Monday, 28 May 2018

Pint of Football does the CONIFA World Cup

The World Cup is coming to London

Yes that's right, there's a World Cup coming to London and it is almost upon us. On Thursday 31st May 2018 history will be made as the Confederation of Independent Football Associations brings its biggest event to the capital city of England where sixteen teams will do battle to lift the trophy on Saturday 9th June at Enfield Town's Queen Elizabeth II ground. As a follower and supporter of CONIFA and it's message to bring football to everybody in a way that challenges the mainstream ideas of FIFA, it is needless to say that I am extremely excited to be going down south from my home in Stoke-on-Trent to spend ten days in London. I will be going to matches on each of the days that they are on, starting with a trip to the Opening Ceremony at Hayes Lane in Bromley, before taking in a weekend of group games with my good pal Tom (aka Partizan Bristle). I'll then stick around for the remainder of the tournament as I look to see who can make it all the way to the final. Within this preview, I will be looking at a few of the teams involved, some of the grounds and also a bit of history from previous CONIFA tournaments. 
As mentioned before, I'm no stranger to CONIFA and although I've only been an active follower since the start of the year when my home county, Yorkshire, formed their own team, my first experience of watching a CONIFA side came a year ago at Damson Park, the home of Solihull Moors. With an interest in non-league football, my attention was drawn to a fixture between England C versus Panjab and it was from then on that I started to keep an eye on the leaps and strides that the volunteer run governing body of football were making. England C, a side made of non-league players in England, may well have beaten the plucky Panjabi's by the odd goal that day but it wasn't all about the result in this end of season outing. This was a huge occasion for the Asian side, whose roots are laid in northern India and east Pakistan, as they became the first South Asian team to face an England national side- and it was very well attended too!

This is what football is all about
Rajpal Virk, then of Coventry Sphinx and now unattached, was the man who slid the ball home that day and the 24-year old will now line-up as the number 10 for Panjab as they look to go one better than their effort as runners-up of the 2016 tournament in Abkhazia, as the hosts won it on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Panjab will fancy their chances as they boast the winner of the 2016 Golden Boot in Amar Purewal, a striker for Northern Football League side West Auckland Town, and with a return of ten goals in eleven CONIFA Caps, he's bound to be one to watch in the tournament. Can they get through Group D? I'll be there on Sunday 3rd to see their final group game against United Koreans of Japan at Arbour Park in Slough.
The Purewal twins are gonna be up for the World Cup
Right, so I've had a bit of a chat about the number one ranked CONIFA side, so now it's time to talk about one of the rank outsiders in the form of Tuvalu. I was lucky enough to be able to get a few words from Soseala Tinilau, president of TIFA and this is what he had to say about his Group C outfit.

PoF asks: With climate change being a very serious and dangerous matter in Tuvalu, as it is in many island nations, what does it mean for the country to be sending a team to the CONIFA World Cup in London?
Tinilau answers: It means to send a signal to the World that even though we are being impacted by climate change but we find comfort in playing the beautiful game of football. Sports unite people in the face of adversity. We will also try to advocate at the same time and hopefully both developing and developed countries will help us solve this global issue.

PoF asks: You’ve drawn two of the top five CONIFA nations in Group C and you won’t be the favourites by a long shot. Realistically, how far do you think the team can go in the competition?
Tinilau answers: Everything is possible in football. If Roma can beat Barca by 3 goals to nil then Tuvalu can beat any team in the tournament. It is our aim to make the top four and will work hard for that.

PoF asks: Alopua Petoa looks to be your main threat ahead of the tournament, what sort of a player can we expect to see in the Tofaga FC striker?
Tinilau answers: We have other players who could also cause trouble but for Alopua you can expect the best from him in this tournament. He will try to score more goals for Tuvalu.

PoF asks: Being from Yorkshire, I am looking forward to seeing my home county at the next CONIFA World Cup. How excited are you for the 2018 tournament?
Tinilau answers: I am very excited and so are the players as this is the first time ever for Tuvalu to play in such a high-level football tournament and we will try to make the most of it.

PoF asks: Pint of Football is about two things- pints and football! Will you guys be enjoying a beer or two during the tournament? Tinilau answers: I think only me, the President, will enjoy a beer or two as our boys have a mission in this tournament and need not drawn into such temptation.

Tuvalu are also my allocated team from this @ChrisDolmanArt GIF
Time for a break from the teams whilst I have a look at some of the grounds involved in the tournament. Obviously, there are a couple on there that as Groundhopper I am thrilled to be visiting. We have got a good mix too, with everything from a brand new ground in the shape of Aveley's Parkside Stadium to a couple of National League Premier venues at Bromley and Sutton United. Let's have a look at some of the grounds I'm going to throughout the tournament.

1) Hayes Lane- Bromley (National League Premier)
My first ground of the CONIFA World Cup, the 115th for me overall, will be a trip to the five thousand capacity home of the Opening Ceremony. Bromley have just come out of their National League campaign, one which was almost identical to that of my beloved Silkmen in 2016-17. As well as finishing 9th in the table, just three points off the Playoffs, the Ravens made it to the FA Trophy Final at Wembley too and despite going into the match as favourites they lost out to Brackley Town from the division below. Brings back horrible memories of seeing my side lose 2-3 against York just a year prior. From the pictures I've seen, Hayes Lane looks like an old school London footballing landmark and I'd say CONIFA have managed to get themselves a fab stadium to open their tournament with. I'll be watching the host nation, Barawa, take on Tamil Eelam who are traditionally from the island of Sri Lanka. The Asian side have a squad made up of players from Germany, Canada, Holland, Italy and even a lad playing in the SEVENTEENTH tier of English football, meanwhile Barawa's 23-man squad are all based here in the UK. With a couple of QPR Under-23's and a Millwall youngster in the side, they should have a good campaign.

2) Queen Elizabeth II- Enfield Town (Isthmian League Premier)
Refurbished in 2011, the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium is one of those multi-purpose grounds that has a bit of rustic charm here, a few modern generic features over there, and most significantly a running track around the edge. Enfield Town's story this season has been that of mid-table mediocrity and it will be nice for the north London club to finally see some of the limelight that the likes of Billericay Town, Dulwich Hamlet and Leatherhead have hogged in the Isthmian Premier this season. As well as hosting the Final and quite a few of the knockout fixtures across the World Cup, they will also be the first venue for Partizan Bristle's exploits as we take in the 2pm kick-off between Abkhazia and Kárpátalja. It'll be nice to see if the current holders of the tournament can overcome the most recent team to join the World Cup after they replaced the withdrawing Felvidek national side. The Abkhazia squad is a mixture of Russian third tier players and those who play in their independent state, whilst the Kárpátalja lads all play in Hungary with the exception of Bela Fejer Csongor. The 23-year old Sepsi OSK keeper has plied his trade in the Romanian top-tier and because of this, I'm tooting him to be their key player.

3) Coles Park- Haringey Borough (Isthmian League Premier)
This is perhaps the one I'm looking forward to the most, I mean just look at that dreadfully bold antique of a stand- they sure as hell don't make them like this any more. Once we've finished up with Enfield on the Saturday, Tom and I will be trotting down the A10 to Coles Park to see what Padania and Tuvalu have to offer. If I were to stick my neck out and pick a winner for the World Cup, it would be between Padania and Ellan Vannin. North Italy's finest are ranked number two in the CONIFA charts and all but their backup keeper are based in the fourth divisions in Italy. Six of their players are in double-figures in terms of Caps and despite not being in the World Cup squad, Mario Balotelli's brother (Enoch) has represented Padania before and I'm sure they'll be looking to live up to their title as the 2015 CONIFA Euro's Gold Medallists. Tuvalu's side all play on their Pacific Ocean island and the stats would suggest that their hopes will lie with Alopua Petoa- the striker has eight goals from ten caps.

4) Larges Lane- Bracknell Town (Isthmian League South Central)
As with Haringey, the Bracknell Town boys were celebrating promotion at the end of this season and with a very modern 2,500 capacity ground, the Robins will be looking forward to hosting some of the CONIFA World Cup. Although this ground is technically in Berkshire, Larges Lane will host four matches in total, with the Kárpátalja versus Tibet fixture being the second. Tibet are one of the few teams that I struggled to find research on, but one thing that is notable in the CONIFA Squads List is that Tashi Samphel is listed as having five goals in just one Cap. That's some record if it's true, so I'll have to keep an eye out for the 31-year old striker as we watch our second game in two days involving Kárpátalja.

5) Arbour Park- Slough Town (National League South)
The slick yellow seating structure you see here gives you a glance into the high-quality ground at Slough Town. Arbour Park is the home to one of the latest additions to the National League South and is yet another Berkshire ground to feature in this year's edition of the World Cup. This will be the last chance Tom gets to see a game before he heads back to Bristol, so for us to be able to watch Panjab in action together again will be great. Their opponents are the mysterious United Koreans in Japan and the side who finished as Quarter-Finalists at the 2016 World Cup will play with a squad from varying backgrounds, countries and levels. They have been making headlines globally with their inclusion of  Yong Hak An, the 39-year old Player-Manager who will become the first person to play in both a FIFA and CONIFA World Cup. The rest of the squad come from teams in the Japanese fifth tier and lower, as well as Min Cheol Son who is playing in Hong Kong, Yoo Jun Kang who is based in the USA and Tong Soung Lee- a Staines Town Under 19's player. I've already spoken enough about number one ranked Panjab, who beat Dhaka Akadash RC 8-0 at Arbour Park on Sunday night, but I want to push an extra shout out to Rushall Olympic striker Gurjit Singh, who I've followed in the Evo-Stik of late. Either way, I'm predicting this one to be a "save the best until last" scenario for us as we get to the crunch stage of Group D.

A CONIFA World Cup Sticker Book would have been magnificent
If you've managed to read your way through my preview so far, hopefully you've enjoyed it and you'll be able to hang on for my final ramblings as I look at the side that I'll be supporting in the World Cup, Ellan Vannin. As a Yorkshireman I was privileged to be able to make the journey back up to God's own County in January for their first ever match and they started off in style with a big match against one of CONIFA's top nations. The Isle of Man side came into mainland England with the expectancy of giving Yorkshire a proper battle in their debut and they did just that. Live from the Yorkshire NuBuilds Stadium, home of Hemsworth Miners Welfare, the two sides gave us a very good game and even though Yorkshire looked the more likely side in the opening half, it was Ellan Vannin who took the lead in the second through a player I've been a big fan of, Furo Davies. The hosts got themselves back into it as Jordan Coduri finished well to give Yorkshire a draw, but even then I had a feeling that Ellan Vannin will be one of the big sides at this year's World Cup. Despite being largely all based in the IOM Premier League and having a strong spine built around St.George's AFC, they do also have a midfielder from Bottesford Town of the North East Counties League in the shape of Alex Holden and even an Irish Premier League player as Seamus Sharkey will bolster the squad with the likes of big Furo, Sean Quaye and their topscorer Frank Jones all adding to an impressive line-up. They'll win games, even if it's ugly, and with less travelling to do than most I reckon they'll be in the Final come Saturday 9th June.

Especially if this man's on form!
Before I post this entry, I just want to thank CONIFA for bringing a proper World Cup to London and as one of the Media Representatives for the tournament I cannot wait to follow the whole competition. For those of you who haven't seen already, I have designed the official wallchart for the event and it is available for free download. Some clever nerdy folk have worked out a way to print it out in high-quality A2 form, which is also pretty cool!

Thanks to @ThatChris1209 for making my work look so beautiful
Hopefully if all goes to plan, I'll be making it to fourteen matches at nine new grounds in the ten days of the tournament and I'm sure if you are around you'll see me at some point. When I'm not having a beer with Partizan Bristle, I'll probably be hanging out with whoever else will listen to me, so to leave you all I'll finish by posting some links below to the matches I've been to involving CONIFA sides. If you are thinking of going to a game, don't just think about it... get on down and cheer on Tibet, Barawa, or whoever you fancy. You might not support any of the teams, you may not know any of the players, but it's still worth going along. Heck, if you're stuck for a team to cheer on. Pick the one who has the best looking kit- a tough choice by the way!

This is mine, in case you were wondering
Matches I've seen so far including CONIFA members:


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