Ellan Vannin fighting for Manx identity through football

The four national teams of the United Kingdom are supposedly England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each with its own FIFA affiliated side, these nations have spanned generations and produced some wonderful footballers, and in the case of England have even won the FIFA World Cup, triumphing by a margin of 4-2 over West Germany in 1966 – a fond memory to those who witnessed that historic match.

Every one of those teams has qualified for the World Cup at one time or another and while only England and Scotland who have competed in the European Championships (neither having experienced success in that sphere) it’s Northern Ireland who can – remarkably – still claim the title of champions of these islands, having emerged victorious in the final edition of the British Home Championship in 1984; the trophy remains the property of the Irish FA.

With the success and the intense media coverage that surrounds the four main international sides of the UK, the fact that many other international football teams exist within the UK’s borders tends to go unnoticed. After all, why watch the Shetland Islands battle it out with Orkney on an amateur pitch when you can watch England versus Norway? It is easy to see why Britain’s lesser-known representative sides get so little attention; the fact that the other national sides of the United Kingdom are not members of FIFA makes simply funding a trip to face overseas opposition or to compete in a tournament a daunting challenge.

Amongst these overlooked teams are Guernsey, Jersey, the Shetland Islands, Anglesey, as well as others. The Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory lying in the South Atlantic Ocean also boasts a national side, as does Saint Helena, an island of similar status lying approximately 6,000 kilometres away. However, the national team that is perhaps best known in the sporting world is Ellan Vannin, the national football team of the Isle of Man.

Technically, the Isle of Man – a small island based in the middle of the Irish Sea – has two national football teams. One, the Isle of Man FA Representative side, is effectively run by the English FA, and competes against English amateur clubs. To be eligible, a player needs only to be registered to a local team, meaning that non-Manx footballers can represent the team, despite having no connection to the island. What’s more, Manx-born players who ply their trade in England, or further afield, cannot represent the IOMFA team.

This is what led to the creation of the Ellan Vannin national team. “Ellan Vannin” – meaning “Isle of Man” in the Manx tongue – was created with the intention of promoting Manx culture on a global level. Created by the Manx International Football Alliance in late 2013, the team employed a rather different selection process to the one used by the IOMFA side: players had to be born on the island, or have Manx heritage – the so-called “Grandfather rights” – in order to represent Ellan Vannin.

Realising that joining FIFA was not an option, the Manx IFA began searching for an alternative to the global governing body, and found duly one. The newly founded Confederation of Independent Football Associations were the perfect match for Ellan Vannin: it was young and promised success, and had a comparatively large membership – but more importantly, had a tournament on its way, set to be held in June 2014 and hosted by the Sápmi, more commonly known as Lapland, in Sweden. Ellan Vannin joined ConIFA in early 2014, and played their first match – against Monaco – soon after. The game transpired to be a virtual walkover, as the Manx side hit ten goals without reply past their beleaguered Monegasque opponents. If this match was anything to go by, Ellan Vannin was a side positively brimming with aptitude.

Full of confidence and anticipation, Ellan Vannin entered the inaugural ConIFA World Football Cup and were drawn in a group alongside Nagorno-Karabakh, a republic in the South Caucasus, and the County of Nice, a historical region of south France. The latter side, despite only having been formed in April 2014, had a number of OGC Nice reserves amongst their ranks and appeared to be potential cup-winners. By contrast, Ellan Vannin were deemed to be outsiders by the tournament’s bookmakers, NordicBet. Their odds to reach the final were 250/1, provoking consternation from the Manx IFA.

Having arrived in Östersund, Sweden for the tournament, Ellan Vannin played their first match versus Nagorno-Karabakh and within ten minutes were 2-0 down. It initially seemed as if NordicBet had been accurate in their predictions, but then the Manxmen hit back after winning a penalty on the stroke of half-time. However, it took 45 more minutes for Ellan Vannin to grab the equaliser, with Antony Moore netting in the 90th minute. The game was destined to end as a draw, but Frank Jones scored in added time to seal a vitally important comeback victory for the Manx side. They had succeeded in their first game, now it was down to sealing victory versus the County of Nice in order to progress to the quarter-finals.

Despite being seen as the underdogs, Ellan Vannin immediately made their presence felt and within 30 minutes were 3-0 up. However, as Nice regained control of the match, the Manxmen conceded two goals, making the score 3-2. Thankfully for Ellan Vannin, Daniel Bell was on hand to drive the ball home in the 87th minute, effectively sealing the match. The Manxmen had emerged as the dark horses of the tournament, and qualified for the quarter finals.

ell2

The quarter-final proved not to be quite as straightforward as the group stages, and after drawing 1-1 with Iraqi Kurdistan, the match went to penalties. Fortunately, the Manx side were triumphant and reached the semi-finals where they faced Armeans Suryoye. It proved to be a fairly facile victory for Ellan Vannin, with the score ending 4-1 to the islanders. Ellan Vannin had qualified for the ConIFA World Football Cup final, quite literally defying the odds in the process – and a number of Manxmen on the island also profited; with their bets paying off in the form of £250 cheques!

Alas, football has a funny way of bringing one back to earth, and this is exactly what happened in the case of Ellan Vannin. The final, contested against the County of Nice, who the Manx had previously encountered in the group stages, reached full time with the score at 0-0. Somewhat bizarrely, penalties, as oppose to two periods of extra time, immediately followed. Unfortunately for Ellan Vannin, the County of Nice won the shootout 5-3. The Manx dream had ended in the cruellest of ways.

It was, however, an incredible achievement for the Isle of Man, and the Ellan Vannin side were overwhelmed by the support from the islanders who flocked to the pubs to watch the Manxmen compete. It was a special moment for the Manx IFA; in the space of nine months they had gone from oddities in the world of non-FIFA football to becoming one of the powerhouses amongst ConIFA’s membership.

In June 2015, Ellan Vannin will re-emerge; this time to play in the ConIFA European Championships. Originally due to be held on the Isle of Man, the tournament had to be relocated to Budapest in Hungary because of a lack of accommodation available on the island; the famous TT races were to be held at around the same time meaning that hundreds, if not thousands of motorsport enthusiasts would be occupying most of the available hotels and beds. Ellan Vannin have been drawn alongside the Romani People and the County of Nice – a match that Manx IFA Media Liaison Gary Weightman says will be a thrilling encounter.

“The Ellan Vannin lads can’t wait for the match versus the County of Nice; there is the chance for revenge for the World Cup Final defeat!” he says. “As always the players want to play against the very best ConIFA has to offer and Countea De Nissa are up there amongst the best, and we have previously beaten them!”

However, Weightman also appreciates that this tournament is not going to be easy. “In Hungary we will have a track record as World Cup finalists and other teams now know how we play.” He admits. “It’s going to be much more difficult for us.”

As one of the squad’s few members plying their trade abroad, Seamus Sharkey is a vital member of the Ellan Vannin team. A versatile defender, Sharkey played for Rochester Lancers in the USA but joined League of Ireland club side Derry City in December. He played in the World Football Cup, and is relishing the opportunity to represent his island again.

“Representing the Isle of Man is pretty amazing.” He remarks. “When I play I have a beaming smile knowing I am about to do my family, friends and country proud.”

He – like the rest of the Ellan Vannin squad – is also keen on beating the County of Nice in June. “Yes, we definitely want to get some revenge for what happened in Sweden. The games against them have been very tight so hopefully we can come out on top this time.”

Sharkey, who scored against Iraqi Kurdistan in the quarter-finals, plays a higher level of football than the majority of the Ellan Vannin squad, which mostly comprises footballers playing on an amateur basis on the Isle of Man. He says that it is important for more Manx footballers to play abroad – but also concedes that there is a lack of interest on English clubs’ behalf in Manx youngsters.

“I think if the (Manx) players were playing at a better standard of football every week they would be become better footballers.” He comments. “There are some good players over there, who, if they were in England as teenagers, they would have been snapped up by professional teams.”

However, the squad is still strong enough for the Manxmen to target European glory this June according to Sharkey.

“It would be silly of us to go there and not aim to come home as champions.” He says, confidently. “We would like to build upon our sucess last year so winning it would be our next achievement.”

Ellan Vannin’s is an incredible story of determination. Faced with sanctions from the Isle of Man County FA, the team ploughed on, eventually acheiving hero status on the island. Regardless of where the Manxmen end up in the ConIFA European Championships, it’s clear that they are a team heading in the right direction.

It’s an exciting period in the history of Manx football, and the youngsters like Ellan Vannin international Rowan Richardson – who plays for Blackpool Academy – are setting the benchmark for young footballers from the island. A victory in the ConIFA European Championships would be a fantastic way to elaborate on last year’s success for Ellan Vannin and the Manx IFA and would bring immense pride and joy to the Isle of Man. It may not carry the same pedigree as the 1966 FIFA World Cup win for England, but it would be just as prestigous an achievement for the Manx.

The future of football on the island of Saint Helena

The Premier League is rolling towards its conclusion, and the fate of all clubs will be decided by the remaining fixtures yet to be contested. However, as the 2014-15 campaign approaches the finale, another league is about to commence. Tomos Knox interviewed Damien O’Bey, to give us more insight.

The league in question is perhaps not as well-known nor as rich, but its title still evokes relative pedigree. The Barclays Premier League may be the most-viewed league on earth, but the Saint Helena Football League – located on the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena Island – is equally remarkable, in that it is the most remote league on earth.

Lying 1,200 miles away from the African continent, Saint Helena is a small island situated in the South Atlantic Ocean with a population of just under 4,000. Perhaps best known for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of exile – the Frenchman died on the island in 1921 – Saint Helena’s remoteness means that it is both arduous and expensive to travel. An airport is currently being built and is scheduled for completion in 2016. It is hoped amongst locals that the airport will bring along with it a better future for Saint Helena, as the island’s population is decreasing rapidly due to the young men and women being unable to find work on-island.

Football on the island is fairly basic. A senior league runs from May until November and there are also junior competitions, but cricket is the dominant sport on Saint Helena. Despite this, former Saint Helena Football Association secretary Damien O’Bey insists that the island’s inhabitants retain a love for The Beautiful Game. Now The St Helena Sentinel’s chief football writer, he is optimistic about football’s future on the island, although he acknowledges that there are problems that need addressing.

“Football is certainly a sport that Saints (St Helenians) enjoy, in terms of popularity it’s probably the most popular sport on St Helena based on numbers who participate and watch”, he says. “There are other sports which have higher participation numbers, but have fewer spectators.”

Despite the popularity of the English Premier League, islanders retain their enthusiasm for the Saint Helena Football League. It may only be an amateur league, but it is fiercely contested and supporters are always to be found on the island’s only football pitch: Francis Plain.

Francis Plain

“Due to Saint Helena’s small population the anticipation and high levels of enthusiasm is felt throughout the Island.” O’Bey explains. “The league is normally a highly competitive event, with between 3 to 4 teams vying for the title each season.”

However, the Saint Helena Football Association receives no funding whatsoever from the English FA, despite being a British island. This means that money can often be in short supply. Also, problems with bad weather meant that the league lost almost 8 weeks last year, which proved incredibly problematic for the SHFA.

“Having just the one pitch to play all of the island’s outdoor sports can throw up problems with maintenance and the time available for each association to complete their respective sports”, O’Bey comments. It is an opinion shared by many. But, due to St Helena’s mountainous and rugged terrain, it would be extremely difficult to build another pitch.

It also seems that St Helena’s footballing community have aspirations on a more international scale. As recently as 2011 it was proposed that the island should send a team to the Island Games, an Olympic-themed tournament for islands all over the world. Amongst its more notable members are Bermuda, Greenland, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, and Saint Helena’s south westerly “neighbours”, Falkland Islands. St Helena are members, but have never sent along a football team. Sadly, due to the sheer costliness of such a project, the proposal amounted to nothing – with financial difficulties playing an integral role in the downfall of the dream. All the same, islanders remain hopeful that with the airport, and cheaper travel, the Saint Helena national football team will compete in the Island Games.

“Great amounts of training will be required for a team to reach the standard capable enough to participate in such a competition.” He concedes. Despite this, Saint Helena have a good grassroots system in place, and it is no surprise that football on the island is played to a high standard, undeterred by the meagre population.

“There is quite a good youth setup in place for football.” States O’Bey. “ After-school clubs are hosted on a weekly basis in various districts on the island during the football season, and leagues for various age groups are contested alongside the senior league.

According to Damien O’Bey, the next step is to form a national team that could compete at the Island Games or another similar tournament. And, as the airport nears its opening, this may be sooner rather than later. The Saint Helena FA have also contacted FIFA recently, and with Gibraltar, another British Overseas Territory, part of UEFA, there is no reason as to why they would be unable to join the global governing body. However, it remains unlikely that they will join.

For Saint Helena and its community, a national football team would be something that would be able to take pride in. As of yet, the island’s national cricket have been making strides since joining the ICC, so the same could go for the football side, albeit on a smaller scale. These are exciting times for Saint Helenian sport. The future is bright.

Guest Blog: Chris Darwen on CD Torrevieja

The fans were amazed, they had not seen football like this for many years.  The final whistle went and the players celebrated with a sense of pride and relief that their seven game winless streak was over.  The new manager, who had instigated the change in style that led to the 6-1 win, beamed a huge smile at a debut he could not have imagined.

CD Torrevieja had just beaten CD Acero 6-1 at Estadio Vicente Garcia in the Tercera Group VI, a result produced under the watchful eye of new manager Pedreno who replaced the sacked Galiana the previous weekend.  For a team that had not scored six goals since Christmas, to beat the opponent’s goalkeeper that many times was little short of remarkable, considering that CD Acero were only one place and one point behind them.

CD Torrevieja are a little Spanish football club based on the Costa Blanca.  Except they are no longer just a Spanish football club, they are an international football club.  Torrevieja as a town has a population of about 100,000 people when everyone is here, but it is the sort of place where people have a holiday home, meaning that for nine months of the year it is very, very quiet.  The town itself has a healthy mix of residents.  We have the Spanish locals of course, and then a high percentage of ex-pats, be them British, Russian, German, French or Scandanavian.

This, in turn, is shown in the football club.  The board is an even split of Spanish and British and the small gates at the ground are made up of a mix of the local community.  In recent weeks, following the addition of a new board member to drive more commerical & PR activity, CD Torrevieja have had their membership base, or Socios as they are called in Spain, almost double with people signing up from the USA, Canada, Norway and the UK to get behind the club.

The new member of the board, Chris Darwen, explains more.  “I joined the club at the start of March having moved out here.  One of the first things I did, having fired them up on the computer game Football Manager 2015 and got them promoted, was go and watch a game and I instantly felt a connection with the place.  I then contacted the club and offered my services to help the club commercially with a simple, but ambitious aim to get them self-sufficient in the next three years.  We have a wonderful president at the club and he, like many others in lower level football across the world, funds the shortfall in revenue from his own back pocket.  When I heard that the club used to have a following in the thousands at home games and now it is down in the lower hundreds, it became an instant challenge to me.”

CD Torrevieja had been followed by a large and loyal set of fans and just under a decade ago would regularly run out at Estadio Vicente Garcia to a crowd of over 3000.  That crowd were made up predominantly of British ex-pats, members of the “Torry Army”, an official Pena made up of retiring British football fans living on the Costa Blanca.  Following some internal club politics seeing a large chunk of the fans switch allegiance to another local club, many growing old and moving back to the UK to see out their years and, frankly, some passing away the “Torry Army” has dwindled in numbers and have not been replaced.

Darwen continues.  “It is not living in the past to think we can get those sorts of numbers into the club again.  Maybe not from exactly the same source as before, sure, but the club feels very disconnected from it’s local community.  By that I mean, it is not a British club.  It is not a Spanish club.  It is the official club of Torrevieja which is a truly international town, therefore as a club we have to start working harder and connecting with it’s local community and not just expect people to turn up.  That doesn’t mean go out and just tell people to come and watch, it is giving them something they feel they are a part of, can have a say in and really be proud of.  I look at some of the football clubs that I really respect, and they have a huge element of ‘fan ownership.’  I don’t just mean literally owning the fixtures and fittings of the club, but the local community own the club in the sense that they want to be part of it, will help it and feel like they are getting something in return.  It is not just about money, if as a club we start doing the right things then I am sure the revenues will increase, but we cannot just chase the money from the word go.”

Darwen has many new initiatives that will be launched between now and the start of the 2015/16 season and has been helped by the side winning 6-1 at the weekend, under the watchful eye of the new coach, Pedreno.  One of the early ones that has been successful has seen the club form an official link with a website that is made up of fans and players of the computer game Football Manager 2015.

“It has been amazing,” said Darwen “and it shows that even by not being here that people can feel part of the club.  The group did a fundraising event earlier in the month and raised over €400 in return for signed merchandise from the players and plenty of thanks.  No other club has ever had this kind of link in the Football Manager community and we are very proud.”

CD Torrevieja are a club that needs to embrace the international culture it lives in.  New people that move to Torrevieja or even just come on holiday do look to see what the local club is, especially if they are football fans.  If the club can become the hub of the community, where new people can come to make friends, feel part of Torrevieja and help people start to call the town home then it will not be long before the community will stand up and be proud of their football club.

 Written by Chris Darwen // @ComeOnTheOviedo

If you are interested in becoming an official member of CD Torrevieja, please email Chris Darwen on cdtorreviejaofficial@gmail.com

The Plight of American Samoa

It’s April 2001, and American Samoa goalkeeper, Nicky Salapu, lies on the ground beside his goal. The rest of his team are also flung on the pitch’s surface; battered, beaten, like fallen soldiers in a battlefield.

Salapu raises his head for just a moment, before slumping to the floor again, as his opponents; his tormentors – Australia – depart the International Sports Stadium, satisfied.

They have won, and by a fine margin, too – thirty-one goals, in fact. The final score reads Australia 31-0 American Samoa. It remains the largest victory ever to be witnessed in an international football match.

The game was destined to be one-sided. American Samoa, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, possessing a meagre population of just 54,000, were facing a country boasting 23,000,000 inhabitants, a professional football league, and a squad positively teeming with potential.

The American Samoans were embarking on their first ever World Cup qualification campaign, and previous to their encounter with Australia, had lost 13-0 to Fiji, and then 8-0 to their ultimate rivals, Samoa. The fear was: if Fiji could put thirteen goals past American Samoa, who knows what the score would be versus Oceanian giants Australia?

It didn’t help that American Samoans were found to have only one of their original 20-man squad eligible to play – goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. More problems followed, as they were unable to include the under 20 internationals in their side – they were involved in high-school exams at the time.

The resulting squad comprised three 15-year-olds in a team with an average age of just 18. Then-Football Federation American Samoa vice-president Tony Langkilde would later go on to admit that some members of that team had never played an entire 90-minute match.

It was a side riddled with weaknesses, and no apparent strengths.

Ten minutes in, and Australia had yet to score. Nicky Salapu, in the American Samoa goal was having the game of his life, making a string of excellent stops. Then, following a corner to Australia, midfielder Con Boutsianis scored.

And then Archie Thompson netted, in the 12th minute, before his striker partner David Zdrilic, found the net just a minute later. The goals kept on coming. By half-time it was 16-0.

The second half brought more goals, and by time that the whistle sounded for full-time, the American Samoan players crumpled to the ground, some exhausted, most merely crushed by the wrath of their opponents.

The scoreboard mistakenly read 32-0, but that made no difference to the American Samoans; the meagre strands of optimism ahead of the remainder of the World Cup qualifying campaign had been blown away, in the cruellest of ways.

“I couldn’t see any reason why they (Australia) would want to score so many goals,” said manager Tunoa Lui, after the match. It was an opinion shared by many, including Rangers manager Dick Advocaat, who happened to manage Scottish club Rangers at the time.

When Australian internationals Craig Moore and Tony Vidmar returned from the Australian camp to Rangers, Advocaat proceeded to drop them for the team’s next match, versus Dundee, later citing their behaviour as “unsportsmanlike”.

It would be a match that would prove to hamper the development of the American Samoa national football team. The internet was awash with news of the match, highlights of which was being broadcast on international television. This, of course, generated a lot of negative publicity for the Samoans, Nicky Salapu especially.

“In Seattle (where Salapu now lives) most of the players there say ‘are you from American Samoa, you gave up thirty-one goals’. They make jokes of me,” he said in 2011.

This harrowing defeat would go on to haunt Salapu over the next ten years. “We shouldn’t have taken a team,” he recalls. “That was a huge mistake.”

The loss, however did not only affect Nicky Salapu – it also influenced the rest of the team. Confidence was lost following the match; nobody expected to win. There was no winning mentality, for what was left of it vanished in the aftermath of their contest with Australia.

However, there was an inkling of hope for the future of the American Samoa team, as they defeated Tonga in 2011, emerging victorious by a 2-1 score-line. In the team on that day was Jaiyah Saelua, the first transgender footballer to compete in a men’s FIFA World Cup qualifier.

A member of the third-gender Fa’afafine people of Samoa, she was first drafted in to the national football team at the age of just 14, and is now one of the side’s most integral players, starring in her role at centre-back.

The emergence of a new generation of Samoan footballers means that foreign clubs are beginning to show interest: midfielder Ramin Ott and Justin Manao are amongst the most recent to play abroad: Ott in New Zealand with Bay Olympic, and Manao in the USA, with PLU Lutes.

The goal for the FFAS is now to produce a player of European league standards, although this is more of a long-term ambition. Obesity is rife in American Samoa, and with rugby and American football reigning supreme, football is fighting a tough battle to make its mark on the tiny island nation.

It is extremely unlikely that a loss of such magnitude will ever occur again in international football, as the minnows of global football are slowly – albeit surely – improving.

Regardless of whether American Samoa will ever develop to the point in which they are challenging New Zealand for the title of best team in Oceania, football is grabbing a foothold in the island’s community.

Football on the islands of American Samoa is combating fast-food and rugby, and is slowly beginning to gain the upper hand. Possessing a structured setup, as well as a national side, the Pacific island nation may suffer from a lack of interest in The Beautiful Game, but an ongoing grassroots programme funded by the Football Federation American Samoa is changing this – never before has there been so large a quantity of enthusiasm for football.

In the aftermath of their thirty-one to nil defeat, American Samoa were mocked and ridiculed by the press. Following their infamous loss, they fell into footballing obscurity for ten years, until in 2011, they succeeded in beating Tonga 2-1. An uncomfortable win, admittedly, but a win nevertheless – and a sign of better things to come.

Back from the ashes: The Story of Montserratian football

In July 1995, Montserrat – a small island in the Caribbean – was shrouded in smoke as its Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, destroying the island’s capital Plymouth in the midst of its relentless onslaught. Following Plymouth’s destruction, half of Montserrat’s population left the island for good, convinced that the economy had been crushed. Only two years later, a pyroclastic flow travelled from Mosquito Ghaut, tragically killing 19 people. The southern part of Montserrat has now been deemed unsafe, and is no longer inhabited. The old capital, Plymouth, once the hub of the island’s life, lies desolate in the shadow of the volcano. Instead of boasting 4,000 inhabitants like before, the former capital of Montserrat is empty, devoid of the life once found on its streets.

Now boasting a population of just less than 5,000, the “Emerald Isle” has been seriously damaged by this tragic occurrence. With its capital demolished, half of its population leaving for Britain and a lack of an economy, things were looking relatively grim for Montserrat. However, football somehow pulled through and continues to maintain its position as one of Montserrat’s top sports. Somewhat surprisingly, the island’s national team only began playing four years before the Soufrière Hills disaster.

Montserrat played their inaugural international versus St. Lucia in 1991 during the Caribbean Cup, losing 3-0 to the hosts. However, despite this setback Montserrat bounced back, grabbing an impressive 1-1 draw against Anguilla. The island proceeded to compete in the next Caribbean Cup, but crashed out after suffering some heavy defeats at the hands of both St. Kitts and Nevis and Antiqua and Barbuda, rounding off rather a cataclysmal display. In 1994, three years after the establishment of the Montserrat national football team, the Montserrat Football Association (MFA) was formed and subsequently joined CONCACAF. Montserrat played their first ever home match on the March 26th, 1995 in Plymouth, gaining their first win by defeating Anguilla 3-2. A subsequent victory over Anguilla guaranteed their place in the 1995 Caribbean Cup.

However, Montserrat exited from the Caribbean Cup after losing to St. Vincent and Grenadines by an aggregate score of 20-0 and, as the Soufrière Hills volcano became unsafe, erupting on a number of different occasions, a large number of the island’s footballers departed, taking up the UK Government’s offer of residency in Britain. It wasn’t until 1999 that Montserrat played a football match again – returning after a four year hiatus.

Montserrat returned a far weaker side as a consequence. The island did not even enter the 1998 World Cup qualifiers. Unsurprisingly, on their return to international football, playing in the 1999 edition of the Caribbean Cup, they lost 1-6 on aggregate to the British Virgin Islands, leaving them last in Group D, which, as Anguilla withdrew, comprised of just the two teams. These two defeats resulted in Montserrat departing the tournament, which would eventually be won by Trinidad and Tobago, without registering a draw, let alone a win. However, when taking into consideration the various factors weighing against the Montserratians, the tournament was not all that big a disaster; the fact that the islanders could still manage to field a team was an achievement in itself.

Due to their missing out on the World Cup qualifiers in 1998, 2002 marked Montserrat’s inaugural World Cup qualification campaign. This campaign was, however, to be short-lived, as they were defeated twice by the Dominican Republic.

All the same, Montserrat were not excessively upset by these two defeats. True, they may have lost by a fine margin of 6-1 on aggregate to another similarly weak side, but a glimmer of hope had emerged; Montserrat had scored their first goal in an international competition. This was the starting point of something that Montserrat hoped would develop. It was now time to improve.

And Montserrat received the exact opportunity to do this, as, in a fixture dubbed “The Other Final”, they contested the other team lying last in the FIFA World Rankings alongside themselves, Bhutan.

The match was to be held on the day of the World Cup final – the 30th of July, 2002, in Thimphu. The interest surrounding the match was considerable, and Premier League referee Steve Bennett officiated the match. Played in front of 25,000 supporters, most of, if not all of, whom where Bhutan fans, it was the chance that Montserrat needed, an opportunity to gain a victory and a move from the basement of FIFA’s rankings system.

However, there was to be no fairytale ending for Montserrat as they crumbled to a 4-0 defeat. Wangay Dorji of Bhutan grabbed himself a hat-trick, while Dinesh Chhetri scored the other goal for the hosts.

Over a decade on from their loss at the hands of Bhutan, Montserrat continues to plough on in hope of World Cup qualification, although their dream looks more and more unlikely as time goes by. Over the course of the last decade, they’ve lost 13-1 to Bermuda, 7-0 to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and have been defeated 7-1, not once but twice, by Suriname.

However, the “Emerald Isle” managed something quite unexpected in 2012. Montserrat, facing the British Virgin Islands on the 9th of September 2012, emerged victorious by a colossal 7-0 scoreline, as Marlon Campbell and Ellis Remy bagged two goals apiece and Darryl Roach, Bradley Woods-Garness also scored, while the seventh was an own goal: the culprit was British Virgin Islands’ Jamal Sargeant.

For Montserrat, this victory meant a lot. During their short and arid football history, they had achieved very little up to this point, and to maul a fellow British Overseas Territory was also special in its own way; a derby of sorts!

It is fair to say that this win spurred the Montserratians on to better things, as in their next match, versus the US Virgin Islands on the 30th of May, 2014, Montserrat were the winners, with their prolific striker Jaylee Hodgson scoring the only goal of the match.

Montserrat had only just started making small footprints in Caribbean football in the years leading up to that fateful day in July 1995. They were a fledgling side, a team that could eventually become a giant in the world of island football. However, in a series of incidents that nobody could have predicted, the Montserrat Football Association’s dream of fielding a side capable of competing with the best of the CONCACAF teams was cruelly struck away by mere fate. As thousands of Montserratians departed the island they once called home, hundreds of potential footballers were whisked away by their parents, to live in the United Kingdom. Had the Soufrière Hills volcano never erupted, perhaps the Montserrat national football team would be winning matches on a regular basis, challenging opponents of a higher standard, for example Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, both having qualified for the World Cup on separate occasions. However, this is not important at the moment, because the team that currently represents Montserrat recovered from the wounds that the Soufrière Hills volcano inflicted upon their island when they hammered seven goals without reply against the British Virgin Islands. The only place that the Montserrat national football team will go from now on is onwards, and upwards!

Punk football: FC St Pauli

For most fans, supporting their club conveys pride and joy, to see the fruits of their youth team set up burgeoning is the greatest feeling on earth. They will follow their team through its highs and its lows. They will travel hundreds of miles to watch them playing, be they opposing Slavia Prague, or Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’. Supporting a football club is almost akin to marrying; you know, at the point you start supporting a team, that you will dedicate the rest of your life to watching them play.

However, if you happen to be supporting a team going by the name of FC St. Pauli, the fact that you are supporting them at all may have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you’re passionate about football; supporting St Pauli is about making a statement.

In Hamburg, there are two big football clubs: Hamburger SV and St Pauli. HSV, awash with cash, are dubbed H$V by St Pauli fans, in reference to their wealth. Meanwhile FC St Pauli, based in the Sankt Pauli district of the same city, are completely the opposite.

A poor yet popular district, Sankt Pauli was, in the 1980’s, an impoverished neighbourhood; a hub for prostitutes, thieves and lepers. Known as the “die sündige Meile”- the “kilometre of sin” it also plays host to FC St. Pauli.

In the 1980’s, with anti-Semitism and right-wing fascism sweeping over Europe’s footballing community, it was inevitable that clubs in Germany would be affected. That is, apart from one. FC St Pauli’s new left-wing fan base adopted the ‘Skull and Crossbones’ banner as their unofficial club emblem. They were the first team in Germany to ban all right-wing nationalist activities. These supporters had emerged in a period of transition for the club, most of them moving from the more successful Hamburger SV, against its right wing nationalist fans. An alternative fan base had been created. The typically idiotic fan who hurls obscene insults at the referee was not to be seen at the Millerntor Stadion; St Pauli’s followers were in fact peaceful advocates of left-wing politics.

Even now, St. Pauli’s cult atmosphere is still in evidence. Playing AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” before every match, and celebrating home goals with Blur’s “Song 2”, they are very much the same as they were in the1980’s. Famously, the club once had an openly gay president, namely Corny Littman. And in 2006, at a time when World Cup fever was gripping the nation firmly, the decided to create their own.

The FIFI Wild Cup was a concept made up entirely by FC St. Pauli, featuring unrecognised sides such as Tibet, Greenland, Zanzibar, Northern Cyprus, Gibraltar (now part of UEFA) and the rather dubiously titled Republic of Sankt Pauli!

The tournament was a success. Tibet’s side was lacking in experience, and suffered heavy defeats at the hands of St. Pauli and Gibraltar in Group A, while Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar dominated Group B, sending Greenland home without a single point to their name. In the semi-finals that ensued, Northern Cyprus would go on to beat Gibraltar 2-0, while the ‘Republic of Sankt Pauli’ crashed out following a 2-1 defeat by Zanzibar; the Africans proving superior to the host ‘nation’. The final was an exciting affair, held at the Millerntor Stadion, as had been the case for every match. The hosts were out, but a good crowd still turned up to the ground. The match was tense and at 90 minutes the score was still 0-0. Nobody was quite sure what to do, after all, this was a far cry from the FIFA World Cup. Finally, it was decided that the winners would compete in a penalty shoot-out, and Northern Cyprus emerged the victorious side, winning by a comfortable margin of 4-1.

FC St. Pauli does not exist for the purpose of making money, nor do their fans care if they are playing in the Bundesliga or the Hamburg regional league. One of its fundamental principles is that:

“In its totality, consisting of members, staff, fans and honorary officers, St. Pauli FC is a part of the society by which it is surrounded and so is affected both directly and indirectly by social changes in the political, cultural and social spheres.”

The first club in Germany to integrate Fundamental Principles, St. Pauli are a club that goes beyond football. With most of their fans priding themselves on being anti-racist, fascist, sexist and homophobic, the team have also embraced these views and in 2002, banned adverts for men’s magazine Maxim due to fan protests over the sexist depiction of women on the advertisements.

St. Pauli is also a global symbol for Punk. Many music groups have worn the famous brown and white shirt, including Gaslight Anthem and Asian Dub Foundation, while Andrew Eldritch, lead singer of the Sisters of Mercy is an avowed fan. Scottish band The Wakes also wrote a song about the club “The Pirates League” in reference to the club’s Skull and Crossbones links. Although not the official badge, the infamous pirate flag was used as the Republic of Sankt Pauli’s logo for the FIFI Wild Cup, and is also used by the club’s fans.

Despite the club and its fans’ rebellious endeavours, the team itself continue to play in the second division of German football, the Bundesliga 2. Having gained promotion to the Bundesliga in 2010, expectations were relatively high. However, in the ensuing season, St Pauli descended to the bottom of the table, and were then relegated. Still in the same league, the ‘Buccaneers’ finished 8th in the 2013-14 campaign, but promotion looks unlikely for the forthcoming season. Boasting a mediocre side, another mid-table finish looks attainable.

FC St. Pauli may not be getting promoted anytime soon, they may not have the best squad in Germany, but the basis on which it exists does not imply that it must be so. A club that attracts more fans than some Bundesliga sides, St Pauli do not care for the wealth and glory inclusive in a Champions League, nor do their fans care if the manager is undergoing a dismal streak. The basis on which they exist is to be the club that simply promotes key values in its own way.

Falkland Islands football

Football has been popular on the Falklands since the early 20th century, and the islands boast a national team,  indoor football and a youth setup.  However, the local league is not active at the moment, as local FA Chairman Michael Betts explains. “The league hasn’t been disbanded as such, but the Football Club decided not to organise in the last few years due to the inadequate football facilities that we currently have in the islands”. The disadvantage of not having a league on the islands is that promising players don’t have the chance to develop their skills in a competitive division. Also, the lack of a league has affected the national side, who are struggling to find new players, due to the lack of football activity on the Falklands. The national side play friendly matches against visiting Navy ships, as well as military personnel and employees of the contractors at the military base according to Michael.

Michael Betts has played for the Falkland Islands a number of times, first drafted in to the squad at the age of 15! After 3 Island Games, the last being Bermuda 2013 in which the Falklands walked away with the Small Islands Cup, triumphing 2-1 over Froya, a Norwegian island of 4,000 inhabitants.

9.8 percent of the Falkland Islands population is made up of Saint Helenians from the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, famous for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of death. So it would make sense that footballers from St Helena have represented the Falklands internationally, with Adam Glanville and Jeremy Henry among the most recent Saints to represent the national side. The Saint Helena population on the Falklands had their very own All Saints side a few years ago, Michael says. “There was an All Saints team in the football league and they had a very strong team.  The core of that team did play for the Falklands national team and have played an important role.”. Unfortunately, when the league stopped, so did the All Saints, and while football on Helena was blossoming, 2011 signified the end of a local league on the Falklands, or temporarily, at least.

However, Michael and the FIFL are looking towards the future, and the dream is to have an artificial football pitch. “The Football Club hope that the Falkland Islands Government considers investing in sporting facilities in the islands as the current football facilities are not ideal.” Michael believes that football could thrive again, and the pitch could be the foundation to footballing success for the Falklands.

Sadly, football on the Falklands can never thrive at the highest level, FIFA are not even willing to consider the possibility of the Falkland Islands joining, due to the politics in South America. So for the moment, Falkland football enthusiasts will have to stick to the bi-annual Island Games, and the proposed British Overseas Territories football tournament that could see the Falklands pitted against South Atlantic rivals Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha or Ascension Island. It could also see them playing Gibraltar, who have recently joined UEFA, or Montserrat, who are established FIFA members. Lack of funding will make this tournament very difficult to turn into a reality, but it could see the Falklands finally playing a FIFA-affiliated national football team!

Greenlandic football (Guardian Sport Feature)

Greenland is normally associated with ice and blisteringly cold temperatures. Despite being the world’s largest island, it is the least densely populated country on Earth, with just 57,000 inhabitants. The inhabitants, primarily Greenlandic Inuit but also Greenlandic Danes, speak Danish or Greenlandic. Based in the North Atlantic, it is part of the Danish Commonwealth, like the Faroe Islands, a group of islands west of Scotland. There are barely any roads in Greenland, due to the sheer distance between the sparse collection of settlements. This makes football very difficult – which makes the fact that over 10% of the island’s population plays the game all the more impressive.

Indeed, football is Greenland’s national sport. The first championship was contested in 1958 and the Greenland Football Association (GBU) was formed in 1971. In recent years, with an artificial turf pitch built in Qaqortoq, football has progressed steadily. The Greenland national team have been competing at the Island Games since 1989. They crashed out of the tournament in the semi-finals in their first appearance, but have improved in recent years. They finished second in the 2013 edition of the Games, losing in the final to hosts and approved Fifa members Bermuda. Achievements like these reinforce their dream of international football at a higher level.

However, just playing football in Greenland is more difficult than it may appear. Ice blankets the country for most of the year and football can only be played for roughly three months annually. The sheer distances players must travel – by plane or boat – to reach other settlements in Greenland makes national team training extremely expensive. Adding Greenland’s remote location to the already lengthy list of obstacles presents yet another problem: the average plane ticket costs around £1,000.

These complications partly explain Fifa’s continued refusal to allow Greenland a place in their collection of national football teams. That said, Greenland’s national side did play a high profile match in 2001 that managed to attract the attention of football’s global governing body, although, in Fifa’s case, not for the right reasons.

A young Dane going by the name of Michael Nybrandt contacted the GBU to ask if their national side would be interested in facing the Tibet national football team. The Tibetan squad, of course, was not made up of players from the region itself, but of footballers with Tibetan heritage. The Greenlanders accepted and a match was arranged to be played in Copenhagen.

China, infuriated by this, threatened to embargo Greenland’s shrimp exports, a major industry on the island unless the game was to be cancelled. The Greenlandic government, under enormous pressure, decided to let their football association decide. The GBU sanctioned the match and Tibet versus Greenland, hosted in the Vanlose Arena, took place. In a largely one-sided affair, the Greenlanders proceeded to win 4-1. Despite the Chinese government’s threats, nothing materialised, and shrimp exports have continued.

Greenland also competed in German club St. Pauli’s alternative World Cup in 2006, which was held around the same time as the Fifa World Cup took place in Germany. The competition, ingeniously titled the “Fifi Wild Cup”, featured teams such as Northern Cyprus, Zanzibar, now-Uefa members Gibraltar, Tibet and the Republic of Sankt Pauli. Unfortunately, Greenland were unable to make an impact in the tournament, losing 1-0 to eventual winners Northern Cyprus, and 2-4 to Zanzibar. Although the tournament received a fairly high level of attention, crowds were disappointing, with an average of just 400 people turning up to watch games. Sadly, the inaugural edition of the Fifa Wild Cup was also the last.

But, just a few months later, Greenland travelled to Northern Cyprus to contest the ELF Cup, which was contested by Crimea, Gagauzia (an autonomous region of Moldova), Fifa members Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Tibet, Greenland, and, of course, Northern Cyprus. Greenland fared relatively well, but failed to make it beyond the group stages, overcoming Gagauzia by a comfortable 2-0 scoreline, losing 1-0 to Kyrgyzstan and mustering a 1-1 draw with Zanzibar.

Although they left in disappointment yet again, defender Teller Mortensen managed to reach the Golden Team, an all-star XI made up of the best players in the tournament, which injected a little pride into the heart of the dejected Greenland team. They had performed well and only just missed out on the knock-out stages. Yet again, Northern Cyprus emerged as victors, beating a side that included Denys Holaydo, a four-time Ukrainian international, by three goals to one.

The national football championship in Greenland can only be contested over a series of days as distances between the clubs are too great. Regional qualifiers are played before one large tournament is contested. If Fifa granted Greenland membership, perhaps the money that would bring in could be used to improve the league and help the national team. Greenland should be as eligible for membership as the Faroe Islands, who currently reside within the global governing body’s auspices.

There has been no recent push for Fifa membership from the GBU. Whether that is because they are happy with their current situation or because they have decided to concentrate on the Island Games – due to be held next year in Jersey – is debatable.

With the likes of Niklas Kreutzmann and Joorsi Skade playing in Denmark’s respected professional leagues rather than in their home league in Greeland, it remains to be seen how football will fare on the island. There has been a campaign for a team from Greenland to play in the Danish leagues in the way that Guernsey FC compete in the English league system, but this seems unlikely. After all, if Greenland struggles to send a team to the Island Games, there is little hope of a Greenlandic club sending an 18-man squad to Denmark every fortnight.

In a country where football is impossible for most of the year due to extreme weather conditions that mean grass cannot even grow, the game’s influence is quite astonishing. Not only do they boast a national tournament, but they also have a national football team. Football has a long way to go in the far-flung Greenland but it has at least begun its journey.

This was originally written for These Football Times, which is in partnership with The Guardian. You can see the Guardian featured piece here.

Football Blogging Awards and my journey so far

After a month of vote-gathering, I can safely say that I have qualified for the Football Blogging Awards of 2014, due to be held in the National Football Museum, in Manchester. And, having heard the news, I decided to write something about my journey in football writing so far.

My interest in journalism came when I was about eleven, and I was very interested. Unlike most children of my age, I had already amassed a strangely large amount of footballing knowledge, probably because I couldn’t kick a ball to save my life! However, it wasn’t until early 2014 that I had realised that you cannot become a football journalist, or any kind of journalist for that matter, without any experience whatsoever. I had been remarkably interested in non-FIFA football since around January, and embarked on a tireless project to find a team so remote that nobody else had heard of it. And this is where I discovered the far-flung islands of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Upon realising that football was pretty big out there, I decided to start a blog: SouthAtlanticOceanFootball.blogspot.com, having been inspired by the wonderful Pat’s Football Blog, (an absolutely excellent site may I add). The blog went well, and by May 2014 I had been published in the St Helena Sentinel, a newspaper on the island of Saint Helena, writing about the state of football on the island of Tristan da Cunha. Although it was a fairly poorly written piece, it gave me confidence, and I decided to aim slightly higher.

These Football Times had appealed to me from the beginning. Their site was fantastic, with its sleek design and its equally wonderful collection of articles. I wasn’t initially expecting them to be interested in my piece: it was an article on an alternative World Cup, held in Sweden, for teams not affiliated with FIFA. However, Omar Saleem, the editor, was extremely kind, and published it: my first article for a major website!

Following my success, I decided to experiment with a variety of different websites. World Football Weekly‘s editor Will Burns was also very kind, and published a number of my articles, including an Iran World Cup preview, and a player profile of Joel Campbell. I had come to the conclusion that I could not carry on writing feature articles, but had to write match previews and the like to gain experience, and develop my writing further.

Since the beginning of my time as a football blogger and writer, I have contributed to the likes of These Football Times, Just Football, and The Football Pink. I also run my own blog, which is quite obvious for (yet again!) obvious reasons. I also continue to run my South Atlantic Ocean football blog, but now use the more efficient WordPress as oppose to Google’s Blogger.

I hope to achieve more success, but for now I must continue my writing and hope that one day, I can do it for a living!

South Atlantic Ocean football: far from the madding crowd

Football as we know it is changing before our very eyes. Ticket prices are rising and billionaire club owners are spending obscenely large sums of cash on footballers. However, on a series of remote islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, football continues to do what it ought to do best: bring communities together.

Saint Helena is perhaps best known for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of exile – the Frenchman died on the island in 1821. A small place, St Helena boasts a population of just 4,000 and this number is set to decrease as more young islanders opt to study and work in the UK. It’s hardly surprising; after all, the average annual salary is just £5,500.

However, despite the difficulties involved, Saint Helena has a football league, as well as a football association.

The Saint Helena Football League begins in May and finishes around midway through winter to allow the commencement of the cricket season. Saint Helena is a British owned island, but its’ location means that the winter runs through the UK’s summer, and the summer occurs at roughly the same time as British winter.

The league is an exciting affair for the close-knit community of Saint Helena and large crowds are regularly in attendance. The 2014 league, comprising of 12 teams, has proved to be a tight and testy affair with Rovers and Harts the top two teams contesting for the title. Despite reigning champions St Helena Wirebirds’ disappointing campaign, the team positioned seventh in the league, their star man Jason George has also been the lead scorer thus far with an astonishing 17 goals to his name.

Saint Helena also has aspirations in international football. The island’s FA attempted to send a team to the 2011 Island Games in the Isle of Wight, an Olympic-themed competition for small islands throughout the world. The aim was to send a squad of around 17: five players from the island and the rest from the UK with Saint Helenian roots. Unfortunately nothing ever materialised, with financial difficulties playing an integral part in the downfall of their dream.

The Saint Helena FA have also contacted FIFA recently, and with Gibraltar, another British Overseas Territory, now a part of UEFA, there is no reason as to why they would be unable to join the global governing body.

However, in Tristan da Cunha’s case, this might be slightly more difficult. A volcanic island over a thousand miles away from Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha has a population of just 300 people. Named after explorer Tristao da Cunha, football is an integral part of many islanders’ lives, including Leon Glass, who founded Tristan’s first- and only- football club, Tristan da Cunha FC.

“The Tristan football Team was founded in 2002 as the introduction of TV increased the interest in football,” he says. “We play as soon as we get visiting opponents, but there have been none in the last few years. I don’t think it would be possible to found another team here as there is few opponents to play. Interest in joining the team has dropped.”

Tristan da Cunha FC is the most remote football club in the world. Although they have played matches before, against Navy ships, their location is an enormous disadvantage.

Leon Glass has, like Saint Helena, considered the possibility of sending a team to the Island Games:
“We have discussed this [the Island Games] but the logistics and funding makes it very difficult for us to travel. We would love to take the club abroad should the we obtain funding and the right opportunity arrive.”

Unfortunately, a lack of matches has taken its toll on the club, who now field a five-a-side team. Despite the team’s grandiose “remotest team in the world” title, they continue to struggle onwards, a team without an opposition.

However, on an island over a thousand miles away, the situation couldn’t be more different. Ascension Island has roughly 800 inhabitants, the majority of whom are originally Saint Helenian, British or American. Like Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, it is ruled by Britain. Football is very popular on the island and, akin to their larger counterpart Saint Helena, they boast their own league.

Football on the island is not without its difficulties, mind you. The only football pitch on the island is situated beside the beach and tortoises can regularly be seen resting on the playing surface. The field has barely any grass on it. Promisingly, there are plans to build a new one at some point as local football journalist Catherine Leo explains.

“A new pitch will be built but there is still time with the current one. Lots of history steeped in the Longbeach football field that some people won’t want to let go of but I believe when a new one is built, it will probably offer a better facility in that it can be used for other sport and will most likely be close to the island school so they too can make use of it.”

Due to the fact that there are no permanent residents as such on the island – the inhabitants are on work permits – a team in the Island Games is all but impossible. The league, however, is in full swing.
The Ascension Island Football League features around six teams, including Inbetweeners, Two Boats United, and the reigning champions, VC Milan. It’s the most popular sport on the island and the local newspaper, The Islander, includes match reports and analysis, while the Saint Helena Sentinel often dedicates a page to the Ascension league.

Ascension Island’s population may be meagre, but driven by determination and a love for the game, their teams continue to arrive at the Longbeach football pitch every Saturday to find it invaded by tortoises or flooded. In true British fashion, they carry on nevertheless.

Departing Ascension Island and heading south, you’ll find the Falkland Islands, the location of the tragic war between Britain and Argentina. The Falkland Islands have something that no other island in the South Atlantic Ocean do; they have a national football team. But, despite this, they do not currently have a league.

Football on the islands has been dwindling over the last decade. The Falkland Islands Football League – the governing body for football on the islands – gave up on the league in 2011 when there were just four teams competing. A lack of interest is one problem with cricket the more popular sport. But despite not having a league, the Falklands continue to compete in the Island Games, facing the likes of FIFA members Bermuda and UEFA members Gibraltar, as well as the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Greenland. Their record in the tournament is largely unforgettable, but they did manage to clinch a bronze medal in the 2013 event, held in the British territory of Bermuda.

Sadly, playing football at FIFA level is all but impossible for the Falklanders, as the Falkland Islands Football League chairman Michael Betts says.

“Unfortunately, due to the politics in South America, joining FIFA is not, and never will be, an option.”
The Falkand dream is not yet over as hope prevails that the league will recommence and signify a return to organized football on the Islands. The FIFL are hoping to receive a grant from the Falkland government for an artificial football pitch as the facilities currently available are not ideal. High winds and extreme winters make grass pitches difficult to maintain.

From a league that plays in the shadow of tortoises, to a team stranded thousands of miles away from their nearest club and unable to play a competitive match for three years, the mesmerizing islands of the South Atlantic Ocean go to extraordinary lengths just to enjoy a game of football.

Sark FC: The Worst Team in the World?

It’s 2003, and the Island Games, an Olympic themed tournament for islands all over the world, is just about to begin. Hosted in Guernsey, it includes triathlon, sailing, basketball, and of course, football.

The opening ceremony, held on the seafront in St Peter’s Port, was a far cry from the multi-million pound Olympic Games ceremonies, but it still attracted thousands of people. Instead of parading around a monsterously large stadium, the 2,500 competitors and officials walked from North Beach to Albert Pier, drawing applause from the crowd. Among the 23 islands were Greenland, debutants Bermuda, and Sark. Although the latter had competed in previous editions of the Games, this was to be the first time that they would enter a football team.

Football was first played on Sark in the 1950s, with islanders typically playing friendlies against visiting ships’ crew members and seasonal staff coming to work in the summer. But it wasn’t until 2001 that an official football team was created, Sark FC.

Having joined the Guernsey FA, Sark Football Club played in the GFA Cup for three years and regularly played against social club teams from Guernsey. However, Sark’s footballing community were on the hunt for a more competitive action. They entered a football team for the 2003 Island Games, just two years after founding the island’s football club.

With a population of just 600, it was inevitable that Sark’s national football team would be the outsiders. Competing against the likes of Greenland, which boasts 55,000 inhabitants, and Guernsey – population 65,000 – Sark were the underdogs from the outset.

Unfortunately, Sark’s first encounter in resulted in defeat, a significant defeat at that – they lost 19-0 to Gibraltar. This was a loss that struck deep wounds into the heart of the Sark squad, quite literally. In the three matches that ensued, Sark’s team was made up of the players who weren’t nursing an injury. This was a factor that created immense difficulty for the Sarkees, but it was the inexperience and lack of fitness of a squad including 50-year olds that ultimately ruined Sark’s tournament.

Following their humiliation at the hands of Gibraltar, Sark went on to lose 20-0 to the Isle of Wight, 16-0 to Greenland, and even received a drubbing by Frøya; a tiny Norwegian island of 4,000 people. Sark’s football team conceded 70 goals, and scored none.

Sark have not competed in the Island Games football tournament since their humiliating 2003 campaign, somewhat unsurprisingly, but continue to retain the slightly unfasionable title of ‘worst football team in the world’. Chris Drillot, Sark FC’s Chairman, believes that labelling Sark as the world’s worst team is unjust:

‘We might have the worst record in one tournament, but that was 11 years ago, our team has changed a lot and we have a good record in friendly matches’

Sark are no longer part of the Guernsey Football Association, and because of this have no official season. But, in spite of having no organised competition to take part in, they continue to play friendlies against social clubs from neighbouring islands.

But, like every ‘non-FIFA’ team, Sark are on the hunt for more meaningful games and are hoping to play a few ‘international’ matches soon:

‘ We are trying to play Herm and Alderney this season, as for Guernsey and Jersey, I don’t think this will happen’

And, with Sark on the hunt for competitive football, could this signify a dramatic return to international football for the ‘world’s worst football team’ in the 2015 Island Games, scheduled to be held in Jersey? Drillot doesn’t think so.

‘We do not have a big enough squad at the moment (to compete in the Island Games) but we never say we will not do it in some time’

Should Sark play Alderney and Herm, the latter comprising of just 60 inhabitants, they may be able to toss away the unwanted title of being recognised as the worst football team in the world, and become a competitive side. Alderney, who compete in the annual Muratti Vase alongside Channel Island heavyweights Guernsey and Jersey, however, may prove to be more difficult opposition.

The plight of Sark’s football club has taken a turn for the better recently, and with more and more locals becoming immersed in the ‘Beautiful Game’, who knows, maybe they will feature in the 2015 Island Games- after all, it isn’t wise to predict football!

Guernsey’s international aspirations rise above their domestic success

Guernsey FC, despite some excellent performances, remain in the Isthmian First Division South. But as their domestic progress grinds to a halt, the international aspirations of Guernsey’s Football Association go far beyond the fourth step of the non-league football pyramid.Guernsey FC was formed in 2011 to provide the island’s most prestigious footballing talents with an opportunity to play football to a higher level without having to leave home. Integrated into the English football pyramid in 2011, Guernsey FC began playing in the Combined Counties League on the 6th of August that year, facing Knaphill FC.

This inaugural season was to be a success for Guernsey, whose club president is none other than former Southampton great Matt Le Tissier. They won the 2011-12 Combined Counties League Divison One with ease, hammering second-placed Bedfont Sports 7-1 en route to promotion.

However, the 2012-13 Combined Counties Premier Division campaign was difficult and, due to postponed fixtures, a number of matches had to be played at once, the result being that the Green Lions ended up playing a remarkable 16 matches in just 30 days!

Incredibly, Guernsey FC secured promotion after finishing second, surpassing all expectations. The 2013-14 season would be the club’s third campaign playing in as many leagues. Having been promoted from the Combined Counties Premier Division to the Ryman Isthmian League Division One South, Guernsey embarked on another impressive season, finishing 4th, but losing to Leatherhead FC in the play-off semi-final. The remarkable run of three promotions in three years had ground to a halt.

International competition at the Island Games

As it happens, Guernsey FC aren’t the only representative football team for Guernsey.

The Guernsey ‘national’ football team has been in existence ever since 1905, competing for the annual Muratti Vase against fellow Channel Islands Alderney and Jersey. However, not only do Guernsey compete in the Muratti Vase, they also compete in the Island Games, an Olympic-themed tournament for islands all over the globe.

Amongst its members are Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and a host of other British islands, including Anglesey in Wales, the Isle of Wight, and the Shetlands of Scotland. Just like the Olympics, the Island Games boasts a football tournament, but there are no Brazils or Spains to be found.

Instead, the footballing outsiders of this world emerge from their far-flung islands to play in what could be considered the most diverse of footballing competitions.

Guernsey, despite being rather a small island, boasts a team capable of winning the Island Games football tournament, with Guernsey FC players Chris Tardif, Jamie Dodd and Simon Geall among the regulars.

The team’s manager, Stephen Sharman has faith in his Guernsey side, telling Tomos Knox, on behalf of Just Football:

“I have the utmost confidence in the group of players that we currently have on the Island and within the National Group.  They have risen to every challenge so far that has been put in front of them and are still developing as individuals and as a group.”

Guernsey’s attempts to join FIFA and UEFA

The Guernseymen still have a way to go, with their last Island Games golds coming in 2001 and 2003, but Guernsey Football Association chairman Chris Schofield believes that Guernsey may have a chance of joining FIFA or UEFA.

“Given that Gibraltar, who we will be playing in the Island Games have recently been accepted by UEFA, it may be possible,” Schofield told Tomos.

However, Sharman disagrees, saying that Jersey are the more likely candidates. Phil Austin, of the Jersey Football Association, says he prefers to not to get too optimistic regarding his island’s chances:

“Jersey looked at joining UEFA or FIFA a number of years ago but it seems that those sort of opportunities are no longer available to us. As you know, Gibraltar have recently gone down that route but, as we understand it, that door is now closed. However, we will continue to explore opportunities.”

However, he isn’t sure of whether Guernsey could join UEFA, saying that due to the fact that one of their clubs play in the English football pyramid, they might be considered ineligible, a view shared by many on Guernsey.

Guernsey play a pivotal role in preserving football on the smaller Channel Islands like Alderney, Sark, and Herm. Andy Lawrence is captain of the Alderney side that competes in Guernsey’s reserve league, namely the Bavarian Nomads. He also captains the island’s ‘international’ side, and cites Guernsey as the reason that Alderney get so much footballing exposure.

Although he acknowledges that Alderney are put in the shade by Jersey and Guernsey’s footballing prowess, Lawrence believes that one day, Alderney could surprise their larger counterparts and win the Murratti.

Chris Drillot, chairman and player for Sark FC, based on nearby island Sark, also believes that Guernsey’s presence helps football on Sark, telling Tomos:

“We don’t have a season as such, we just play friendly matches against social teams from Guernsey.”

Although Guernsey, a British Crown Dependency in the middle of the Channel, are far from being global footballing icons, the benefits brought with joining FIFA or UEFA could be astronomical. But for now, it seems they’ll just have to wait and hope.

(Photo #1 courtesy of Mark Connell via Flickr)

This article originally appeared on Just Football’s website, and was written by Tomos Knox. You can see it here.

The Emergence of Australian football

Australian football history could well be re-written soon. Melbourne Heart have changed their name to Melbourne City. As insignificant a factor to the changes that will be wrought with the beginning of the season, it is a momentous happening in the club’s short history, and the A-League’s, writes Tomos Knox.

The National Soccer League had crumpled, and, knowledgeable of the fact that football in Australia could also collapse with it, the Football Federation Australia decided that it would be necessary to form a new league. The new competition was to be called the A-League.

Due to the FFA’s ‘one city one club’ rule, Melbourne Victory were given the licence to play as the representative side for Melbourne. This left the proposed city second side that had yet to be blessed with a name, stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were excluded from the highest tier of Australian football, the only Australian league deemed worthy of mention to the rest of the world.

Negotiations continued between various associations and sponsors (and Melbourne Victory), until, in 2009, a deal was agreed. Heart would play their inaugural season in the 2010-11 campaign.

There were to be no fairytales however, in their first season: Melbourne Heart finished eighth out of 11 in the league- Victory finished fifth. But, in the first-ever Melbourne derby, it was Heart who gained the upper hand, leaving the pitch as winners, after defeating Victory 2-1.

Melbourne Heart continued progressing in leaps and bounds, finishing sixth in 2011-12, and establishing themselves as an A-League side. Manchester City’s moneymen must have seen something attractive, because in 2013, a group going by the name of City Football Group acquired the club, paying $12 million. The group expressed hope that the partnership between what was now called Melbourne City, its name having been changed by the group, Manchester City, and another City owned team, newly formed New York City FC.

The subsequent season, Melbourne City failed to perform, finishing 10th, with David Williams scoring 11 goals, trumping the achievements of high profile signings Harry Kewell, and Orlando Engelaar. Although both were plagued by injury throughout, Kewell only netted twice in 15 appearances, while Engelaar fared better, notching an impressive 5 goals, in 14 matches. Both would have featured more proficiently during the course of the season, had injuries not hampered their progress, but one cannot dismiss the sheer brilliance of Williams, who carried City throughout their tough campaign.

More big names have been brought in for the upcoming 2014-15 season, Damien Duff, previously of Chelsea and Fulham on a permanent deal and David Villa, the former Spain and Atletico Madrid striker joining on loan from New York City FC. The future looks bright, and A-League enthusiasts will surely look on closely.

The A-League is still very much in its’ infancy, and despite not having acquired the fame of its American counterpart- Major League Soccer, players such as Duff, Villa and Robert Koren, previously of West Bromwich Albion are very much forcing the issue. The ball has finally started rolling for Australia.

Although the will be considering themselves serious contenders for the title, Melbourne City will have a number of sides snapping at their heels. Brisbane Roar won the league last season, and will be determined to keep a firm grip on the trophy.

Two-time Macedonian international Mensur Kurtishi has been signed on a 1-year contract from Shkëndija, the striker having scored a remarkable 10 goals in just 14 appearances last season. Costa Rican international Jean Carlos Solórzano is another striker joining, having been captured from Ajajuelense. A proflific goalscorer, he is sure to add a real bout of firepower to an aldready-strong strikeforce.

If they manage to keep important players such as Brazilian striker Henrique, and solid centre-back Matt Smith, they should enjoy a successful campaign. Whether they can prove that money doesn’t guarantee trophies, by beating cash-happy Melbourne City, remains to be seen.

The ‘Socceroos’ impressive performance in the World Cup signalls a time of change for football in Australia. Although they’re not Germany, or France, their enthusiasm for the Beautiful Game really is enlightening. They turned out in droves to watch their beloved national side toil away at the World Cup, and came away battered and bruised, but proud, nevertheless. They may not have a Ronaldo or Messi in their team, but their squad comprises of good, adept players.

Football, has, and will, fight valiantly to establish its place as Australia’s leading sport. While Aussie Rules and rugby continue to excite to the general population ‘Down Under’, one cannot dismiss the true influence of football on the country. The adversary of A-League has yet to be fully explored by the world, but, once people remove their eyes from the neon signs directing them to the Premier League and its cash-cow European counterparts, they will come across a league so rich in its infancy that it could be deemed a more successful version of the MLS.

If you ever watch the A-League, no, you won’t see Gareth Bale, no, nor Neymar. However, if you’re interested, there’s an Macedonian international playing for Brisbane Roar…

This article originally appeared on World Football Weekly’s website, and was written by Tomos Knox. You can see it here.

Book Review: Outcasts, by Steve Menary

‘Outcasts! The Lands that FIFA Forgot’ is an excellent book, one like no other. Little did anybody know of the VIVA World Cup, or the far-flung footballing nations of the Falkland Islands, or Lapland. While the majority of football’s community eagerly devoured World Cup and Champions League sludge, Steve Menary set about to publicise the difficulties facing a national team, who, with little or no funding, struggle to exist.

It’s a heart-warming story, and casts FIFA in a very different light. The global football governing body’s refusal to admit that Greenland is as much of a country as the British Virgin Islands, is remarkable. And the fact that ‘non-FIFA’ members such as South Lower Saxony, Sealand and Southern Cameroon went on to form their own football governing body is even more so.

Most football fans would never show an interest in football of this kind, but the sheer excellence of the book has won it awards. Granted, the World Cup final is exciting in Britain, but in the Sapmi, or anywhere else not recognised by FIFA, the VIVA World Cup is twice as exciting.

You can read Steve Menary’s blog here

Oceania- Struggling to defy the odds

Oceania is a continent scattered with far-flung atolls, miniscule islands, and larger, established countries such as Australia and New Zealand. However, for every Australia in Oceania, there are another hundred islands, lacking in size and economic prosperity. This makes sport very difficult, and football especially, struggles to survive.

The Oceanian Football Confederation was formed in 1966, with Australia, New Zealand and Fiji amongst the founding members. The decision was made by the football associations of Australia and New Zealand, after their applications to join the Asian Football Confederation was turned down. With no regular footballing outlet, Australia and New Zealand sought the help of Sir Stanley Rous, then-president of FIFA. In 1966, the OFC were formally accepted as part of FIFA.

In the years that ensued, football took a turn for the best in Oceania. The Oceania Cup’s innaugural edition kicked off in New Zealand, in the year of 1973. The final was played in Auckland, between New Zealand and Tahiti. The score finished 2-0 to the hosts, but, due to the absence of the Australian side, and the inclusion of many then non-FIFA teams, such as Vanuatu, the tournament received precious little attention.

The next Oceania Cup was hosted by New Caledonia, another side not affiliated with FIFA at the time, in 1980. The inclusion of Australia increased the quality of the tournament, and the ‘Socceroos’ romped to victory, beating Tahiti 4-2 in the final. However, the tournament was discontinued soon after.

New Zealand, despite some disappointing performances in the 1980 Oceania Cup, secured qualification for the 1982 World Cup. However, the All Whites were somewhat out of their depth, and lost 4-0 to Brazil, 3-0 to the Soviet Union, and 5-2 to Scotland. New Zealand exited the tournament without having gained a single point.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the OFC created another continental tournament, namely the Oceania Nations Cup. The tournament also served as a qualifier for the Confederations Cup, the tournament seemingly unloved by anybody, bar of course, Sepp Blatter. The Oceania Nations Cup’s first edition included only four teams, and had no host. Australia played New Zealand in the first semi-final, while Tahiti came up against the Solomon Islands. Both Australia and Tahiti beat their opponents, and faced each other in a final comprising of two seperate matches, the first in Camberra, Australia, and the second in Papeete, Tahiti. Australia won both legs with ease, beating Tahiti 6-0, and then 5-0.

Australia, despite winning a vast array of trophies while in the OFC, parted company with the Oceanians, joining the Asian Football Confederation in search of a higher standard of football, in 2006. Lacking players worthy of recognition, Oceanian football was struggling.

In 2008, the first regional OFC competition without Australia was played, the OFC Nations Cup. The tournament was played in a round-robin form, without a host nation. New Zealand emerged as champions, overcoming New Caledonia and Vanuatu, but beating Fiji only once, losing the second match 2-0, with goals from Roy Krishna securing victory for the Fijians.

Since this tournament, Oceanian football has progressed immensely, with New Zealand qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and Tahiti reaching the Confederations Cup.

The departure of Australia from the OFC was hailed by many as the point at which Oceanian football would go into decline. However, the miniscule islands, cast in shadow by their larger counterparts, are slowly beginning to realise their ambitions. Tahiti would never had experienced the dazzling hights of the Confederations Cup in Brazil, had Australia not departed. New Zealand would never have had the opportunity to play in the 2010 World Cup, had Australia been there to take their place.

Despite the fact that Oceania’s largest nation decided to join the AFC, the OFC should not be disheartened. The sheer potential of the national teams has yet to have been fully explored, the promise of the Oceanian Champions League is undergoing a renaissance. It is apparent that football in Oceania will not be akin to the English Premier League, to say anything of the sort would be rash and unrealistic. However, the aforementioned departure of Australia creates a flexibility within the OFC that exists nowhere else.

With this flexiblility, the Oceanian Football Confederation will be hoping that no longer will Oceanian micro-nations’ national football teams be concealed hastily by Blatter’s FIFA, no longer will their footballing pedigree be at mercy for the football community to ridicule. The departure of Australia signalled a change in the fortunes of Oceanian football, for the better.

This article originally appeared on The Football Pink’s website, and was written by Tomos Knox. You can see it here.

Everton: A Preview (The Football Spectrum)

Nobody knew what to expect of Everton last season; they had lost their manager, namely David Moyes, to Manchester United. Then they had replaced him with ex coach of relegated Wigan Athletic, Roberto Martinez. However, the Toffees played excellently over the course of the 2013-14 season, playing with a new, attacking style that was also seen at Wigan.  Their stylish passing and attacking expertise helped them lose only one of their first 17 matches, against Manchester City, who would, inevitably, win the league. Everton only narrowly missed out on the 4 place slot, a slot that could’ve seen them playing Champions League football next season. But, unfortunately for them, the Toffee-men unable to prise it from Arsenal’s stubborn grasp.

This season, Everton will surely be looking to finish higher.

The signing of loanee Gareth Barry on a permanent deal will bolster a capable midfield, with his tough tackling and never-say-die attitude instrumental to last season’s successes.

However, Ross Barkley will be Everton’s most important player, the 20 year old’s playing style appearing reminiscent of Wayne Rooney, who played for the Toffees, before joining Manchester United. While Barkley’s age can be questioned, his experience cannot. Last season, he played 34 times, scoring 6 goals. His impressive form led to inclusion in England’s World Cup squad, and, although the Three Lions crashed out far earlier than expected, he still managed to gain a World Cup debut, coming on as a substitute against Italy.

With Romelu Lukaku back at Chelsea, and reportedly having no interest in returning on loan to Everton, the Toffee-men will be looking to Arouna Kone and Steven Naismith to provide the firepower. Given that they scored 5 goals between them last season, this is a little worrying, especially seeing as all of those goals came from Naismith! Although Everton are reportedly attempting to sign Lukaku on a permanent basis, the transfer looks very unlikely, so expect a striker arriving at Goodison Park, very soon.

It will be interesting to see whether Everton can retain the form of lat season, and get the Champions League football that their fans yearn for.

Ramadan Sobhi: Egyptian wonder kid on the verge of Stoke move

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve watched Ramadan Sobhi for a while. In fact, I only found out about him once Stoke announced their interest of purchasing the Egyptian attacker.
But, a few YouTube videos later, I can safely proclaim that this young man is VERY exciting. I know that sounds ridiculous. It is. But, understandably, I don’t watch Egyptian football week-in week-out – so I chose to at least offer my  own feelings as to Sobhi’s quality.

In fact, he looks the most exciting player I’ve seen Stoke interested in for quite a while now.
There seems to be a crop of genuinely brilliant youngsters developing in Egypt at the moment: Elneny, Salah to name just a few, and Sobhi looks as if he may just elevate to the standard of these two. While it’s too early to make mature judgement, I’m tremendously excited, and hoping that Sobhi opts for Stoke. He looks like a bright spark; somebody that us Potters could well rue missing out on.
He’s very quick, and has a very good range of passing. His dribbling is exemplary, his footwork and skill intuitively fast and breathtaking. He’s also hugely confident, presumably from running the show at one of Egypt’s foremost clubs (Al Ahly) at the age of just 19. 
Apparently Stoke are very close to signing him, so here’s to hoping!

French unity amid Euro 2016 national team heroics

France has been a nation seemingly on tenterhooks for a while, now. The Charlie Hebdo attacks, the horror of what happened in Paris in late 2015 – not to mention the frightening rise of far-right Marine Le Pen and her Front National party. With French society becoming increasingly divided with political, social and religious viewpoints, it’s easy to see why such a time beckoned for Le Pen to take advantage and run amok.

Some were shocked that despite repeated terror warnings and danger surrounding Euro 2016, France proceeded to hold the tournament. And, despite a rough start with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Romania, Les Bleus found themselves top of their respective group at the end of the first phase of the competition.
While the scenario wasn’t unprecedented, it was clear that in a certain way, the French national team had instilled unity in the nation; a welcome change to the hatred and violence that threatened to mar the country. 
It was whilst watching France versus Iceland that I felt it most. Although bitterly disappointed by the departure of such a wonderful Icelandic team, supported by a contingent of equally-spirited fans, seeing the French win was inspiring in its own way. The fans were more than content – they were cheering wildly. I looked on social media and found French journalists and supporters alike sharing their joy. The French media were trumpeting the result triumphantly. Perhaps football is the key to French identity and unity.

I plan to write my thoughts and feelings on this blog far more regularly over the course of the next few weeks and months, so if you like or don’t mind my silly ramblings, please remember to bookmark the site. That way you’re stuck with me!