor Joseph Chesson; a soccer enthusiast who, being duly cognizant of the soothing effects of sports in fostering genuine unity recommended to the President that he initiate an all Countywide sports competition as one of the foundations of his Unification Policy with an all-embracing nomenclature to reflect the change so as to incorporate the newly created counties.
In that respect, the president reconstituted the national sports body with the appointment of the National Sports And Athletic Commission headed by Ambassador Padmore, Counselor Chesson, and Col. Urias J. D. Cole who was charged with the responsibility of overseeing all government’s sporting activities in Liberia, including the National Sports Meet. SOURCE: (No. 368 The LIBERIAN STAR, Tuesday, December 16, 1965)
In 1966 there were no games played based on the reorganization efforts which entails that the LIBERIA NATIONAL AIRWAYS be responsible to fly officials and players from the counties in Monrovia. Source (No. 707 LIBERIAN STAR, Tuesday, January 17, 1967).
In 1967, the government contracted Dr. McKinley Deshield Jr., a British trained Liberian Hydrologists who subsequently became Dean of the Agriculture College of the University of Liberia to plant the first carpet grass on the turf of the Antoinette Tubman Stadium to host the FIRST COUNTY MEET AFTER ITS REBRANDING. Source ( No. 929 LIBERIAN STAR, Tuesday, August 22, 1967).
It was also in the same year 1967 that the stadium was lighted, thus beginning the commencement of night games of the national league at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium.
Several years thereafter, Montserrado and Maryland squared off in the finals of the 1969 County Meet for the first time aside from the 1957 friendly commemorative game alluded to, earlier.
The game ended in a one apiece draw. In a bid to fashion a winner, a coin was tossed which went against Maryland and favoured Montserrado.
Maryland protested, but lost based on the LFA decision and ruling which was articulated by its chairman Leonard Deshield. Source: ( The LIBERIAN STAR, Tuesday, December 16, 1969.)
The aforementioned was the FIRST AND ONLY GAME WHEREAT MARYLAND AND MONTSERRADO PLAYED IN A COUNTY MEET FINALS during the referenced era. Those that featured for Maryland included: Oliver Boyee Swen, John Henshaw, Albert Nebo, Explore Weah, and the Bowman brothers.
Beginning from the era of the rebranding in 1967 which Montserrado won that year over Bomi Territory with a 4-0 victory in which Montserrado fielded legendaries as Mass Sarr, Sr., and Gladstone Ofori of both Barrolle, and Invincible Eleven fame, the National Meet Championship has been dominated by counties to include the below:
1) NIMBA COUNTY: FOUR TIMES CHAMPIONS
If must be stated also for the record that Nimba County holds the unique distinction of winning the championship back to back on two occasions both in 1978 and ’79 and 2010 and 2011.
2) GRAND KRU COUNTY: THREE TIMES
However, if attributing the two times championships of KRU COAST Territory in 1974 and 1977, as well as the one won in 1970 by Sass Town Territory; both territories that were subsequently merged to formed GRAND KRU COUNTY IN 1983 by President Doe, then it can justifiably be concluded that GRAND KRU HAS WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP 6 TIMES MORE THAN ANY COUNTY.
3) BASSA COUNTY: THREE TIMES:
4) MONTSERRADO COUNTY: TWO TIMES
5) BOMI COUNTY: TWO TIMES
6) CAPE MOUNT: TWO TIMES
7) RIVERCESS COUNTY: TWO TIMES
8) GRAND GEDEH COUNTY: TWO TIMES
THE REST OF THE COUNTIES AND OR TERRITORIES HAVE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP BUT ONCE.
And judging from the facts at my disposal which I enumerated per the aforementioned, until contrary, it can justifiably be concluded effectually that Maryland County has not won the County Meet Championship.
I am a son of Maryland County who was birthed by Marylanders, reared in Maryland, attended schools both in Pleebo, and Harper prior to transitioning to Monrovia for college.
The featured photo is ALBERT MASSAQUOI OF CAPE MOUNT COUNTY who was the MVP of the FIRST NATIONAL SPORTS COMPETITION HELD IN 1954, as was reported and published in the Vol. 3, No. 5, May 1954 edition of the LIBERIA TODAY NEWS MAGAZINE.
Disclaimer: The Analysis is not a view of TSM.