Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The other World Cup in London

Humanoids everywhere - I bring news from Earth! Whether flicking through TV channels, strolling along your high street, popping open a pack of potato shards, or shoplifting from the supermarket, you can scarcely have failed to notice - FIFA's World Cup is coming. With a scary global media juggernaut gearing up for a month-long sensory battering of over-packaged slickly-edited action, analysed from all angles and branded from bonce to butt, you'd be forgiven for feeling a tad queasy at the candy corporate confection that passes for the beautiful game in the mainstream media.

"Mmm, is there money to be made from this?"
Sepp Blatter ponders.
Luckily, puny carbon-based unit, there is an alternative. For those disillusioned by the FIFA corruption and corporate love-in, a different tournament is taking place - an alternative World Football Cup contested by teams outside the FIFA system. This competition is happening in London right now until Saturday 9th June, and is organised by CONIFA. Who, you ask?

CONIFA stands for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations. It's a non-profit organisation aiming to support "representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories". For many, the experience of organising their own team is important for a shared sense of national identity, and community bonding, in regions denied their voice for generations.

The 16 participating teams are drawn from across the globe, and each has a unique situation - take the Tibetan team, who were recently barred from playing an exhibition match in Germany against local side FV Lörrach-Brombach by their regional FA, fearful of appearing to take a political stance. Chinese pressure is often applied to deny the Tibet team any airtime or playing time.

We're used to seeing the elation of a team who have won promotion or a knockout tournament. Imagine the feelings of many of the participants in CONIFA's cup, living in situations where just to play might require a huge physical effort, or be dangerous to life and limb. Barawa FC represents a port town on the edge of Somalia, which recently suffered a bomb attack at a football match. Their team here has been drawn from the diaspora based in the UK, and as such they count as one of the host teams. Meanwhile, a team representing Northern Cyprus has faced opposition from the UK Greek Cypriot community.

The travel costs and logistical problems inherent in ferrying a squad of players across the globe mean that many teams, as with Barawa above, have drawn players where possible from within the massive league system in England. Spare a thought for the Oceania representatives, Tuvalu, literally half a world away. They're actually filling in, as that continent's berth was due to be filled by Kiribati, but due to the obvious financial pressures, they had to drop out.

Further local interest this time around is provided by Ellan Vannin, the Isle of Man squad. Their head honcho Malcolm Blackburn relates the tale of how he fought the FIFA lawyers to even be able to put an island team together in the first place here.

There is the opportunity to see a few bona fide stars amongst the squads. Szekely Land's captain Csaba Csizmadia has 14 international caps for Hungary to his name. The Matabeleland team from Zimbabwe are being coached by Liverpool's legendary goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who has been drafted into the squad at the age of 60.

You can get into the mood musically with two anthems - "Bring The House Down" by 90s throwbacks Right Said Fred, and "Play For Your People" by cult wobblers Keshco.

So, when you next see adverts with star footballers like, say, Eden Hazard, kicking a ball through a wall of cups and saucers to earn a Lotus Caramelised Biscuit - think of the CONIFA tournament, and the pioneers of independent football, fighting to play the game they love.

Watch the exciting knockout stages of the CONIFA World Cup online, and catch up with highlights so far, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment