Friday, 18 March 2016

Why Spanish footballers are flooding into Gibraltar

Europa FC celebrate after beating reigning champions Lincoln Red Imps (C) Steve Menary 2016

Readers of this blog may be interested in this short report of mine carried by the BBC World Football programme on the influx of Spanish footballers into Gibraltar since the British Overseas territory was admitted to UEFA in 2013.

The piece is in this week's World Football show and can be accessed here.

A feature on football in Gibraltar in World Soccer magazine's Eye Witness series is in the April 2016 issue and can be read here.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Greenland feature

Any readers interested in Greenlandic football might be interested in this feature of mine at Bleacher Report.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Greenland at the 2015 Island Games

Greenland made what is their only regular international football appearance at the last Island Games in Jersey and, despite missing out on a medal, were one of only two teams to finish the tournament unbeaten.

Greenland had won a silver medal at the last Island Games in Bermuda two years ago, but that only featured four teams. In Jersey, so many of the Island Games Association's 24 members entered football teams that the organisers had to restrict the field to 16 teams and turn teams away.

Greenland's Ethiopian coach Tekle Ghebrelul (pictured above) was left to rue his team twice giving away a hard secured lead against Menorca in their opening game, which finished 2-2. In their second match at St Clement, Greenland (in white, below) easily dispatched the Finnish island of Aland 2-0 and had a chance to make the semi-finals if they beat the Estonians of Saarema in their final match and results elsewhere went their way.

The impressive Frederick Funch, (below) a children's worker in Nuuk whose opportunities two years ago in Hamilton were restricted by injury, scored for a third consecutive game in a 2-1 win over Saarema but that was not enough. Menorca progressed on goal difference and Greenland were left to contend a play-off with 2011 winners the Island of Wight for fifth place.

Greenland beat the Isle of Wight 2-1 but now have to sit about waiting for a game. The GBU has plans for €10 million indoor arena in Nuuk with an artificial pitch but the Arctic island's strict building regulations and lack of money are major obstacles.

For more on the 2011 Island Games, read my piece in the July 2015 issue of World Soccer magazine and for more on Greenlandic football, my piece for the BBC World Football programme is available for download here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A full size pitch at last for Greenland

Photo: copyright Tønnes Berthelsen 2015.

After years of trying by the locals (but no help from FIFA), Greenland is to finally get a full-size artificial pitch.

Greenland is the largest island in the world and football the most popular sport. More than 10% of the circa 56,000 population play regularly, but the the harsh winters mean that all the pitches are sand and stone. No players can wear shorts and the prohibitive cost of a full-size artificial pitch is beyond the local national association, the GBU.

Greenland has self-government but has been denied membership (and direct financial help) from FIFA, although the Danish association did secure funding from FIFA's Goal programme to lay a pitch in Qaqortoq a number of years ago.

The pitch at Qaqortoq is only 35m by 65m. Another pitch has been laid after former national coach Tønnes Berthelsen managed to raise 300,000 Danish Kronar (about €40,000) but the surface at Maniitsoq (pictured) is only 20m by 41m.

A proposal was put to the island's government some years ago for funding a full-size pitch. That did not materialise but a full-size pitch is finally on the horizon. Berthelsen says: "In [the capital] Nuuk we are planning to establish a pitch of 40 x 65 meters from June this year. It will be financed by fisheries company Polar Seafood. In Qeqertarsuaq a private donor has sponsored a full size artificial pitch. It is expected to be constructed this year."

Too late to help Greenland prepare for their appearance at the football competition at this year's Island Games in Jersey but progress all the same and without FIFA. Another sign that football can both survive and flourish without the increasingly beleaguered world body.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Garabagh Agdam

(Photo: Garabagh Agdam in black in action vs Shaktar Donetsk; (c) Steve Menary 2014).

Anyone interested in Nagorno Karabakh and Garabagh Agdam, the team exiled from there after the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia more than 20 years ago, might be interested in listening to this piece of mine on the World Football show on BBC World Service.

The segment is on the edition broadcast on July 17 and includes interviews with members of the team during their recent training camp in Austria ahead of Garabagh Agdam's maiden Champions League matches starting this month against Valetta of Malta.

The piece can be accessed here.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Vatican vs Monaco

Anyone interested in the Vatican vs Monaco match in Rome last weekend can hear a short radio piece on the World Football show on BBC World Service by clicking here

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Far Post

Outcasts' readers might be interested in his article of mine in the Far Post series, which is a collaboration between Sports Illustrated and the excellent Roads & Kingdoms website:

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Kiribati asks for FIFA return

The Kiribati Football Association (KFA) has invited the Oceania Football Association and FIFA to return to the scattered collection of Pacific islands in 2015 to see if sufficient improvements have been made to justify membership of the OFA and the world body.

The KFA has been pursuing full membership of both bodies for years and is an associate member of the OFC, which provides an annual grant of NZD$ 30,000. But after a visit in 2013, FIFA’s response was to send 300 balls to Kiribati and has subsequently insisted any queries must now be directed to the regional body, the OFC.

KFA president Ioteba Redfern says: “We have not heard from FIFA. The last time we had contact with them was last year in which they replied to my email and they advised us that we should approach OFC regarding everything as OFC is the responsible body to contact.

“It is good we continue to receive annual grant [from the OFC]. For other matters, there have been no response whatsoever from OFC.

“Mid last year, we proposed to OFC and FIFA if they could visit us again in 2015 to inspect KIFA and how it operates and see if it has improved from the last visit but there has been no response yet. We really want this visit to take place as I feel we will pass the test if this visit takes place as we are now working on the things that FIFA recommended we should improve. “

After FIFA’s visit, the KFA were left with the impression by the world body’s delegates that a national competition was first needed to show evidence of organised football. Even though other FIFA members as disparate as Montserrat in the Caribbean and Liechtenstein in Europe do not have leagues, the KFA has tried to organise one but found the cost of organisation a competition for clubs from 33 islands prohibitive.

Redfern estimated that staging a competition would cost more than the entire OFC grant, but this year hopes to get a Kiribati championship off the ground. He adds: “This year we will start the inter-island football championships in which all the islands will take part. Also, we are planning to host an international futsal or 11-a-side tournaments in which neighboring islands will be invited to take part.”

The KFA is also compiling a more professional annual report in the hope of a return visit by FIFA and the OFC next year. “I am confident we will be ready for their inspection in 2015,” says Redfern.

The KFA is not commenting on exactly where the KFA is getting the NZD$ 40,000 or more that the original estimates showed it would cost to stage. Staging the competition would be a costly gamble, but as all FIFA members get U$D 250,000 a year through the financial assistance programme it’s wager that the KFA clearly feel is necessary. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Kosovo: another two decades before their first competitive match?

Kosovo’s footballers could face another two decades in the wilderness despite FIFA allowing the former Yugoslav republic to play international friendlies against members of the world body. That is the view of Kosovo’s former manager, Edmond Rugova.

FIFA’s recent decision to over-rule UEFA came highly-qualified as the Kosovan team that takes the field cannot wear the country’s colours or other national symbols, play any other former members of Yugoslavia and must give FIFA 21 days’ notice of any proposed match.

After years of filibustering by UEFA, FIFA’s emergency committee made the ruling after a meeting chaired by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and including president of the Football Association of Serbia, Tomislav Karadzic, and Football Federation of Kosovo president Fadil Vokrri earlier this month.

“The decision taken by the FIFA Emergency Committee represents a major boost for football development in Kosovo and it once again confirms the extraordinary power of our sport to bring people together,” said Blatter.

But Rugova disagrees.

“No national anthem, No national colors and can't play neighbouring countries for the next two years, whatever that means,” says Rugova. “In a sense it's very disappointing news and it falls way short again, of a full membership with equal rights.

“FFK will have to except (sic) the news as a step in a right direction and continue on under FIFA's mercy.

“Players like [Lorik] Cana, [Shefki] Kuqi and many others will never get the opportunity to represent Kosovo in any official competition... another generation lost.

“Cana was 22 years old when I took over back in 2006 and will turn 31 this summer and in the sunset of his career. With the emergence of Xherdan Shaqiri, Adnan Januzaj and soon to be Sinan Bytyqi of Manchester City and many others hope rises again and hopefully they are the ones that get the opportunity.

“[But] Euro 2016 and the World Cup in Russia in 2018 will not include Kosovo in the qualifiers and here is why.

“Not being allowed to play friendlies versus the neighbouring countries for the next two years eliminates Euro 2016 and the close alliance of Serbia and Russia will never allow Kosovo as an independent country to participate in the qualifiers for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

“FIFA and Sepp Blatter have the power to do the right thing but I'm certain it won’t have the will nor the guts to oppose Serbia, Russia and its allies. Back in 2008 I predicted that it will take 10 years before Kosovo is admitted in to FIFA. Now [it] looks like 15-20 years is a more realistic number, if that... unbelievable.”

Unbelieveable yes, but possibly all too believeable.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

New Zanzibar FIFA bid

As Zanzibar’s national team prepare for their annual international foray, the African islands’ national association is preparing another attempt to join FIFA.

The Tanzania Football Federation have helped the Zanzibar Football Association financially with their trip to this year’s regional CECAFA Cup tournament in Kenya, where Zanzibar take part in a group also featuring South Sudan, Ethiopia and the hosts but the ZFA remain concerned about the TFF’s lack of development plans for their islands.

“We have new facts to prove to FIFA that inside Tanzania we have two separate football entities,” said a senior source within the ZFA. “There were TFF elections in November and not a single Zanzibar candidate.”
The ZFA have long contested that the old Tanganyika, which joined with Zanzibar in April 1964 to form the modern Tanzanian state, dominates the TFF and excludes football in Zanzibar. A five year development plan put together by the TFF and covering 2013 to 2016 does not contain one mention of Zanzibar.

At least two previous attempts by the ZFA to join FIFA independently have been rejected, even though the TFF were supportive of these bids as that would leave more money for development of football on the mainland.

Tanzania is going through a constitutional process and a new first draft is understood to show a degree of independence for Zanzibar that the ZFA hope will convince FIFA to reconsider. The ZFA source said: “We have agreed each country, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, will deal on its own in international cooperation including joining organizations.”

Zanzibar open their 2013 CECAFA Cup tournament tomorrow with a game against South Sudan.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The chicken and the egg in Tuvalu football

With Tuvalu finally on their way back to their isolated island home after a mammoth three month tour, there is time to reflect on just what has been achieved.

There has been an incredible experience for all the players, even the handful who live in New Zealand, such as Sapetaoi Nokisi, who took a year out of his degree in economics to go the tour. At each of the many stops on the tour, organiser Paul Driessen would take the Tuvaluans into schools and do a presentation about global warming. The schoolchildren would then get to ask questions about Tuvalu, which Nokisi answered.

At least he started and finished what was an emotionally experience tour. “It’s quite hard being away from home for so long, emotionally to be away for your family. There was supposed to be five Tuvaluans from New Zealand on the tour but only three could come.”

Captain Etimoni ‘Reme’ Timuani (below centre, wearing armband) had to go home mid-way through as his employers wanted him back at work and that illustrated a weakness in the tour. Some of the best players had jobs and could not get time off work, notably the regular goalkeeper.

No more than half a dozen of the Tuvalu tourists will be recommended by Leen Looyen, the former NAC Breda manager who coached Tuvalu while in Holland, for the squad for the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea. Nokisi, an industrious midfielder, will be one. Timuani after his performances will almost certainly go to his second island games having taken part in the last tournament in New Caledonia.

Alopua Petoa, who was on his second visit to Holland having played for three months VV Brabantia previously, will also go, but three quarters of the squad are unlikely to be on what will most likely be the next trip abroad by Tuvalu’s footballers.

The age of the players in the squad ran from 16 to 30 and for the youngest players like Nelesone Musika, the trip was a first away from home. To cut costs, players spent three days on a boat to Fiji before flying to Amsterdam via Hong Kong. The trip took five days.

The exposure to a different level of football will almost certainly help the depth of football in Tuvalu but probably not the national team, but still offered some incredible experiences for players from an isolated island nation, such as seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls in Assen (below).

The efforts of Driessen in organising the tour cannot be underestimated. The tour was sponsored by Dutch councils and amateur clubs. The true cost, Driessen estimates, is close to €200,000, which is money that the Tuvalu National Football Association (TNFA) simply do not have. That is because, for all the efforts of raising Tuvalu’s profile and highlighting global warming, the TNFA remains an associate member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and that looks unlike to change in the short-term.

An OFC spokesman explained: “In accordance with FIFA Regulations and Statutes, which have changed, Tuvalu must be a member of the Confederation first and then can apply for FIFA membership. Although they are an associate member of OFC, they still not do satisfy the minimum requirements for FIFA membership like international stadium, training grounds, hotel and transportation to host international matches and tournaments.  

“In addition they need to improve the football infrastructure (Technical, Administration, National Leagues, etc) within Tuvalu to bring it to a required level for FIFA to accept them as a member of FIFA. As you will appreciate the criteria for the UN is vastly different to the criteria for FIFA membership.

"The key challenge it would appear is bringing their capacities up in the key areas. That is not always easy to achieve in the Pacific due to a variety of factors such as finance, geography, etc. Tuvalu, like nations such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Tahiti is geographically fragmented.

“Some Pacific nations have been able to overcome issues of infrastructure through agreements with non-Government and Government organisations outside of the OFC. EU, AusAID, UN. UNESCO, Taiwan Government, the French Government, to name but a few, have contributed to all sorts of projects to lift infrastructure right across the Pacific.”

The most obvious place to secure that sort of investment though is almost certainly FIFA, whose Small Nations Working Group visited the island in 2010. Despite that visit, full membership of the OFC let alone FIFA seems no closer.

To be fair to FIFA, the world body has had governance problems at some Pacific nations in the past. Samoa was suspended by FIFA in 2008 for ‘repeated management problems’. Football Federation Samoa was subsequently taken over by world body representatives, including David Brand and Colin Tuaa, who helped the ‘normalise’ the FFS gain readmission for Samoa.

Only last month, FIFA and the OFC stepped in to ‘normalise’ football in another Oceania member, the Solomon Islands. What both bodies will want to see is some form of plan on how the TNFA would spend the U$D 250,000 a year that full membership of the world body brings.

Priorities in Tuvalu, like many other Pacific nations, are not always the same as in other more developed nations. Recently, hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars was reportedly spent building not much needed new educational or healthcare facilities but a new church. 

Right now, apart from an amazing personal experience and a chance to improve skills at all levels of football in Tuvalu, the TNFA are no closer to full membership of the OFC or FIFA.

A FIFA spokesman says: “In 2010, the FIFA Small Associations Working Group categorized Tuvalu as an “Independent State but not member of FIFA”. As such, it would have priority in receiving assistance for football development from FIFA. However, it was clearly stressed that such assistance should not be considered as a first step towards becoming a FIFA member. Assistance could include participation in technical and educational programmes as well as seminars.

“FIFA has provided Tuvalu with all of the information on the requirements to become its member. Previous requests to FIFA by the Tuvalu football representatives some years ago did not include all of the required information and documentation, so the admission procedure was never properly fulfilled at that time. The association was informed that any FIFA membership application procedure it wished to submit would have to be re-started.

“Additionally and in view that one of the essential  conditions to become a member of FIFA is to first become a member of the relevant confederation (in the case of Tuvalu that would be the Oceania Football Confederation/OFC), Tuvalu was advised by FIFA to contact the OFC. The OFC could be contacted for further information regarding to the present matter.”

So Tuvalu's footballers have travelled across the world to play and dance, but cannot solve the conundrum put to them by OFC and FIFA of the chicken and egg, or more pointedly football, money and influence.

**To listen to a short radio feature on Tuvalu's European tour including interviews with Paul Driessen, Leen Looyen and some of the Tuvalu players, go to the BBC's World Football's podcast here and fast forward to 13 minutes.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Historic Cyprus deal

The Cyprus Football Association and the breakaway Cyprus Turkish Football Association have reached a historic pact that will see the KTFF become a member of the CFA. KTFF president Hasan Sertoglu (above, left) shook on the deal with his counterpart Costakis Koutsokoumnis (above, right).

"Both the Cyprus Football Association and the Cyprus Turkish Football Association are today providing the whole world with an excellent example of how football can build bridges and bring people together after a long period of conflict," said FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who helped both sides strike the historic arrangement.

Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini also both signed the arrangement, which - in the interests of transparency - has been made public and includes seven specific patrameters, in including offering UEFA development for coaching and positions for KTFF personnel within the CFA, showing how football can overcome hurdles that politicians find unable.
Both sides stress that what has been achieved is not an agreement but an arrangement. Jerome Champagne, formerly Blatter's deputy general secretary and now an advisor to the KTFF, hailed the deal as a "milestone" and equal to anything he achieved at FIFA, but added: "Now we have a lot of work to do to make it work on the ground."

If an agreement is achieved, this could open up ways for clubs in the north, such as Cetinkaya, the last North Cypriot side to win the all-Island title before the two sides split back in the 1950s, to return to playing teams from the south of the island in the Marfin Laiki League.

Before the split, Cetinkaya played in the centre of Nicosia but that ground (pictured below) has fallen into disrepair. Right on the United Nations' monitored Green Line that separates the two communities, the ground is only usable for training.

Now, Cetinkaya play in a larger more modern stadium (below) but there is a long way to go before the Ataturk Stadium hosts matches in the Marfin Laiki League, which includes sides such as 2012 Champions League quarter-finalists APOEL.

This is partly because the steering committee formed by the two associations, which crucially has equal representation from the CFA and the KTFF, has to fine tune the agreement. The chances of Cetinkaya (training below at the old ground overlooked by a UN watch tower) playing against APOEL next season must surely be slim. And when they do, there will be a huge financial gap. APOEL's 2012 Champions League run earned the club €18.1m in UEFA prize money.

In contrast, all the clubs in the north are only part-time and the most any side turns over is only around €500,000 a year. According to a University of Nicosia study from 2007, the poorest club in the Marfin Laiki League had annual revenue of €744,319. The recession that has hit Europe will have made bridging the financial gap between the two sides easier and the prospect of money spinning games with the likes of APOEL and Limassol will though certainly help close the financial disparity.

The arrangement allows for Turkish Cypriot sides such as Cetinkaya to play friendlies abroad and the prospect of a game with a big side from Turkey such as Galatasaray visiting the north is certainly likely to draw more fans than a game by the peripatetic North Cyprus national team. A year ago, 1,400 Turkish Cypriots crossed the Green Line to watch Fenerbahce play Limassol in a Europa League Game in Nicosia (pictured below). Despite pre-match fears of inter-communal violence and a large police presence, the game passed off peacefully. That illustrates the potential for matches in the north involving bigger teams from Turkey, who are infinitely more popular than the 'national team'.

Contrary to some reports, the new arrangement between the CFA and the CTFA will not see the Northern Cyrpus national team play international friendlies as both sides are sticking with the UEFA and FIFA membership criteria, which stipulates one member one association. Anyone at the 2007 ELF Cup in the north could testify that the notion of a Northern Cyprus national XI was not one that had much mileage in a place where the big three Istanbul sides - Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas - have significant support.

The Northern Cyprus XI did enter last Year's Viva World Cup - a sign of the detente that has descended on football relations in Cyprus. Should Northern Cyprus start entering these sort of competitions, that could disrupt an arrangement that has taken significant time and will surely benefit footballers of all persuasions in the north far more than the notion of a 'national team' ever will.

This support stretches from clubs such as Cetinkaya using FIFA's transfer matching system to sell players overseas, to playing friendlies against foreign clubs. While at the opposite end of the game in the North, Turkish Cypriot coaches will be able to qualify for the UEFA coaching badges and provide the modern, sophisticated coaching to young players.

Some politicians in the North and in mainland Turkey may not like the idea of a Northern Cyprus team becoming little more than a regional select, but that is what is likely to happen. Crucially, parameter six of the arrangement stipulates that either side can terminate the agreement at any time. Sending a 'national team' to any competitions could easily provide the CFA with an excuse to do just that. Kosovo have kept out of non-FIFA competitions for just that reason and Northern Cyprus would seem likely to do the same going forward.

As part of the agreement, Northern Cyprus will be able to enter a side in the UEFA Regions Cup and that seems the most likely route, leaving the north on the same footing as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Football as a whole in Northern Cyprus is no longer an Outcast, but the national team is surely history.