Monday, 27 August 2007

Going wild in Hamburg

Greenland's Niklas Kreutzmann (left) against Zanzibar (Photo: FIFI/Corbis)

From the archive, a piece from a trip I made last year:

June 2006 and international football players are hanging around the foyer of the Intercontinental Hotel in Hamburg.

With Hamburg a host city for the world cup, that should not be a surprise but these are not regular players and this is not the world cup but an alternative known as the Wild Cup.

“We can just stay in a school hall,” says Greenland’s most accomplished player Niklas Kreutzmann, glancing round at his surroundings. “It’s just tremendous to be on the team and see all your friends again.”

A year ago, Kreutzmann – a trainee dentist and semi-professional at Danish side Aarhus Fremand - and the rest of Greenland’s international football squad slept on the floor of a hall in the village of Burra in the Shetland Isles as they took part in the Island Games.

That was expected to be Greenland’s last international foray until the next games on the Greek island of Rhodes in 2007 - then, after a drunken night out, the management of German third division side FC St Pauli had a crazy idea.

To celebrate Germany’s staging of the 2006 world cup, St Pauli, Hamburg’s second club with a large anti-fascist following, decided to stage a competition for the territories excluded by football’s governing body, FIFA.

In the space of three months, FC St Pauli brought in an agency, Carat, to drum up sponsorship, recruited internet gaming group MyBet to cover travel and hotel costs and a fleet of Smart cars for the five teams and negotiated live TV coverage for the semi-finals and final.

A bogus host organisation, FIFI, was even invented with a name that is partly a play on FIFA but also refers to the little dog that was the logo for the Wild Cup.
After playing a friendly against Tibet in 2001 that FIFA tried unsuccessfully to stop, Greenland was one St Pauli’s first choices for the tournament.

The popular misconception that Greenland cannot join FIFA because there are only sand not grass pitches on the Arctic Island is not true.

After the Faroe Islands, another autonomous territory ultimately controlled by Denmark, joined Europe’s governing body UEFA in 1994, the Greenlanders tried to follow suit.

So did the British colony of Gibraltar, which led to Spain threatening to quit all UEFA competitions. Unable to accept one without the other, UEFA changed its entry criteria and excluded the pair.

Gibraltar was also invited to St Pauli’s run-down Millerntor Stadium. The colony’s FA even brought forward its own annual tournament, the Gibraltar Cup, a three-way annual event on the Rock, to play in Hamburg.

Tibet was also a first choice for St Pauli and Kalsang Dhondup, who led the team to Copenhagen in 2001, rustled up a team mainly from the Tibetan diaspora in India. The squad of 25 was boosted by one Tibetan from Chicago and five players from Switzerland including Dorjee Tsawa, who has spent 12 years playing in the Swiss top flight.

Zanzibar’s football association dates back to 1891 but an attempt to join FIFA last year was rejected on the grounds that the autonomous island has links is in a political union with Tanzania.

A German TV company, Priamos, made a film about this abortive FIFA attempt, The Dream of Zanzibar. With the Zanzibar national team already in Germany to publicise the film, an invite to the Wild Cup was quickly accepted.

“After this tournament, FIFA can see we are playing and that we have a talent to play. Then perhaps FIFA will let us in,” says Zanzibar goalkeeper, Salum Ali Salum, a civil servant from Stonetown.

Monaco, where the government is too worried about club side AS Monaco’s place in the French First division to apply to UEFA, was due to play but pulled out citing a clash with the principality’s formula one grand prix.

North Cyprus, which represents the Turkish northern part of the Mediterranean island, was invited at the last minute.

The North Cyprus football association, the KTFF, was 50 years old last year and used to enter teams in an all-island league with teams from the Greek dominated south until the 1960s.

Turkey’s invasion of north Cyprus in 1974 divided the island with the north declaring independence in 1983 – a move still only recognised by the Turks.

After more than two decades of rule by nationalist Rauf Denktas, he was replaced as president last year by Mehmet Ali Talat, who hopes football can help reach a political solution and an offer to play in a joint league has been tabled but, so far, rejected.

The North Cyprus squad flew to Hamburg hours after finishing their league campaign, which explained a lacklustre performance against Greenland in the opening game with a defensive error handing North Cyprus a 1-0 win in front of 1,400 people.

The following night, another early defensive mistake and a dubious penalty gave North Cyprus a two goal head start against Zanzibar with the final score ending 3-1.
The semi-final line-up was pretty much decided that night after Tibet were thrashed 0-7 by a team of youth and veteran players representing St Pauli, which was the only intervention by the German FA, the DFB.

St Pauli organiser Steffen Frahm said: “We had a call from the DFB to say ‘no first team players or we will cancel the tournament. The Chinese consul also came and asked us not to let Tibet play but of course we said ‘no’.”

Zanzibar edged out Greenland to claim second spot behind North Cyprus then won 2-0 against the hosts in the semi-finals to set up a return game against North Cyprus, who eliminated Gibraltar by the same score.

The Wild Cup culminated in an unruly final in front of more than 4,000 fans that saw scuffles on the field before North Cyprus won 4-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw with Coscun Ulusoy, until recently a professional in southern Cyprus with Nea Salamina, scoring the winner.

The event was partly undermined by the involvement of two German comedians, Oliver Pocher and another known simply as Elton, with Zanzibar and North Cyprus respectively.

Both played briefly but their presence did at least boost the crowds and the media profile of the Wild Cup.

For North Cyprus, the event also helped achieve something more. Cengiz Uzun, head of external relations at the KTFF, said: “Yes, it was a bit wild but we won and that was great for us because the TV in Turkey and also Euronews mentioned us. Even Greek Cypriot TV is coming north for an interview. Things are getting better for us.”

Monday, 6 August 2007

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

Northern Cyprus (in white) in international action (Photo: Chris Burke)

I've just written a piece for the Cyprus Observer, which is a weekly English-language newspaper based in the Turkish part of Northern Cyprus. The piece is about the attempts by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to play international football and join FIFA.

Turkey invaded the top half of Cyprus in 1974 and in 1983 the TRNC declared itself independent. This declaration has only ever been recognised by Turkey and when English football league side Luton Town recently visited the TRNC to play top club side Cetinkaya the game was called off after protests by the Cypriot FA in the Greek dominated south of the island.

Cetinkaya were the last team from the Turkish part of Cyprus to win the all-island league - in 1952/53 - before the Turkish Cypriots formed their own FA, the KTFF, in the 1960s.