If you’re not interested in football, then I should tell you now, this might not be for you. EXCEPT if you’re interested in global politics, or underdog stories, or people in really colourful shirts. Which is almost everyone. So, I retract that actually.
My brother – long-time followers will be aware – is a maniac who spends his time organising football stuff in parts of the world where there isn’t a proper sports infrastructure, where it’s too hot or wet to play, sometimes where they don’t really have a pitch because it’s infested with toads. He most famously took charge of a tiny Micronesian island team and was the youngest ever international football manager. He also coached in Mongolia for a while even though it was so cold it wasn’t safe to go outside. I’m proud of the idiot. And I THINK I’ve just managed to make that bit about his career into a hyperlink or whatever you call it, so if that’s worked I’m also proud of myself.
His focus these days is on working with CONIFA, a sort of parallel-universe version of FIFA which celebrates states who aren’t recognised by FIFA and so can’t enter the World Cup. You don’t have to be much of a football fan to be at least vaguely aware that FIFA, which controls world football, is as rife with corruption and intrigue as the Micronesian pitch was with toads. States without the right financial muscle or the right political influence are among the many footballing bodies completely ignored by FIFA, passed over for funding. CONIFA exists to give them a presence. This is important because football is fun (in my quite well-publicised opinion) but also more broadly because it gives an identity to entire communities who are treated like they don’t exist.
So, right now in London, the CONIFA World Cup is taking place. It features teams you’ll never have heard of, representing countries you’ve largely not heard of either. They have all made implausible journeys to get here (except the Isle of Man team, actually, they were probably OK) purely for the love of the game and the passion they feel for their barely-known homes. It kicked off yesterday with games like Abkhazia v Tibet, Padania v Matabeleland, and North Cyprus V Karpatalya (that was a 1-1 draw). It’ll continue for the next ten days or so, until a team is crowned CONIFA World Champions (the Panjab manager has already said he’ll die a happy man if it’s his side that makes it).
If you like football, and you’re interested in a glimpse into another football universe – close-up – look on the CONIFA website for details of the games. I’m going to Sutton on Tuesday and I plan to put on a sort of ‘flash gig’ there. There are two or more matches a day, it costs hardly anything, you can get close-up, and instead of the slightly desolate corporate atmosphere that settles around a World Cup (especially in certain host countries), there is a real vibe of lunatic devotion to the sport, of people who’ve defied the odds – and in many cases quite a lot of danger – even to be on the pitch.
If this interests you at all, get in touch (here or on Twitter) and I will be delighted to help. This is a delightful slice of football weirdness, the days are really fun even if you’re not that into football (one of my sisters has already been and she wouldn’t normally watch a match if it was in her own bathroom), and it’s also a celebration of the way that London hosts an incredible number of different international communities. Something that a lot of us still think is a plus. Despite CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE not being so into it.
There’s a piece below from the Independent with a bit more detail, and you can check www.conifa.org, or I’m so hyped about this you can have my phone number if you want and I’ll talk you through it.
Come and watch weird football!