Monday, 15 August 2011

Falklands football

The Falklands in action against Gotland at the 2011 Island Games

This story appeared earlier on

Forget Fabio Capello, meet an international manager with real problems.

“It can’t go on,” sighs a dejected Richard Franks. The manager of the Falkland Isles’ team is sat in the dug-out at Oakfield FC, a team from a working class suburb of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. “What we need are a lot of games at this level. Before we came here, we’d only had one in the last two years.”

Franks has just overseen the Falklands’ final group game in the 2011 Island Games football tournament. A biennial mini-Olympics for islands, the football tournament offers the only competitive outing for the South Atlantic colony’s beleaguered players.

For the Falklands, which has a population of just 3,100, the tournament has gone from one disaster to another.

A handful of players went to the UK well before the Games for a holiday, leaving nine to travel out a week before the Games - only for the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano to erupt.

Swathes of southern hemisphere flights were cancelled. With the Ministry of Defence refusing to operate the ‘air-bridge’ – the name for the flights going from Mount Pleasant airfield in the Falklands, via Ascension Island to the UK – the team had no choice but to try and go via Chile.

A flight from Stanley had to stop off in Argentina. When the players got to Punta Arenas in Chile, they were delayed for a day before reaching Santiago. Most of the squad got on a Madrid flight to London but there were no seats for three players, who had to fly via the Peruvian capital of Lima.

The squad finally assembled a couple of days before the tournament began and played a hastily arranged friendly with Eastleigh, an ambitious local semi-professional side from the Blue Square South league.

The result was a 5-0 defeat but worse was a broken leg for Ian Betts, who was under consideration for the role of captain for the side’s three Group C fixtures on the Isle of Wight.

The opening fixture was against Guernsey, who will play in the Combined Counties League on the mainland in 2011/12 and have won the Island Games football tournament twice. The Falklands were only down 1-0 at half-time. That was progress. But the Channel Islanders, whose ranks boast former Football League professionals such as Chris Tardiff and Ryan Zico-Black, rattled in four goals without reply in the second half.

In the next game, a poor performance saw the Falklands overwhelmed 6-0 by the Isle of Man leaving only the fixture in Oakfield to restore some pride. Captain Bill Chater, a giant central defender, put in a titanic showing but their opponents, the Swedish island of Gotland, ran in six goals watched by a crowd of 200 or more that was boosted by an army of ground-hoppers.

Creditably, the Falklands refused to give up and Rafa Sotomayor got on the score-sheet for his adopted homeland, who could have added a second but had to settle for a 6-1 defeat.

The qualification rules in the tournament are more relaxed than FIFA’s, only requiring a one-year residency. The manager of the Falkland Isles Gift shop, Sotomayor was joined in the squad by two fellow Chileans, a chef, Carlos Fajardo, and Patricio Balladares, a waiter at the Malvina House Hotel.

The eclectic squad also included a Georgian, Zaza Elbakidze, and Adam Glanville, a veteran for the team, who was born on another remote British colony in the South Atlantic. Glanville is a veteran with the national team and can recall better times.

Not so long ago, football in the Falklands was booming. The spur was a short tour of Chile in 1997 led by Patrick Watts, the Islander who over the radio relayed the details of the Argentine invasion in 1982 until being forced to lay down his microphone at gun-point, the invaders having reached Stanley.

By the turn of the Millennium, five teams from Stanley, including one comprised solely of St Helenians, played in a league. In 2001 the national team entered the Island Games football tournament for the first time, where expectations were exceeded despite an inauspicious beginning.

The Falkland XI began their campaign in the Isle of Man began with a 9-0 thrashing from the hosts but results improved. Eventual winners Guernsey were restricted to a 3-0 win, Greenland went one better winning 4-0 but the Falklands finished on a high, routing the Orkneys 4-1.

Travel remains expensive with athletes expected to make a significant contribution to the cost and the Falklands’ footballers sat out the 2003 tournament in Guernsey but entered again in 2005, making the long-trek north to the Shetlands.

The Manxmen inflicted another 9-0 pasting, while the Shetlands beat the Falklanders 4-0 but the Finnish island of Åland won just 2-1. Then at the community centre in Whiteness, the team put in perhaps their greatest ever performance against Saarema. The Estonian island XI included Victor Alonen, who had 68 caps for Estonia, but goals from Eoin Anderson and a Martyn Clarke penalty produced what is still the biggest shock in Island Games football.

Clarke is a divisive figure in Falkland football, having controversially taken up the offer of a trial with Argentine giants Boca Juniors in 1996. Then just 16, he was partly the victim of a public-relations exercise that caused ructions back home and in 2002 left the Islands for the UK.

Clarke played for the team at the 2009 Island Games in Åland, where the Falklands lost all three games, but now in his thirties he was not considered for the Isle of Wight jaunt.

With Clarke gone and veterans such as Glanville and perhaps Chater nearing the end of their international footballing careers, a vacuum has opened up in Falkland football with few players coming though and the game is in crisis with only three teams left.

Sullivan Blue Sox, Kelper Stores and Sealed PR did not even manage to complete the last league programme and the Falklands might not send a side to the next Games in Bermuda in 2013.

For Kyle Biggs, who toiled tirelessly alongside his brother Daniel for the Falklands against Gotland, the reason is simple.

“There’s not as much interest in football as when we were kids,” says Biggs, only in his mid-20s. “Football is still the number one sport but people are going off to play cricket now they have money to spend.”

Despite plenty of British, Dutch and French colonies joining FIFA, the influence of Argentina makes that idea not worth entertaining for the Falklands’ footballers - but cricket is another story.

Again spurred by an earlier tour to Chile, the Falklands became an affiliate of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2007. Argentina abstained but in a sport dominated by Commonwealth countries that protest barely registered.

In 2010, the Falklands played in the inaugural ICC Americas Championship Division Four tournament in Mexico and even beat Costa Rica by 39 runs in a 50-over match. With international recognition comes sponsorship – and interest from the islands’ tiny population.

For Richard Franks, faced with increasing encroachment from cricket, there is only one solution to save the dwindling role of football on the islands – and that is a radical one.

His face red in the hot Isle of Wight sun, Franks explains: “The Air Bridge is sponsored by FIG [Falklands Islands Government] and I’ve been wondering if they might give us seats once a month or even every two months so we could come over here.

“That way we could get 20 games a season over here. We’ve got to do something, it’s the lack of games; something has to be done.”

Perhaps, like Guernsey, the Falklands too might find their way into the English pyramid? Quite how they would get teams back to Stanley for a home game is another story.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

First win for North Mariana

The Commonwealth of North Mariana Islands has won its first ever international match.

The game was only an U-15 game but the 2-1 victory last month over the former Portuguese colony of Macau in a youth tournament in Taiwan was fitting first ever-win.

The Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Thai communities on Saipan and some of the US citizens had played unorganized football on Saipan for years but the North Mariana Islands FA was only set up after a US lawyer, Peter Coleman, came to work on the main island of Saipan and set up a youth league to give his son a game.

The 14 islands – part of the United Nations trust territory in the Pacific but administered by the United States - first played internationally five years ago after invited being as guests to the 2006 U-14 East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) youth festival in Beijing (pictured).

Peter Coleman has since stepped aside but, driven by president Jerry Tan, NIMFA is now a member of the EAFF and an associate member of the Asian Football Confederation.

Island Games Photo Gallery

The Isle of Wight repulse a Gibraltar attack at East Cowes

A gallery of images from the group stages of the 2011 NatWest Island Games can be found at InBedWithMaradona.

The photos feature matches
involving Aland, Alderney, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Greenland, Gotland, the Isle of Wight, Minorca, Saarema and the Western Isles.

St Pierre et Miquelon

The opening ceremony at the 2010 Coupe de l'Outre Mer

This article appeared earlier at

The reach of the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) stretches far beyond the shores of North Western Europe.

As debut matches go, St Pierre et Miquelon’s first international did not augur well, ending in an 11-0 tanking, but the match could be the start of something bigger.

An archipelago of eight islands located off Canada’s eastern seaboard, St Pierre et Miquelon (SPM) is the last vestige of France’s one sprawling North American empire.

SPM might be a historical anomaly, but that status led to the islands’ FA being invited by the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) to play in the second edition of the bi-annual Coupe de l’Outre Mer.

The FFF started the competition – otherwise known as the Overseas Cup – in 2008 at the behest of Christian Karembeu, who was born in New Caledonia but won the World Cup with Les Bleus a decade earlier.

The aim of the Coupe de l’Outre Mer was to provide an outlet for French overseas departments or territories that are mostly unable to emulate Tahiti and New Caledonia and join FIFA.

French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique are all associate members at CONCACAF but prevented from taking the next step up by French politics. Those five sides plus the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion and Mayotte contested the first tournament in Paris. Two years later, a side drawn from St Pierre and Miquelon’s tiny 6,000 population also made the trip to Paris.

Money was not an issue as the FFF stumped up €900,000 to cover the cost of the now eight sides bringing 18 players and seven officials apiece to Paris from the Diaspora of the remaining French empire.

In his first international fixture, Yannick Lafonte’s SPM side faced holders Reunion in the first of a double-bill of group games at the Michel Hidalgo Stadium in Saint-Gratien, eastern Paris.

In an attempt to put the opposition off their guard, SPM sent the youngest players out for the warm up then switched to the first choice XI just before kick-off, but gamesmanship was never going to be enough.

That St Pierre and Miquelon’s ponderous defence was out of its depth was obvious early on, but brave goalkeeping from Gino Bonnieul and truly atrocious finishing from Reunion’s number nine Jean Michel Fontaine kept the score down to 2-0 at half-time.

Reunion were constantly offside in the first half and no better on the re-start. For 12 minutes, captain Stanislas Beck and his kept Reunion out but when Pascal N’Gongue stabbed home on 57 minutes, the game was literally up.

A defender, Beck had a dozen team-mates from his club side, AS Ilienne, keeping him company in Paris. SPM only has three teams and the Coupe de l’Outre Mer squad also included four players from AS Miquelonnaise and a brace from AS Saint-Perraise, the territory’s oldest club.

SPM initially overcame lack of quality by getting a foot into most tackles but in the second half, their opponents’ superior fitness prevailed. Reunion ran in eight more goals but for the SPAM FA’s phlegmatic secretary Herve Huet the result was of little concern.

“This is the first time we play in this competition, the first time in any official FFF game because we are such a small island,” says Huet with a nonchalant Gallic shrug. “I am very happy just to see our players here. Our level of play is very different to teams like Reunion. We only have 600 players.”

The bulk of the population live on St Pierre with 700 people on Miquelon and lack of players is not the only obstacle. Harsh winters mean the season only runs from June to September. “After that, it is not possible to play because of the weather is so cold,” adds Huet. “The snow arrives and it is not possible to play before April too because the field is frozen.”

In the long winter months, SPM’s players play futsal – the short-sided version of football popular in continental Europe – and the islanders have been entering a side in France’s National Futsal Cup since 2008.

In their next group game in the Coupe de l’Outre Mer, SPM were again only 2-0 down at half-time against French Guiana and only lost 7-0 but succumbed to 10-0 to Mayotte in their final group game. With 28 goals conceded and none scored, the 2010 Coupe de L’Outre Mer was not an auspicious start for SPM but Huet’s islanders plan to return.

GB United? Reviews

'GB United? British Olympic football and the end of the amateur dream' has received some good press coverage including the following reviews:

"A fine book!" --The Guardian

"Menary carefully explains how amateurism or 'shamateurism' gradually became unacceptable in this country, with everyone being declared just 'players' in 1974. He recounts not only the sad decline of Vivian Woodward, a superb centre-forward and a member of the British team in 1908 and 1912, but also the exploits of Pegasus, who galvanised the amateur game in the early 1950s. It is a valuable contribution to football literature." -- The Olympian


"A fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations into what was, for many years, a murky world of under the counter payments." --Bob Bevan, the Non League Paper

"Delightful chronicle... an excellent addition to Olympic lore." --Journal of Olympic History

"Menary does an outstanding job. GB United? is a historical tome telling a story that has been forgotten and overlooked elsewhere. This story is as much about a class struggle in twentieth century Britain as anything else, but in this case it was a struggle that the ruling class were always going to lose. Those that ran the game at the start of the twentieth century may well look at modern football and wonder what on earth it has become, but GB United? tells a part of the story that is seldom looked at elsewhere with a keen eye for historical detail, a dry sense of humour and a mixture of disdain and respect for those that ended up shaping many of the paths that modern football would end up taking." --Twohundredpercent

"Excellent!" --Keir Radnedge,

"Inspiring tales of those who considered the Games to be the ultimate make this a worthy read." --Four Four Two magazine

"Steve Menary brings to life the world of the amateur and highlights in a very real way the characters that were dominating the British Olympic team from 1900-1972. If you are a football fan and have any history with the amateur game, this is well worth a read." --Graham Neale, son of the 1948 GB captain Graham

"Well informed and lively ... a quality work." --Soccer History

"Thorough and interesting work." --When Saturday Comes

"One will find no better account of the complicated business that has been Great Britain's involvement in Olympic football." --Groundtastic

"Exemplary research, grasp of his material and eye for a quirky fact keep up the interest." --Independent on Sunday