The CONIFA World Football Cup kicked off on Thursday 31st May 2018. Matches are being held all over London during this week. The competition features some names which you may not be familiar with. I attended two of the games on the opening day of the tournament. Some of the teams representing their nations in this tournament are Barawa, Matabeleland and Abkhazia.
Confused? Let me explain.
What is CONIFA?
CONIFA stands for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations. This ruling body is a separate body from FIFA which accepts countries and territories which have not been accepted into FIFA. Founded 6th June 2013, CONIFA oversees 47 members around the world. The governing body allows players to represent their nations, where they would have not got to otherwise. In order to be accepted into CONIFA, the territory has to prove that they have a unique cultural identity. One of the latest accepted members of the organisation is Yorkshire, who joined in January 2018.
The organisation has so far hosted 2 World Cups. The third World Cup (referred to by the organisation as the World Football Cup) is currently being held in London. Barawa are hosts of the tournament this year. This is an area in southern Somalia. It is being represented by a diaspora based in the United Kingdom. The teams have come from all over the world in order to compete in this competition. This is also the first competition to have a team from North America being represented as Cascadia managed to qualify for their first tournament.
The two games I attended were in Sutton, London at Gander Green Lane. This is the home stadium of London based club Sutton United. Here are the two matches I attended and my experience of them.
Game 1: Ellan Vannin vs Cascadia
The first game I attended was Ellan Vannin play Cascadia. Ellan Vannin is the national team representing the Isle of Man, located off the west coast of England. A strong team, the majority of their players play in the domestic Isle of Man league. Therefore, a chance to represent the territory internationally is a great privilege. Cascadia is a territory defined by the biological region on the west coast of America and Canada. Cascadia is made up of parts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. This was their international first match as a member of CONIFA and the team had never played together before. Their captain is former Seattle Sounders player James Riley.
Result: Ellan Vannin 4 – 1 Cascadia
The match started with Ellan Vannin having the upper hand, looking quite comfortable. The first goal came in the 15th minute. Ellan Vannin’s Stephen Whitley opened the scoring with a fine strike into the top corner. Cascadia equalised only three minutes later with a goal from Josh Daughty. Although Ellan Vannin scored a second before the break, Cascadia looked like the better side in the first half but just struggled to finish their chances. Corinthian-Casuals midfielder Max Oldham stood out as he looked like a threat down the right hand side for Cascadia.
The second half looked completely different to the first. Cascadia began to look entirely disjointed and couldn’t offer any real threat. Ellan Vannin had the upper hand in the second half, looking like the only team which could win the game. Sam Caine added a third for Ellan Vannin before a sublime free kick into the top corner from Jack McVey ensured there was no way for Cascadia back into the game.
Game 2: Padania vs Matabeleland
The second game of the day I attended was Padania play Matabeleland. Padania is located in the northern regions of Italy. The team is one of the strongest teams in the competition and therefore one of the favourites for the title. Padania placed 4th at the last World Cup and has also won the last 2 European Championships held by CONIFA. The team has a number of players playing their football in the lower Italian leagues. One notable player in their lineup is Marius Stankevičius, who has appeared 65 times for the Lithuanian national team. Stankevičius has previously played for sides such as Lazio and Valencia.
Matabeleland is an area in western Zimbabwe, made up of 3 of the country’s provinces. The area faced its hardships under Robert Mugabe but the future looks more positive. Coached by English manager Justin Walley, this is their first World Cup appearance. Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar is the team’s goalkeeping coach. The team faced great difficulty in even getting to the tournament, having to endure a 17 hour bus journey down to Johannesburg before taking a flight to London. It looked uncertain as to whether the team would even make it to London but luckily the team’s visas came through only 3 days before their departure. One player of note would be defender Cliff Moyo, who has one Zimbabwe cap to his name.
Result: Padania 6 – 1 Matabeleland
From the start of the game, Padania looked on another level from Matabeleland. Padania’s Giacomo Innocenti put the team 1-0 up 10 minutes into the game. The gulf in class was easy to see as by half time the score was 4-0 in favour of Padania. The second half was more of the same but saw Matabeleland put in a more spirited effort trying to get back into the game. Padania added 2 goals in the second half but the biggest moment of the second half was Matabeleland getting their solitary goal. The team won a corner and scored a brilliant header from set-piece. The entire stadium erupted when their goal went in, which was truly an experience to behold. Although the match finished 6-1, Matabeleland can be very proud of the determination the team showed. This was their first experience of playing in an international match.
The two games were an amazing experience. If you’re in the London area definitely try to get tickets before the tournament finishes!
The CONIFA World Football Cup runs 31st May – 9th June in various stadium across London.