They say it’s the beautiful game. Certainly that’s why I chose my football team. I wanted to watch attractive attacking football. It didn’t matter that for more than 15 years of me first supporting them they did not win anything. Then it all changed and they took the league by storm and not only did the attractive football flourish, but so did success – all the way to the Champions League.
FROM ILLUSION TO IDENTITY
However, the “beautiful game” is just an illusion. Week in week out, the majority of football fans suffer. They stand on the terraces whilst at best their team grinds out a draw. For them the beauty of football is the expectation, the elation of the occasional, unexpected 3 nil win, or the avoidance of relegation on the last day of the season. Mostly it’s the suffering of what might have been. The memory of past glories. At the other extreme too much success gets wearisome. Football is only authentic for the majority when the majority of it is infused with suffering. And the rest of it is improbable (like Leicester City winning the league).
So for the last few years I have been looking for a second team to support. One that once won the league or a cup back in the 1950’s but now plays in a lower division. Week in week out. Where the supporters turn up in expectation, but go home with the realization that the whole football thing does not really matter. It’s been 90 minutes of escape, and there is always next week, or next year.
My friends are helping me, with plenty of suggestions. One has even suggested that I stick with my current team as they don’t seem to be winning things these days. Ouch! The thing is, that I am struggling to get excited with any of the suggestions. I want a team I can identify with.
CONIFA 3 – FIFA 0
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup about to start, the England national side could fit the bill. England had glory in 1966, and have done nothing since then (OK there was that save by Gordon Banks, Lineker in front of goal, and that 4-1 victory over the Netherlands in Euro96). England therefore fits the bill, but when international competitions come along my interest is also drawn to some of the other countries I have lived in. I especially identify with Chile, Uruguay and Switzerland. Especially Uruguay, who have won the World Cup twice, but a long time ago in an era when all you had to do was turn up and you’d get a game.
So I have been really intrigued by CONIFA. The third CONIFA World Football Cup has just finished in London. Kárpátalja beat Northern Cyprus in the final 3-2 on penalties. CONIFA comprises 47 Football associations representing states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions that are not affiliated with FIFA. Kárpátalja represents the Hungarian people living in western Ukraine. Identity is a big thing for these teams.
No one can force an identity upon you. It’s your own. And that’s the beauty of CONIFA. It uses football to bring peoples together. The football suffering pales into insignificance when the real world suffering of some of these nations is considered. Football is rightly put in its place, whilst at the same time it becomes a place for a better understanding of the very real issues of nationhood and identity.
The FIFA World Cup has cost US$10Bn to organize. I can think of better uses for this sum of money. Meanwhile the CONIFA World Football Cup games, featuring Ellen Vannin (the Isle of Man), Abkhazia, Tibet, Kiribati and others, were played at venues in London such as Gander Green Lane, Sutton, and Coles Park, Haringey.
CONIFA aims “to give football outsiders overseen by FIFA or left behind by their mothers country FA the chance to win their place on a global stage and advance football-wise and personally…. We give them the chance to play for the entity they feel part of in the bottom of their hearts”. CONIFA wants “to bridge the world and bring people together from all over the world… [leaving] all politics behind”. This feels more genuine than the highly commercialized, corrupt FIFA.
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
Now it just so happens that Yorkshire is a member of CONIFA. You may remember that if Yorkshire was a country it would have come 12th at the London Olympics, and 14th at the Rio Olympics. Seven of the 23 players in the 2018 England World Cup squad were born in Yorkshire.
Yorkshire were not at the CONIFA World Football Cup this time around – they only joined the organisation this year. Nevertheless, I have my Yorkshire football shirt and hope to be able to support the team from God’s Own Country get to the next competition, whilst providing some degree of solidarity with the other outsider nations present. With a bit of luck Raetia will organize it so I won’t have to travel too far.